Four takeaways about public relations and personal branding from Kelly Howard

A photo taken from the side of Kelly Howard as she stands at the podium in the Memorial Union Campanile Room.
Kelly Howard ('08 journalism and mass communication) spoke to students at the Greenlee School's 2017 Futures Forum Oct. 26. Photo by Megan Gilbert

By Amanda Wymore, senior in public relations

[Kelly Howard](/2017/10/12/alumna-kelly-howard-to-present-fall-2017-futures-forum-on-media-entrepreneurship-leadership/), CEO of EightSixtySouth and a 2008 graduate of the Greenlee School, discussed the business side of public relations and how to succeed in internships at the Greenlee School’s Fall 2017 Futures Forum Oct. 26 in the Memorial Union Campanile Room. Throughout her presentation, “The Art of Promotion: How to Build a Brand for Yourself and Your Business,” Howard discussed her journey to entrepreneurship and what it really takes to pursue a passion in today’s media world.

As a public relations major, here are four things I learned from this self-described #girlboss.

Public relations is always changing.

There is a standard definition of public relations that we learn in the classroom: a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

But what is it really?

“Forget what you know [about public relations],” Howard said. “Not that it’s not valuable, but it’s changing every day and very quickly.”

Public relations does not have a “one size fits all model,” and practitioners need to evolve as their clients’ needs and communications methods change. Before social media was accessible to all, communication was a stamp or a fax away. Social media has taken the world by storm, and we can’t escape it. The future may hold more unexpected ways to communicate, and the public relations industry will have to adapt.

A photo taken straight-on of Kelly Howard as she stands at the podium in the Memorial Union Campanile Room.
Prior to becoming CEO of EightSixtySouth, Iowa State alumna Kelly Howard held positions at Post+beam, Kip Morrison & Associates, Taylor Public Relations and the Iowa State Daily. Photo by Megan Gilbert

Personal connections take priority over social media.

The art of relationships is a key part of the public relations industry, and making meaningful connections takes real-life effort.

“Social media is important, but it’s not how you make real and authentic relationships," Howard said.

To start making those interpersonal connections, dive into the industry through internships – and do as many as you can.

“Building your career and your network will take time,” Howard said. “Making those connections will not happen overnight, but those are the people that will help you get jobs.”

Howard believes that learning how to connect with people isn’t something you always learn in a classroom, but something you need to know to make the most of your time in the field. In addition to helping on the job front, being authentic will also ultimately build your credibility and will help your audiences like you and listen to you.

Internships are the gateway to your aspirations.

Our generation expects instant gratification out of everything we do, but there’s no app for jobs. Howard noted that millennials may get a bad rap from some as being lazy and uninterested, and her advice to combat that is straightforward: “Don’t be that person.”

Howard suggests doing plenty of research before your interviews and internships to prove your work ethic and interest. An opportunity may not be everything you expect, so it is best to be prepared.

"Market yourself as someone who is authentic and as someone who cares,” Howard said.

Doing many internships also has the benefit of teaching you what you do — and don’t — want to do. She warns to not get distracted along the way by short-term challenges. Know what actually matters and focus on the end game.

Several Greenlee students take notes on their computers as they listen to Kelly Howard.
Greenlee students filled the Memorial Union Campanile Room to hear Kelly Howard discuss personal branding and entrepreneurship. Photo by Megan Gibert

You are your own PR.

Howard left the audience with a list of things she wanted us to take away from her presentation:

  • Market yourself.
  • Find the right contacts.
  • Stay in touch.
  • Read everything.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Make real connections.
  • Hustle.

“You are always in PR for yourself, no matter what your actual major is,” Howard said.

Branding yourself – without selling your soul – is what will lead you in the future. What are you trying to pursue? How will you make an impact? Making quality relationships with supervisors, mentors and other professionals will help to boost your reliability and show that you have what it takes to pursue your passion.

The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication’s Futures Forum is a semiannual event sponsored by William F. and Linda Z. Tubbs.