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Bright Minds in the Windy City

Published on December 7, 2017, at 8:55 a.m.
by Maret Montanari.

With padfolios and business cards in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other, 10 students from The University of Alabama’s Advertising and Public Relations Department were ready to take on Chicago for fall break. We had the opportunity to attend The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Milestones in Mentoring Gala and tour several of the top communication agencies.

Chicago is a hub for the public relations industry, and during the 48 hours we were there, we took full advantage of it. We kicked off our time in the Windy City with the 8th annual Gala.

The words “inspired” and “energized” do not do justice to the range of emotions I experienced. When you’re in the presence of the industry’s most successful and brilliant professionals, it’s hard not to feel star-struck. A night of mingling and networking at what many consider to be the Oscars of public relations? Sign me up.

As I walked into the room full of mostly strangers, I pushed aside my nerves and channeled my inner extrovert. I formed friendships with other students, most of who attend DePaul University, and many of the professionals in attendance. Finding common ground with peers and professionals is not as hard as it looks. Networking is an essential key to any industry, so my advice is to learn it well and practice it now.

As the evening continued with the dinner, the room lit up with words from the six honorees as they shared their insights on public relations. The best advice of all: “Find your gift and give it away.” These seven words apply to any aspect of life. No matter your gift, bring people together by advancing the public relations profession. Embrace your talents and use them for the greater good. Leave a legacy worth remembering and following. As the evening concluded, it was clear the Center’s namesake, Betsy Plank, and her legacy of aspiring to inspire lives on through the honorees and gala attendees.

The Gala was a tough act to follow, but the agency tours surpassed my expectations. Our first stop: Cramer-Krasselt, an independent advertising agency headquartered in Chicago. Recognized for its brand positioning and thinking outside the box campaigns, C-K provided us with a taste of the fast-paced advertising industry.

Following the tour, our group had the opportunity to learn more about the agency during a panel discussion with four employees from different backgrounds and levels. We gained more insight on C-K’s company culture, how to be the ultimate intern, and the benefits of working for an independent agency. It was clear C-K lives up to its slogan of “make friends, not ads.”

Next up on the tour: Ketchum, one of the largest and most diverse global public relations agency. Its Chicago office focuses on brand, food/agriculture, corporate/healthcare and integrated media. The tour of the office space brought Ketchum’s vision of innovation and a relentless work ethic to life. After the tour, we sat down with University of Alabama and Capstone Agency alum Myreete Wolford, a business development specialist, and several other Ketchum employees. They offered us a glimpse of Ketchum’s client work, agency structure and tips on real-time content development.

Some might say that we Alabama students left our mark on Chicago, but I would counter and say that Chicago left its mark on us. From the Gala to the agency tours, we witnessed the success possible in the communications industry.

The 48 hours I spent in Chicago sparked a fire in me to seize every opportunity to better myself as an aspiring public relations professional. If you embrace the fast-paced culture, evolving nature of the industry and the need for large doses of caffeine, prosperity will follow suit.

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