Sofia Anderson was looking for an internship after graduating and staring to give up hope. Graduating in the middle of a pandemic and economic slowdown was a perfect storm for frustration.
But she found success after networking with another graduate of the same Advertising and Public Relations program
“I was feeling very discouraged after a majority of the internships I had previously applied for were cancelled due to COVID-19,” Anderson said. “However I kept researching agencies and looked specifically at ones with GVSU alumni and ones I had visited on agency tours with PRSSA.”
That’s how she came to find Mort Crim Communications (MCCI).
“I remembered visiting their office on an agency tour a couple of years past and being very impressed with their team,” Anderson said. “I then connected with a GV alumna (shoutout to LinkedIn), Erica Bush Stamatoulakis, who works there and asked if MCCI was still offering their internship program.”
Stamatoulakis was very responsive and gave Anderson great information and encouraged her to apply. Now she is Anderson’s supervisor.
Anderson will be working from home for at least the first couple weeks of her internship and then hopes to move to the office in downtown Detroit.
After the completion of the internship at the end of the summer Anderson plans on moving to Spain to spend a year teaching English at school in Arroyomolinos, Madrid. However, due to COVID-19 and the uncertainties of travel and schools abroad, these plans may be postponed.
“This internship will be an immersive experience in learning all the ins and outs of an integrated marketing agency,” Anderson said. “My role includes media relations responsibilities, attending client meetings, development of written content and receiving mentoring from PR team members. I am very excited for this opportunity and to get to work!”
Morgan Layne is interning for Comcast in Plymouth, Michigan this summer before her final year of college. Alexis Smith is doing a post-graduate internship with Quicken Loans in Detroit. Layne works 9-5 daily and has many meetings. She recently finished prepping and participating in a Fox 2 Detroit news segment with Emmy Award-winner Pamela Post. Smith has been assigned to the Rock Ventures creative team and is doing a lot of copywriting, most recently a semi-annual report and internal communications.
Both of them are working from home.
Smith had originally lined up an internship with a different company, but they became uncertain given the pandemic. She applied for the position at Quicken after they had already decided to make internships fully remote. Layne’s internship at Comcast was supposed to be in the office, but switched to remote. The Fox 2 segment was taped while everyone was socially distant.
“Originally, I was kind of frustrated that my internship had to be online, but once I took a step back, I realized how lucky I was,” Layne said. “Out of my friends, I am the only one still able to work an internship. Comcast did so much to make sure they were able to continue their internship program, and I really appreciate that.”
Smith also appreciates having a remote internship as compared to none at all.
“To me, it is a little bit upsetting just because Quicken Loans has such an awesome office space and workplace culture,” Smith said. “I think that there is an opportunity with working in the office to be able to network with other interns and team members easier. Although, Quicken Loans has done a fantastic job with hosting orientations and other events that new hires normally would experience but via Zoom.”
Smith, who wants to move to Detroit now that she has graduated, said the remote internship gives her more time to find housing.
Layne admitted that it takes time to adjust to a virtual work place. But she appreciates Comcast’s efforts to keep 84 interns from across the company engaged.
“We have a weekly video chat called ‘Intern Thursday’ and through this I get to connect and meet new friends I would have not met if I was just in the Michigan office,” she said. “It has also given me a community to lean on and who understand the challenges that come with being an intern. Although I am the only public relations intern, it is cool to meet everyone with different talents in different positions. It also seems to create a new appreciation for work and the team you work on. Everyone misses the full work experience since we cannot go in, so it makes us appreciate each other more.”
Looking ahead, both Layne and Smith are a little concerned about the future employment prospects given the coronavirus impact. Many companies have reduced workforces, and a second wave is a possibility this fall. But they both say it requires focus and persistence in networking and searching, because in some industries there is an even greater need for employees.
Both Smith and Layne say the GVSU Advertising and Public Relations program prepared them well for their current roles.
“The program at GVSU gave me experience in writing all the materials that I would need for this position,” Smith said. “The program gave me the skills, feedback and professional growth that I needed to succeed. I now have the necessary confidence to walk into this position with intention because of the AdPR program.”
Layne said her peers and professors were particular helpful in getting her the confidence to succeed.
“ Whenever I have an interview, they are impressed with the projects and resources we have in our classes,” Layne said. “I also think that my peers are a huge reason I am prepared. They really push me in group projects to grow and become better. Everyone in PRSSA and GrandPR are also constantly striving to grow in the field. I also think that the smaller class sizes really help when it comes to learning. It gives me the opportunity to ask questions and build relationships with my professors. At other colleges, I noticed my friends do not have these relationships and opportunities. The relationships, resources, and my peers all combine to help set me apart from other candidates applying for internships.’
Smith has advice for other recent graduates who have anxiety about the current job market.
“Don’t get discouraged and fill this time with purpose,” she said. “Network like crazy and sharpen your skills. The moment you may not feel like searching for jobs anymore, might be the day that your dream position opens back up. Keep up the self-discipline even when it may feel impossible; that’s when it is the most important.”
(Watch this blog for more stories about how the Advertising and Public Relations program is adapting to the pandemic.)
Jennifer K. Cunningham, a 2003 GVSU graduate, was recently honored as the Junior Reserve Public Affairs Officer of the Year (2019). Cunningham, a Lieutenant in the Navy reserves, has been activated and stationed in Djibouti, Africa, for past nine months. She was pleased to know that her commanding officers were so appreciative of her service in nominating her for the award.
“She is my public affairs conscience and trusted advisor who flawlessly communicates my strategic messages to all key audiences with maximum visibility and effectiveness,” said U.S. Navy Captain Ken Crowe in a letter nominating her for the Thomson-Ravitz Award for Public Affairs Excellence.
Cunningham credits both GVSU and her Navy training for her success.
“Grand Valley gave me a great foundation, and then the Navy has given me some great opportunities to learn and excel and grow,” she said.
Cunningham recalls her first campus visit to GVSU in the Fall of 1999, a year before she enrolled. She knew from the moment she stepped on to the campus, accompanied by her mother, that GVSU was the place she wanted to be.
“It’s kind of a perfect university. I could walk across campus – after I’d been there for a semester or so – and I could always find someone that I knew to say hi to,” she recalls. “But it was also not so small that I couldn’t find new people to meet in the same walk.”
She opted for a major in Journalism and secured a place at the Honors College. It was her mother’s suggestion that she take up Public Relations as a minor. She recalls her reaction to her mother’s suggestion being “I don’t even know what that is, but sure, whatever.” That reaction changed almost instantaneously. Her first PR fundamentals class with Dr. Betty Pritchard had her switching her minor into her major and three and a half years later, she graduated with a degree in APR with a PR emphasis. She had found her vocation.
Cunningham remembers her time at Grand Valley very fondly. She joined the Renaissance Fair Club, served on the campus security team and wrote for the Lanthorn.
“My first story that I believe I had to write was for the 9/11 vigil that happened at the Carillon Tower,“ she reminisced.
While at GVSU, Cunningham interned with the ALS Foundation of West Michigan and Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon. After graduation, she put in a year’s stint at the Kalamazoo Nature Center and then moved to the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Portage, Kalamazoo, where her job as a PR Manager sharpened her skill set and set her up for her current role as a Public Affairs Officer in the Navy.
Cunningham would have stayed in West Michigan but she met a Navy recruiter and ended up marrying him and moving out west where her new husband, Brent, was stationed. It was not a challenging giving up her job to move.
“My degree in Public Relations from GV and my experience is what allowed me to get a commission in the Navy Reserve as a Public Affairs Officer,” she said.
Her role as a Navy reservist has taken Cunningham to the far corners of the globe: Spain, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Timor-Leste, to name a few. She recalls being in Hawaii for the 75th Commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 2016 where she had the honor of meeting some of the survivors, and where she was assigned to escort media teams from across the world.
Cunningham’s stint in Djibouti is coming to an end and, depending on how the Covid-19 crisis pans out, she hopes to be back home in the summer. During her 9-month stint at Camp Lemonnier, she has witnessed some ups and downs, a particularly rough situation being extensive flooding during which Cunningham proved her PR chops. Another excerpt from the recommendation letter written by Capt. Ken Crowe speaks to Cunningham’s skill at her chosen vocation:
“Her innovative strategic crisis communication during a monumental flooding of the base resulted in a 400% increase in positive social media interactions, which increased the safety and security of base personnel,” Crowe wrote. “As a result of her expert leadership, her team of two mass communication specialists both received a Flag Letter of Commendation (FLOC) from Vice Admiral Luke McCollum for their communication contributions during this time.”
Such dedication to one’s vocation also calls for some sacrifices. Part of the price Cunningham has had to pay for her service to the nation is missing out key family events: she missed her elder daughter Kaylee’s fifth birthday and is likely to miss younger daughter Mackenzie’s birthday in mid-June. But she considers it all for a good cause.
The Advertising and Public Relations program at Grand Valley State University has had its fair share of adjunct professors throughout the years, many of whom are former students. The current 2020 winter semester is no exception.
The APR program has the privilege of having four first-time adjunct professors teaching a variety of courses throughout the semester. One of these professors is GVSU alumna Abigayle Sladick who is teaching the media relations writing course.
Sladick graduated from GVSU in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in broadcasting and minoring in advertising and public relations.
She said that when it came to applying for college, GVSU was her first and only choice.
“My stepdad worked here ever since I was a little girl,” Sladick said. “He used to bring home GVSU sports clothing and posters from the concerts that would take place on campus. He was so proud of where he worked, and he always talked about the family atmosphere.”
While completing her bachelor’s degree, Sladick also took on two different internships in the process.
“Only one internship was required, but I actually wish I would have had more,” she said. “I interned at WOOD-TV and FOX 17 and both of those experiences directly prepared me for my field and set me apart.” She says that these two internships were some of her most valuable experiences.
Sladick says that she remembers a time early in her career where she would show up to internships as early as 4 a.m. and at other times would work during holidays.
“My goal was to work harder than everyone around me,” she said. “That hustle paid off as I landed a TV news job at KCAU-TV in Iowa not long after graduating and then landed a director of marketing position at the Norm Waitt YMCA at the age of 24.”
In 2011, Sladick returned to GVSU as a full-time employee, working as Assistant Director of Alumni Relations.
She held this position until 2015 before transitioning her skills and experiences to work as the Director of Communications for Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, ultimately becoming the Vice President of Communications.
While continuing her work in the field, Sladick returned to Grand Valley and completed her Master of Science in Communication in 2018.
Sladick’s current role is as a Senior Community Relations Specialist for Priority Health, which she says falls into the public relations field.
“I realized that I am able to make an even greater impact on society and the community with the influence that I have as a public relations professional than I did as a professional journalist,” Sladick said. “Although, I will always consider myself a journalist. Now, I’m a brand journalist.”
Sladick says that one of the most significant experiences that she remembers having at Grand Valley was the opportunity to learn from adjunct professors that were also professionals in the industry.
“I really enjoyed learning from my adjunct professors who had experience of journalism in the field,” she said. “Carl Apple was a professor of mine and I was amazed that he would teach classes and then go to his night job at FOX 17.”
Sladick says that Apple was a big inspiration to her, and that she even had the opportunity to work with him after graduating.
Sladick says that after returning to GVSU to become an adjunct professor, she has noticed some welcome changes in both the Multimedia Journalism and APR programs since she was an undergraduate student.
“I appreciate the opportunity for multimedia journalism students to take classes in advertising and public relations because I think students in both majors can provide perspectives that probably aren’t shared by students in the same major.” Sladick said.
She says that the continued interaction of multimedia journalism and marketing students with advertising and public relations students is important because it provides students with an understanding of how their professions will cross over each other in the workplace.
In 2018, Sladick was named one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” for her role in bringing attention to homelessness in West Michigan. In addition to her professional contributions, she has also been recognized for serving as a board member of the communications committee at the West Michigan Public Relations Society as well as her position as liaison for the Pine Rest-Foundation Board’s PR Connect.
While Sladick continues to create a significant Laker Effect outside of Grand Valley State University, current Lakers are benefiting from her return to campus as she helps shape and educate the next generation of APR professionals.
After graduating from GVSU in 2010, Brandy Miller found herself back in her hometown of Ludington planning what to do next. She had interned the summer between her junior and senior year at the Downtown Ludington Development Authority, an experience that had her meet many community members as she planned and marketed several community festivals. The experience proved to be a launch pad for her career.
“The Chamber President/CEO had heard that I was back in the community and called me about a short-term opportunity to contract for a fall festival the Chamber was responsible for,” Miller said. “Not having any other prospects at the time, I said yes. At the completion of that contract, I was offered full time employment as the Chamber’s Communication & Marketing Coordinator. I had no intention of staying in Ludington, but I found my passion of being able to positively impact my community.”
“I have always been very driven to be a leader in whatever I have been tasked with and I was not shy about my desire to someday lead,” Miller said of her rise to the CEO and Executive Director positions. “With that said, I also knew what it took to get there and made sure I did the work to be considered as a worthy successor”.
She said the importance of relationships was a key she applied from her degree in Advertising and Public Relations and applied to her current job. Since the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber is a non-profit, membership organization, she said relationships are everything. The Advertising and Public Relations program taught her how to effectively communicate, as well as cultivate and care for those relationships.
Miller also remembers a project she did as part of the AdPR program for Guiding Light Mission in Grand Rapids.
“That particular project has stuck with me all of these years. For one, it was my first time being exposed to a homeless shelter, but the project itself showed me the power of communication and public relations,” she said. “Being able to use AdPR skills to positively impact people’s lives was a great lesson, and something I try to apply in my current role.”
She encourages current students to be open to opportunities they may not envision while in college.
“Opportunities come in many different shapes and forms; they are not always overtly Ad or PR positions, but the skills needed to be successful directly align,” she said. “My advice to all students is to say yes to as many opportunities as come your way because you never know what might present itself and what it might lead to. Had I not said yes to a one-time contract with the Chamber, I would not be in the position I am 9 years later as the President/CEO. I would also say, be humble because my experience in the beginning of my career was not glamorous by any means, but the hard work and hunger for something more paid off.”
Kristina Green sees her public relations job in terms of percentages. She rattles off the breakdown of her work for the Lake Michigan Credit Union(LMCU) without hesitation—60% volunteerism, 30% support to the credit union’s southwest and southeast regions for sponsorship and philanthropy, and 10% for various employee and community giving campaigns.
The 2012 graduate said she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do while she was in college, but she knew Grand Valley had given her good skills. It was through several experiences that she saw the possibilities for her career path.
“In my junior year I realized that social media could be a career,” says Green, who worked for four years at the GVSU Career Center and started their social media in her junior year. She was also the Vice President of Public Relations for the GVSU Public Relations Society of America (PRSSA) chapter and an account executive for GrandPR, the student-run PR firm. “I also did social media as an intern at Quicken, and that led to a job. I found out that writing is varied and fun and energetic.”
Working at LMCU since 2017, now as Senior Community Relations Specialist, Green does
even more types of writing and many other duties. Her main task is to get LMCU staff involved in the communities where they work.
“Volunteering has been embedded in LMCU since 1933 when it was founded as Grand Rapids Teachers Union,” she says. “The founder really wanted to give back and our main cause today is education.”
Green found a software called “YourCause” that she uses to get volunteers to sign up, track hours, send reminders, and offer related articles. She says the tool is a one-stop shop for corporate volunteering and gives her great metrics.
“Volunteering is good for the community of course but also for LMCU,” Green explains, describing the ‘LMCU Community Crew employees wear when working in the community. “Volunteering allows staff to give back and they have a more invested approach to the organization. They come back from a volunteer activity more engaged and refreshed.”
Besides volunteering, Green has also been involved in community philanthropic and sponsorship activities and events. For example, the organization helped raise $17,000 for the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and collected 3,500 bags of school supplies.
Green advises current students to get involved on campus, network, and use resources, starting with professors. She says she’s grateful to have learned a lot of skills in college, but it’s the people and connections that really pay off.
This job is what I feel like is what I was set to find,” she says. “At the end of the day, community relations is about supporting the community which is a passion of mine.”
Nick Convery has overseen creative digital strategy for an impressive list of major global brands. Most recently he has led digital strategy and investment for TruGreen, Alfa Romero and Maserati. This month he will transition from his role as Director Digital for Blue449, a full-service media agency that is part of the Publicis Group, to Director Digital for Publicis Collective.
“My responsibilities will remain the same,” Convery said. “This includes leading client conversations about digital best practices including data protection and privacy, negotiating with media partners, and planning digital strategies and tactics that align with what each brand represents.”
Convery’s career since graduating in 2003 began as a broadcast TV and radio buyer, a role he was in for five years. He next joined Starcom, GM’s media agency of record, in their digital trafficking department. After a year in that role he moved internally to the Cadillac media planning team. When Starcom lost the GM business, he joined the media planning team at Universal McCann to work on Temper-Pedic, Nationwide Insurance, and Aldi. After working there for a couple of years, he joined the newly formed digital team at Carat (GM’s current media agency). He started off as a supervisor on the Buick/GMC accounts, and was promoted to Associate Director after a year. He joined Blue449 as a Director in Feb 2019.
Convery still values what he learned in college more than 16 years ago when much of the current digital technology and practices did not exist.
“What I learned in earning my degree is what I carry with me to this day,” he said. “I learned that advertising as a whole is an ever-changing landscape and that I need to be prepared for those changes. It also taught me the value of working within a team when everyone has different backgrounds and different points of view and how to pull that all together to make one cohesive product. The professors I had were amazing because they were teaching from a point of real-world experience so they were able to weave in how things really work with the curriculum.”
One of Convery’s best memories is a group project in his campaigns class. His group had the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum as a client. He and the classmates on the team and named their agency “4 Girls & a Boy” and even made up business cards. Their final project was more than 60 pages of overview, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities as well as strategies and tactics to meet the client objectives. He proudly showed this work on every interview he had after graduating, and has kept the bound project to this day.
Convery’s best advice to current students about to graduate is to read trade publications such as Adweek and AdAge to stay current with practice in the field of advertising.
“I cannot stress this enough, because this is the question I ask the most when I’m interviewing candidates for junior roles,” he explained. “The ones who can speak to what they’ve read and what they believe it to mean with a thoughtful point of view are the ones that stand out to me.”
The awards, presented by the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA), recognize the top public relations tactics and campaigns as well as several individual awards. The WMPRSA chapter covers an area from the Indiana border to Traverse City and from the lakeshore to the center of the state.
Students from the student-run PR firm GrandPRreceived three Gold PRoof Awards. In the category of “Tactics/Podcasts” the group won gold for its ‘PR Hangover’ podcast, hosted in 2018-19 by Courtney Fogle. They also won two gold awards for campaigns in the “Events and Observances more than 7 Days” category, one for the Sawyer’s Day Campaign done with Grand Valley Athletics and one for “Timeless 10,” a campaign to celebrate the 10thanniversary of Grand PR, accepted by Sabrina Antcliff and Amanda Rogers.
Individual awards went to a student, an alumnus, and a professor in the program.
Trevor Bryan, who was the GVSU PRSSA President in 20180-19, was recognized as the West Michigan chapter’s student of the year.
Sean Billisitz, a recent graduate now working at Truscott Rossman Public Relations, was named the 2019 Newcomer of the Year.
Adrienne Wallace, an assistant professor and faculty advisor to PRSSA and GrandPR, was named the 2019 PR Professional of the Year.
The GVSU Ad and PR program were also involved behind the scenes. The PRoof committee included two students—Morgan Schafer and Amanda Hume.
WMPRSA received a record 131 entries for this year’s awards program. Also, the judging standard was more rigorous and aligned with PRSA’s national Bronze and Silver Anvil awards criteria. All entrants had to achieve a minimum number of points. Tactics were judged on planning, creativity, technical excellence and results. Campaigns were judged on research, objectives and strategies, execution, and an evaluation of meeting measurable objectives.
In 2009, students Charlotte Milligan and Doug Clemente started something that has proven to have a legacy. The pair, as part of the GVSU chapter of PRSSA, started a student-run public relations firm and called it GrandPR.
In the spring of 2019 Milligan came back to celebrate the firm’s 10thanniversary along with other alumni and students who have been involved with the firm over the years.
“It was absolutely amazing to see so many students involved with GrandPR,” Milligan said. “I enjoyed hearing how the organization evolved and continues to grow. The best part is that it’s doing exactly what the goal was when we started it back 2009–it’s helping students get real-life and hands-on experiences so they can launch their career after graduation.”
Since the launch in 2009, the group has maintained consistent leadership. The students
pass on management roles each spring to an incoming group of officers, account managers and staff. Over the years they have taken on dozens of clients, gained and maintained national affiliation from PRSSA, and participated in Create-a-Thon events.
“This is the tenth year that GrandPR has been Nationally Affiliated through PRSSA,” said current GrandPR CEO Sabrina Antcliff at the anniversary event. “Being nationally affiliated is a feat. There are hundreds of PRSSA chapters, and we are one of only 25 firms that are affiliated in the nation. The firm has to go through a rigorous application process for every three years, so being nationally affiliated for a decade is something worth celebrating! “
Students have the found their involvement in the group to be fun as well as educational. Former CEOs and firm staff have landed good jobs in west Michigan, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.
The CEO and officers have already been named for the 2019-20 school year and are eager to continue the tradition.