How to Prepare Yourself for the Professional World

my-headshotAs graduation approaches, it’s normal for seniors to feel nervous about entering the real world and their success in the future. Juniors, too will be searching for summer internships and building their resumes. I have gathered some great insight from a Grand Valley State alum, Morgan Yingst to calm the winter semester jitters. Although Morgan’s career is in Public Relations, her advice and experiences are applicable to any field.

Morgan holds the Senior Communications Specialist position at the Illinois Supreme Court, where she writes news releases daily in regards to updates on the Court or judicial appointments and vacancies.

Morgan feels that GrandPR has prepared her for her current role. Morgan joined GrandPR when she was a sophomore. She started as an Account Associate, and with a lot of hard work and ambition, she became the CEO. Morgan gained experience writing and sending news releases for GrandPR clients, including the City Lights Music Festival and ArtPrize. Her experience working with different clients with a variety of needs gave her the confidence to send out statewide news releases in her current position.  Whether it be in GrandPR or any other organization that you are involved in, step up and take on a new task. Stepping outside of your comfort zone will help develop confidence.

Confidence is essential in Morgan’s workplace, specifically, because she is the youngest on her team. Morgan utilizes her communication skills that she acquired in GrandPR, so she can present herself as knowledgeable and ensure her voice is heard.

Obtaining a position at the Illinois Supreme Court is not an easy task, but Morgan worked at the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the largest voluntary organization for attorneys in Illinois, prior to getting her current job.

People say it’s about who you know when getting a job. This is partially true in Morgan’s case. Her supervisor at the ISBA left to become the Director of Communications for the Illinois Supreme Court. He informed Morgan of the opening, and she seized the opportunity.

It is not uncommon that people enter a career that differs from what they had planned or even studied. However, Morgan always knew she was passionate about writing. At a young age, she entered short stories into local contests and served as an editor for her high school newspaper and yearbook. Morgan had a prior knowledge of public relations going into Grand Valley and declared that as her major at orientation. Morgan indicates “after my first semester of classes, I knew it was the right fit.”

On the other hand, Morgan did not expect to be in a nonprofit or government industry. Throughout her college years, she was convinced she wanted to do corporate communications. Morgan wants to encourage college students to explore various industries, research different organizations, and expand their skill set while they are young. Morgan admits “I’m not an expert in the judicial system, and that’s okay!” Her secret to success is having the courage to ask questions in order to communicate as an expert.

#StandOutInPR with a Certificate in Principles of Public Relations


By: Sarah Pontbriand

Why earn a Certificate in Principles of Public Relations?

Setting yourself apart from the rest of the career-driven people in your field is important when on the hunt for a job. There is a lot of competition out there, and in the Public Relations field, making sure that you stand out amongst your colleagues is a must. Earning a Certificate in Principles of Public Relations is a great opportunity to build up your resume as a student approaching graduation as well as graduate with an advantage as you venture into your profession.

What exactly is the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations?

The Certificate’s purpose is to help students gain a head start in their individual professional development and differ from their peers. The Certificate tests students’ understanding in the following fundamental concepts: communication models and theories, business literacy, ethics and law, and program research, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

How do you earn the Certificate?

The required preparation course before taking the Certificate Examination used to be only an in-person course, but the UAB and PRSA Educators Academy have recently launched an online study course option that provides an alternative and perhaps more convenient way for students and faculty. The process of earning the Certificate involves four steps:

  1. Complete the application for the Certificate.
  2. Confirm eligibility with a faculty advisor at your university. A student must be within 6 months of (before or after) graduating in order to be eligible for the Certificate.
  3. Complete the Certificate preparatory course or the Principles of Public Relations Online Study Course.
  4. Study for and take the computer-based examination for the Certificate.

GVSU APR students:

If you earn the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations, let the GVSU APR Program know! It is a big deal to set yourself apart from the competition and it is an accomplishment that should and will be recognized as you enter your career field and #StandOutInPR.

For additional resources and more information about the Certificate, visit

Alumna is Speechwriter for Miami Mayor

Nicole Tallman, a 1998 graduate of the GVSU Advertising and Public Relations program, had a varied career out of college. She worked at several corporations and in higher education before moving to government public relations. Now she has the unique PR role of a speechwriter in the office of the mayor in Miami-Dade County

Nicole Tallman, ’98, is a speechwriter in the Mayor’s Office in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

, Florida.

PR professionals often write speeches for clients or bosses or co-workers. But to do it full time for a government office is unique. We asked Nicole to share more about her career path and current role, and she graciously obliged.

How did you end up becoming a speechwriter for the mayor in Miami-Dade County?

After graduating from GVSU in 1998, I was fortunate to land a job as a media relations specialist for Haworth. After five years there, I took a role in the Internal Communications Department at Siemens Logistics & Assembly Systems in Grand Rapids. Soon afterwards, I was offered an advancement and relocation opportunity as manager of internal communications and community outreach for Siemens Communications in Boca Raton, Florida. When the majority of that company was bought out by Nokia, I decided to venture out of the corporate world and try something new: higher education. I worked as a ghostwriter/speechwriter, and essentially, the director of internal communications and community engagement, for the president of Miami Dade College. I served in that role for eight years before I was recruited by the Office of the Mayor of Miami-Dade County to serve as his sole speechwriter.

What do you like about speechwriting and focusing on that as compared to all the other forms of public relations work you have done?

My passion has always been writing, and that is the narrative thread in the story of my career. In this day and age, it is rare to get paid well to write all day (and often into the night), and I am very fortunate to have a job that allows me to do what I love and earn a good living.

What I love about speechwriting is getting the opportunity to use all of the tools in my rhetorical toolbox, and seeing the difference that the words that I write really make. There is immense power for good, for change, for education, action and encouragement, in the spoken word … and that power lies in both what is said and what is not said.

As someone who loves verbal and non-verbal communication, writing speeches blends the best of both worlds. Writing a speech involves a love of research, psychology, the art of persuasion, a deep understanding of the audience and message. It involves an open mind, flexibility and ability to work quickly under intense pressure. One must also be relatively egoless. After all, a speechwriter is not writing in his or her voice, but in the voice of the orator. A speechwriter must adopt a persona in a way, take on the role of the person who will deliver the speech and stay true to that person’s voice.

There is also beauty in simplicity with speechwriting, and writing speeches takes a different kind of skill than writing press releases, briefing materials, editorials, marketing pieces or ad copy, for example. You must write in a “natural” way that mimics actual speech patterns, and there is a great emphasis on delivery.

Give us a sense of the types of speeches you write, for what audiences, and with what objective? Discuss the process a little bit in terms of how you work with the mayor during the speechwriting process.

I write an average of two to three speeches every single day (Monday-Sunday). Some of those are massive speeches, like the Mayor’s Annual State of the County Address to residents that highlights accomplishments and shares his vision for the upcoming year. Some of those speeches are short, like welcoming a group of out-of-town guests to special events hosted at one of our County venues, like Miami International Airport or PortMiami.

I write a lot of speeches to keep residents informed about what the Mayor and his administration are doing to improve quality of life in Miami-Dade County. These are speeches on topics like improving public transportation; job creation, economic development and diversification; public safety and youth violence; sea-level rise and climate change; technology; and affordable housing. Miami-Dade County has a diverse community of 2.7 million residents, and more than 60 percent of those residents are foreign-born. As the community continues to grow and change, the Mayor attends quite a lot of groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. The Mayor also speaks on a variety of local and national panels, and often needs talking points and backgrounders prepared for those events.

My interaction with the Mayor really varies based on the type of speaking engagement. I put in a lot of effort during the first six months of my career to learn his likes and dislikes, so I am given quite a lot of autonomy. For major speeches, I often sit down with the Mayor, his Chief of Staff, Director of Communications and various subject-matter experts to gather content and hear what key messages should be communicated. It’s ultimately up to me to take those key messages and turn them into a speech that will resonate with the audience. There is usually very little revision needed because I do my homework upfront. Major speeches are rehearsed with the Mayor, but minor speeches are discussed often minutes before delivery, if at all.

What advice do you have for current students in terms of government PR and speechwriting as a career option?

Read and write as much as you can. Go out and listen to good speakers and bad ones. Watch the body language of the speaker, the tone he or she uses, the speed of words delivered, and even the pauses. All of these are important elements to master. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Above all, study rhetoric and audience analysis, and learn how to write quickly and accurately.

In terms of government, it certainly helps to understand politics, but it’s more important to understand people. A good government speechwriter is in tune with the needs of the people (or residents) the elected official serves, and can communicate the elected official’s message in a way that people understand and relate to.

Add anything else you’d like to share with current students and our professional community who may be interested in speechwriting.

My undergraduate studies in PR at Grand Valley State University were great preparation for my PR career, in combination with my graduate studies in English and Technical Communication at the University of Central Florida. The way we communicate constantly changes, so it’s important to stay on top of communication trends, technology and the evolution of the English language. Never stop learning and improving.

Local Professionals Share Branding Tips to APR Students


By: Jaclyn Ermoyan

A panel of local professionals joined Grand Valley State University Advertising and Public Relations students on November 3, 2016 in the University Club of DeVos Center to discuss branding. After the panel discussion, students and professionals broke into teams to network and participate in a hands-on branding activity.

The panelists for the evening included Jenna Morton from 616 Development, Rob McCarty from The Image Shoppe, JD Osman from Amway, Julie Sheeran from 834 Design, and Raul Alverez from Getting The Stuff Done Group.

Each panelists brought unique experiences and contributions to the discussion. The first question provoked different answers from each of the panelists by asking them to define what a brand is and what it means to them. Sheeran discussed the difference between visual identity and brand, while encouraging the audience to think about what makes their brand different. She asked the audience, “What do you want people to feel and experience when they pick up your product?”

To answer the same question, Osman walked around and asked students in the audience what their favorite brand was and why. He questioned if it was the product or the values that made this brand their favorite. Alverez and McCarty shared their experiences of working with creatives, as neither Alverez or McCarty do the creative work, but participate in the many more things that go into a brand.

Professor Frank Blossom, who coordinated this event, continued the discussion by asking if brand something different than branding. The panelists agreed that brand is the perception and the promise, where as branding are the activities and the tactics done that create the feeling, logo, color scheme and news releases.

After the panel discussion, time was spent doing a brand development activity for SteadyFare, a local rideshare program that competes with Uber and Lyft. Groups were created and students were given a creative brief, tasked with creating a brand description, position statement, new tagline and communication tactics.

After the activity, each team was given the opportunity to present their ideas and discuss with the large audience. The professionals in attendance seemed to be pleased and impressed with the results, commenting that in the professional world, this work normally takes months, rather than in the minutes that the students accomplished it in.

Alumna Mabin Does PR for Media Organization


Mabin GRBJ
Madison Mabin in her office at Gemini Publications.

Madison Mabin, a 2013 graduate, knew when she was an Advertising and Public Relations student that she would one day be working with the media. She just did not anticipate she would be working for the media.

Mabin works for Gemini Publications, the publisher of  Grand Rapids Magazine and the Grand Rapids Business Journal, among other publications. She handles social media for Gemini and its various publications. She also manages the local publisher’s special events, including “40 Under 40” and “Newsmakers of the Year” annual receptions. Another aspect of her job is to manage trade agreements between the publisher and various businesses and organizations.

Three years past graduation, and in her second career job, Mabin still values the education at GVSU that set her up for success.

“Classes were hard but prepared me,” she said. “I took it seriously and worked hard. I showed work I had done in various class assignments in job interviews, and that got me hired.”

The hard work in school paid off. After making the move to Gemini for more responsibility, she was told  more than 400 applied for the job she now has.

She has already noted with excitement success in her current job. Recent events she managed and promoted sold out and had record record attendance. To do this, she creatively integrated social media with event planning and promotion. For example, she had award nominees share photos and a haiku and posted those in a series to promote the event and generate interest. Of course, attendees shared the posts about themselves in a true social fashion.

Mabin encourages current students to work hard and take advantage of opportunities both in and out of class. The tough standards in class assignments help her handle the demands of her job now.

“Social media sounds fun and it is for two weeks but then you have to be creative and come up with new ideas constantly,” she said.

A hint to current students reading this: Mabin takes interns and is interested in upper class students who have had necessary course work to help her handle the demands of social media and event management.

Ad and PR Students Win Honors in National Competitions

Students in the GVSU Advertising and Public Relations major program have earned recognition in national advertising and public relations competitions. Both teams worked for two semesters to create campaign plans and present them before a team of judges.

GrandPR 2015-16
The 2015-16 GrandPR staff. A team of 5 students from the student PR firm earned honorable mention in the national Bateman PR campaign competition.

A team of students from GrandPR, the student-run public relations firm, won an honorable mention in the 2016 Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Bateman competition. The year-long competition this year asked student teams from across the country to spark local and national dialogues about education. The 5-member GVSU team focused their campaign on the GVSU of the Student Veterans of America (SVA).

Out of 70 entries, GrandPR was one of 16 Honorable Mentions. The firm was recognized among programs much larger and older than that at GVSU such as University of Florida, University of North Carolina, Brigham Young University and DePaul University.

“Our team was able to practice the public relations processes we learn in the classroom while also helping out a great on-campus organization,” said Elle O’Hara, CEO of GrandPR and one member of the 5-person team. “My team and I worked hard from start to finish and receiving an Honorable Mention gives us all confidence to move forward with our careers in the advertising and public relations fields.”

This was the fourth time students in the GVSU Advertising and Public Relations program entered the Bateman competition, but the first time a team from GrandPR entered and the first time GVSU placed placed in the national competition. GrandPR plans to continue entering the competition in the coming years. The team’s faculty advisor was Adrienne Wallace.

NSAC team 2015-16
Students on the 2015-16 National Student Advertising Competition team did a campaign for Snapple.

Meanwhile, 19 students on the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) team earned a third place finish in District 6 of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) District 6, which incudes college teams from Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. The first and second-place teams were from Purdue Calumet and Michigan State, respectively. There were 150 teams competing nationwide doing a campaign for Snapple, with only the top finisher in each district advancing to finals.

Students were pleased to finish so well alongside some much larger schools in the district.

“Our third place district place highlights the phenomenal education and experience GVSU offers,” said Ben Kaluski, Project Manager for the Grand Valley team.

Additional recognition went to Aubrey Leko, presenter and team Creative Director, who was honored with the “Best Presenter” award.

“I could not be more proud of this team, said Assistant Professor Robin Spring, who advised the team.  “They took the challenge and had the grit to see it through.  They uncovered insights based on months of research, created a complex and refined campaign, perfected the presentation and wowed the judges.  The competition was tough, yet we have once again shown that Grand Valley can compete with some of the largest and most respected programs in the country.”

GVSU’s NSAC teams have consistently placed in District 6 competition, and once previously advanced to the national finals.

Get involved with GrandPR

Get Involved with GrandPR

What is the best thing about Grand Valley’s Advertising and Public Relations program? In my opinion GrandPR, but I might be a little bit biased. Student-run PR firms were introduced nearly 40 years ago, but didn’t really become the focal point of extra-curricular activities until about 10 years ago. What was the deciding factor to give real life clients to a group of college students? One word: experience.

With the semester coming to an end and graduation nearing, this is the prime time to start thinking about applying to GrandPR. Applications opened on Monday, March 21 so as you read this blog and think if you should do it, I will give you five reasons why your answer should be yes.

First, GrandPR is a great resume and portfolio builder. Our student-run PR firm is a perfect way to get your feet wet in the world of PR and in an agency setting. If you’re not sure what route you want to take or what part of PR you like the most, the only way you will figure it out is if you get some experience. Then when it comes time to interview for jobs, you are able to reflect on the real work you did for the firm. You’ll even leave each semester with a portfolio piece so you can show prospective employers that too.

Second, you are able to work with real clients. How many college students can say that they have worked with a real client outside of class? Probably not many, but with GrandPR it gives you the ability to interact, collaborate and produce work for a client. This is important because it will give you a taste of the professionalism that is needed when interacting with clients.

Third, it provides an experiential curriculum. We are fortunate enough to have Grand Valley provide the professors that have real world knowledge. The things you are taught in class, you are able to bring to GrandPR, an internship and a full time job. GrandPR is a great way to put what you learned to the test and see where your skills match.

Fourth, it gives you a chance to be a leader. I went from an Account Associate on the GrandPR staff to CEO in a semester. This taught me the importance leadership. I not only had to figure out how to run a PR firm, but I also had to figure out the type of leader I wanted to be in a management position. Without GrandPR, I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to have this leadership experience so early on in my career. GrandPR is full of leadership opportunities, from Account Executive positions to Executive Board positions, there are many chances for you to be a leader within the firm.

Last, interpersonal skills and by that I mean professional ones. I like to tell people that what you get out of GrandPR is what you put into it. By doing this, you will learn so much more than you ever thought you could. Being apart of GrandPR has taught me communication skills with a client, time management skills, organization as well as management and collaboration skills. By learning these early on, it will set you apart from the rest of the pack because you know how to act in a professional environment. Your future employer will find that very valuable.

Okay, okay now that I am off my soapbox I will leave you with one last word of advice. Don’t be afraid, take a chance to see what you are capable of because I am telling you it is more than you can ever imagine. Being apart of organizations like GrandPR, PRSSA and Ad Club will let you peak into the real world and help you find who you want to be as a professional. If you don’t believe me, here is a whole study done by the Journal of Public Relations Education  that will prove all of my points.

If you have any questions about GrandPR, PRSSA or just PR in general, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My contact info is on our website

Post by: Eleanor O’Hara

Eleanor O’Hara is a senior at GVSU majoring in advertising and public relations and minoring in business. She looks forward to growing her PR leadership and project management skills this year as CEO of GrandPR and a board member of GVSU’s PRSSA chapter. Eleanor’s professional experiences include interning with the American Diabetes Association in Chicago and 834 Design & Marketing in Grand Rapids. After graduation, she hopes to enter a Chicago PR agency and become an Account Executive. In her spare time, Eleanor loves to bake yummy treats, hangout with her friends and family, and watch reruns of One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy.