Published on Oct. 13, 2022 at 1:40 p.m.
by Grace Brindley.
College students often seek the advice of industry professionals, such as which experiences and relationships forged their career paths and what combination of variables equaled success. To that end, public relations students might consider talking with industry professional Maret Montanari. At 25 years old, Montanari is the chair of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Emerging Leaders Committee, while also working as a public relations specialist at Jackson Spalding.
According to Montanari, her success is rooted in her education at The University of Alabama, where she received accolades such as PRWeek’s Student of the Year and Female Trailblazer. Montanari considers Capstone Agency, the college’s student-run public relations firm, a pillar in her professional ability.
“Capstone Agency is one of the biggest things that set me up for success following graduation and going out in the real world, not only in the client experience, but the leadership experience as being firm director,” Montanari said. During her time as assistant firm director and firm director, Montanari recalled restructuring Capstone Agency to mirror a real world agency with different departments, such as account management, media, strategy and creative.
Caden Harris, Capstone Agency’s current firm director, said that the agency retains the model from Montanari’s time, describing a prominent objective to be “as closely aligned with a real life agency as possible.”
Additionally, Harris characterized Capstone Agency as continuing to operate from the growth mentality that Montanari fostered, expanding to eight clients from six under Montanari’s administration as firm director, while also progressing with incorporations of “professional development and DEI.”
While Harris never knew Montanari personally, he recalls hearing her name from professors and former Capstone firm adviser Teri Henley, who “sang her praises.”
“They always talked about her abundance of knowledge and understanding of agency operations,” Harris said. As firm director, he strives to emulate Montanari and her expertise, crediting her past policies as inspiring the agency’s comeback following online operations.
“We replicated her process coming out of COVID-19 to bring the agency to a successful point,” Harris said.
Montanari’s connection with her Capstone Agency client team, The Plank Center, prompted her role now as its Emerging Leaders Committee chair. “My relationship has come full circle,” Montanari said, calling it “a testament to the experiences The University of Alabama can provide students.”
Montanari characterized the Emerging Leaders Committee as a network expander for PR practitioners early in their careers. “We focus on meeting the demographic of young, mid-level professionals and building bridges between them and [Plank’s] board of successful agency, corporate, nonprofit and education leaders,” Montanari said.
As leader of the committee, Montanari explained her role as “keeping the train tracks moving to reach our goals as a group while also identifying new touchpoints Plank can have with our industry peers.”
One of these goals is to support The Plank Center by annually publishing resource guides. Montanari described one of the guides this year as purposed toward “growing confidence in the workplace and how to command your presence as you grow through an important time in your career when trying to make a name for yourself.”
“In a room full of powerful, experienced people does my voice matter? It does. We’re trying to give a voice to these people,” Montanari asserted.
While the makeup of the committee includes “people from all … colleges and … walks of [life in] the PR world,” Montanari remarked that she enjoyed reconnecting with UA alumni members.
Sonny Franks Miller, fellow Emerging Leaders Committee member, also studied public relations at Alabama and served on Capstone Agency alongside Montanari. During Miller’s time as director of account services for the agency, Montanari was her assistant director.
“As a mentor to Maret early in her Capstone Agency journey, it was very fulfilling to see her achieve such success as firm director,” Miller said.
Years later, Montanari reached out to Miller about joining the emerging leaders board. Miller accredits this opportunity to their friendship and Montanari’s understanding of her own passion for professional groups. To Miller, their relationship exemplifies why networking with people in the same age group is so important.
“Those relationships are just as valuable if not more so than the relationships you build with the people you see as more aspirational figures because you are able to have real conversations about what you are going through … as you progress alongside each other,” Miller explained.
Montanari reiterated the significance of networking with industry peers, especially in her work as a public relations specialist at Jackson Spalding. Referring to media relations as her “bread and butter,” while “dabbling in influencer relations,” Montanari secures coverage for accounts across different industries, from magazines to restaurants, including Texas Monthly, Chick-fil-A and Mendocino Farms. She described reporter connections as essential for facilitating this work. “I’m always looking for ways to insert our clients into the news, so I’m keeping up with what stories we have to tell and how I can build reporter relationships to create those opportunities.”
Montanari interned for Jackson Spalding the summer of her junior year of college. A Texas native, she recalled researching Dallas public relations agencies and immediately being impressed by the company’s website and its employee focus. “I wanted to go somewhere where I would be treated as an individual and not as a number,” Montanari said. With an in-depth interview process that included meeting with senior leadership, Montanari secured the internship and went on to work for the agency postgrad.
When speaking with those young college students, Montanari said that she advises them to “be a sponge and keep that eternal student mindset. You’re going to be humbled; take constructive feedback as an investment in your growth.”