Interview with Public Relations Professional

Marla Bruner

Mara Bruner is a public relations professional who works in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Georgia Southern University. She has a Communication Arts degree, and I chose to interview her about her public relations position for an assignment in my public relations practicum class. I addressed subjects ranging from a typical work week in the Office of Marketing and Communications to how her education prepared her for the world of public relations. Marla was very insightful, straight-forward, and pulled no punches. The information she provided left me excited and eager to enter the world of public relations because the emphasized the immediacy and high-paced atmosphere that comes with the job.

I have worked with Marla on different projects before, so I had a general idea of what some of her answers might be. However, I was able to get valuable information from her that may be useful to anyone who is considering entering the communications/public relations field. I felt that she was the ideal professional for my interview because she has youth on her side, yet she entered the public relations world before the Internet was anywhere close to being as significant and important as it currently is today.

Marla expressed a willingness to inform as well as to encourage future public relations students to go out there and get into the mix. She suggested that one should go out and “get your hands dirty.” Public relations students need to get experience in the field prior to graduation so they are comfortable entering the high-paced atmosphere of the public relations world. A key point which Marla addressed in this interview was that you may be finished with school after graduation, but you will never be finished learning.

Below is a transcription of a list of questions answered by Marla Bruner:

What is a typical week like?
–It’s usually pretty hectic. There are hardly ever the usual “run of the mill” things that come through. I post things to the web. That’s pretty regular, but as far as what’s coming in the door and what people need help with—it changes every day.

Tell me about a project you worked on that you are especially proud of
–I’m proud of the My Georgia Southern site because it has continued to grow and change. I really liked getting out there and doing the whole project from start to finish, forming focus groups to find out what people need and what they were using, letting people test it out so they could provide us with feedback, and then doing the official announcements. Now that it’s out there, we’re still trying to get feedback from the audience to answer questions like “Is this working for you” or “Is this not working for you.” It’s nice to be a part of a project that is not short term. I like the short-term projects because of the instant gratification once you’re finished, but having a project that can grow makes that project interesting to work on.

How important is writing in your career?
–It’s very important. It’s in everything I do from the press releases I send out to the E-mails I send to colleagues to communicate with them what time and place we’re doing certain things. Writing is, top to bottom, my whole job.

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in PR?
–Get your hands dirty—get out there and find ways you can get yourself involved even if it’s just for the experience. If you can’t get a paying gig, find something that can give you some experience. I would also advise people to try to be a better listener—find out what your client needs, what they’re looking for, who your particular audience is or what your audience is telling you. Sometimes it’s hard to sit back, take all that in, listen and process it. The third thing is for you to be flexible. You may think you have the greatest, most fantastic idea, but it doesn’t always work for your audiences. Sometimes it’s hard to put yourself in their shoes, but I would definitely say be flexible by trying to put yourself in your audience’s place.

What do you do to keep current in the PR industry?
–There are several publications that we receive in our office—Ad Week, PR News Week, and there are blogs that I read on my own. Some are from professionals coming out of Atlanta, and they are mostly about social networking and that type of stuff. You have to keep your eye out there—staying in tune to what your competition is doing, what’s new and innovative, and what people are gravitating towards. Technology is something that you always have to stay on top of.

What do you wish you would have known before starting your career in PR?
–I wish I would have known how much more it meant to actually do something as opposed to writing about it. In the classroom, you study theories of communication and that sort of thing, and it’s so much different when you’re out there putting all of that into place. I wish I had had more experience. I wish I had put myself out there more as an undergrad before I got out into the field, and I wish I had learned more about how to handle different personality types. I also wish there would have been more focus on crisis management so I would have had better preparation for those types of situations.

Did your education prepare you for working in PR? How?
–I think so. I felt like I knew what to expect when I got out into the PR world, and I knew what the outside world would expect from a PR person. When you say “I work in PR,” people may generally have an idea of what you do or what you should be doing, and businesses certainly have that in mind. I felt like I was prepared to handle the things that were going to be expected from me. I also feel that because of my musical experience and my ability to self-promote, I may have had an upper-hand compared to some of my cohorts and classmates.

What has surprised you the most about working in PR?
–It never stops. There is no lull, and you have to really like that energy-charged atmosphere. I don’t think anyone who is in a PR profession would ever say that it gets boring or mundane. There’s always something new—a new product, new client, new initiative, or a new way to handle certain things. It’s very hectic and I don’t think people realize that until they are in it, but you either love it or you hate it. For me, it’s great. I love it.

How has PR changed since you entered the field?
–With Internet, social networking, and that sort of thing coming on—Internet was only in its emerging stages when I was in college so we talked about it, but it was talked about in theory—“This is coming.” Well, now it’s here. It’s rampant. It’s everywhere, and you have to know what type of technology your audience is in touch with depending on their age, location, or profession. I think that is something that has changed a lot for me. It’s very interesting, and there’s always something new to learn. Many PR professionals go out into the field and think, “Well, I’m done with school,” but you’re not done with learning. You always have to stay on top of it.

How does technology affect your daily work?
–I think daily work wise—I’m expected to get more done. Everything from the E-mails coming in, the phone messages—today we have cell phones that allow us to be contacted anywhere and anytime. I receive updates and alerts on my Blackberry for Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. I think it’s the “now” aspect. You have to be “in the moment” all of the time. There’s no time to sit back and rest. You do want to take a step back and survey what you’re doing and see the bigger picture, but you have to be quick to respond. The technology that we have now demands that. You can’t respond to someone two weeks later. That just doesn’t work.

When your company is hiring for an entry-level PR position, what makes a candidate stand out?
–It depends on the position. In our office we have people who deal strictly with media relations. If that’s their area of expertise, that’s what we would what them to show experience-wise when they come in for an interview. For someone like me who does internal communications and has to work with a very broad audience, gather all sorts of information and get it to them, they would want the applicant to show that they have more varied experience—for instance, I had experience with broadcasting, public relations, communications theory—all that kind of stuff. I think it ultimately depends on the focus of the job that a person is seeking. It’s always helpful to have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, if you will—to be varied in your skills, but if there’s one thing that you absolutely shine in; it would be wise to share that with your potential employer.

What professional organizations are you involved in?
–I’m a member of PRSA and IABC. I’m also a member of the College Media Advisors for the journalism students on campus—that helps me keep in touch with my student audience that I work with.

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