Published on November 21, 2016, at 7:25 p.m.
By Megan Perkins.
Compassionate, driven, authentic — these are the three words Sarah Dougherty used to describe this year’s Public Relations Student Society of America national president.
Dougherty, the vice president of career services for PRSSA, has found a mentor and friend in the national committee’s fearless leader, Emma Finkbeiner.
“Emma is so strong in her leadership that it teaches us to be strong,” Dougherty said. “She’s very open to working with us, but she also challenges us to take the lead on things.”
In the midst of running PRSSA, Finkbeiner found the time to unfold her unique exploration of the public relations field.
The 22-year-old PR star from Marquette, Michigan, has had her heart set on the communications field since high school. English classes sparked her interest in journalism and fueled her decision to enter Northern Michigan University as a general communications major.
Concerned with finding a job after graduation, Finkbeiner quickly realized she wanted something more concrete.
“I had this moment of panic where I was like, ‘What am I going to do when I graduate?’” Finkbeiner said. “So I decided I wanted something with a more clear career path.”
After a suggestion by her adviser and longtime mentor, Tom Isaacson, Ph.D., Finkbeiner narrowed her interests down to a major in public relations with a minor in journalism. Her first public relations class and NMU PRSSA meeting confirmed she had made the right decision.
“I’m really lucky that I had that guiding call for me because a lot of people don’t discover it until much later in their college career,” Finkbeiner said. “They don’t get involved with PRSSA until later, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have known about this earlier.’”
Finkbeiner’s exploration of the public relations field can be considered nontraditional. The small-town nature of Marquette didn’t allow for the typical big agency and corporate internships other National Committee members have had. All of her opportunities came through her network or simply asking an organization for a position.
“Those opportunities were about learning what I like to do just as much as what I don’t like to do,” Finkbeiner said. “There’s a learning experience you can take away from any internship.”
From fashion to tech to government public relations, Finkbeiner has done it all. She worked as an assistant sales manager at Che Bello Boutique running its social media pages, a research intern for the Upper Peninsula Office of the Governor and a public relations specialist for Invent@NMU.
Her journalism experience does not fall short to her public relations experience. Finkbeiner worked her way up to be editor-in-chief of NMU’s student newspaper, where she explored feature writing and investigative journalism. She also dedicated a lot of her time writing for PRSSA’s Progressions and FORUM.
“I jumped at any opportunity when I got the chance,” Finkbeiner said. “It may not have been what I want to do with the rest of my life, but it taught me a lot.”
After graduating from NMU, Finkbeiner followed her dreams to graduate school at DePaul University. She is in her first quarter as a public relations and advertising student. Just in case balancing graduate school and PRSSA wasn’t enough, Finkbeiner is also interning at the DePaul Office of Community and Government Relations.
“I’m just trying to get my foot in wherever I can and get a little bit of different experience,” Finkbeiner said. “I’ll continue to build on that in the next few years of my graduate degree.”
As the PRSSA national president, Finkbeiner is playing a role unlike any other role in her past. She is on the front line and responsible for creating the strategic vision for the organization. She said the biggest lesson she’s learned in this managerial role is how to not set goals that are too specific for her team. She was taught throughout her education to set specific, measurable goals, so for the first time she is at the top and forced to keep a broader perspective.
On top of goal-setting, Finkbeiner has stressed the importance of constant communication with her team. She said it can be intimidating managing her peers and even weirder when they’re her friends.
“Managing your peers in a way that they feel empowered and respected, but also having authority over them is a very delicate balance,” Finkbeiner said. “Learning how to do it now is only going to help you when you’re in your career.”
Finkbeiner has worked hard to get where she stands today, but she credits a lot of her success to her mentors. Her adviser, Tom Isaacson, past PRSSA President and NMU graduate Brian Price, and Ron Culp, DePaul’s professional director, are just a few of the many guiding hands that led Finkbeiner to be a strong leader.
“Brian taught me you don’t have to go to the biggest school in the country to make it in PR,” Finkbeiner said. “Anybody can do this if they make the right moves.”
Finkbeiner’s wide range of experience has left her undecided about what specific job she’s going to look for after graduation. She’s a sports lover and a fashion fanatic with a knack for writing — the possibilities are endless. However, the idea of working for the Chicago Cubs (disclaimer: she was indeed a fan before the World Series win), or being the editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine would be a dream-come-true for Finkbeiner.
But for Finkbeiner, it’s all about the storytelling. She said when someone knows how to improve lives but doesn’t have the means to tell their story, that’s when public relations practitioners step in.
“If you can be a good storyteller in PR, you’re going to have a really rewarding career,” Finkbeiner said. “Helping other people shine is what I think it’s all about.”