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Times of Transition

Posted At: April 9, 2008 12:23 PM | Posted By: Kelly Bond
by CJ McCormick

The path to PR

For many students, the time has come to leave behind the comfort of college to make a name for themselves in the professional world, but for some the journey may not go as planned—take it from two who have been there.

Unlike some students, Ketchum Account Executive Brandi Bonkowski always knew what she wanted to do.

“It’s funny but I used to talk a lot when I was in elementary school, and my teacher told me that I would be good for a career in communication,” she said. “Whenever I was in school, I kind of always leaned toward that path. I really liked English classes and I liked to write. So when I went to college, I just automatically knew I wanted to study public relations.”

Although she was certain of what she wanted to do, finding her first job was not so easy.

“I really knew I wanted to do PR in an agency and I already had two internships, but there was just nowhere hiring or I just didn’t have the experience to get into those places,” Bonkowski said.

After applying to 111 jobs with no success, Bonkowski took a job at a clothing boutique in hopes of meeting someone in the professional arena.

“So I actually then just got a job at a boutique where one of the clientele happened to be on the charity board with someone who worked at a PR agency, so she offered to pass my resume on, and that’s how I ended up doing another internship with Ketchum before I was hired.”

For students in similar positions, Bonkowski recommends taking her approach.

“I always say to somebody if you are going to go back and have to bartend or wait tables, then do it somewhere where you are going to meet somebody that works in a professional setting,” she said. “Here in Chicago at Ketchum there is a Starbucks downstairs and we had a guy working down there who really wanted to work in PR. So one day he noticed I had a notebook on me and that I worked at Ketchum and he gave me his resume and I think we ended up interviewing him at one time.”

Unlike Bonkowski, Elle Butler, public relations manager for Scripps Network/GAC, decided to study public relations because it was the closest major her university offered to broadcast journalism.

“I actually thought I was going to be a journalist, but the university that I attended didn’t have a journalism major,” Butler said. “Since we only had public relations, I said, ‘OK I’m going to major in PR since it’s the closest thing to it and I’ll just have my internships in broadcast journalism and it really doesn’t matter.’”

Since Butler aspired to be a sports reporter, she took a news station internship that gave her the experience necessary to get hired as a communication specialist for the San Antonio Spurs and later with the Houston Rockets in the internal sales department.

An unexpected offer

While working for the Rockets, Butler interviewed for a graduate position at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that lead her in another direction.

“I was in the process of interviewing for that job and I didn’t get it,” she said. “But they said, ‘Hey is it OK if we send your resume on to another local company who is actually looking for someone with your PR experience?’ So I said, ‘Sure, OK’ but I thought they wouldn’t actually do it.”

As it turned out, Butler did receive a call for an interview from the Scripps Network, which is the parent company of the Great American Country channel.

“After I came back from that, I knew that even if I didn’t get the job with Scripps I couldn’t do sales anymore so I gave my notice that Monday,” she said.

Out of this experience, Butler realized you have to find out what makes you happy and go for it.

“Be true to yourself and don’t settle,” she said. “If you know PR is what you want, go for it. I’m glad I stuck it out and said sales is not for me. Yes the money is great, but it’s just not what I enjoy doing. PR is where I want to be and I enjoy it. It speaks volumes when you can say you love what you do.”

E-mail: Brandi Bonkowski | Bio

E-mail: Elle Butler | Bio

Photo Credit: Jesse Thompson

Do you have a story to tell about your first internship or post-college job? Help others learn how to navigate the professional world by commenting on this story.

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