I, for one, took away a lot than I expected to when the Philadelphia Public Relations Association honored TODAY Show co-anchor Sheinelle Jones with its Gold Medal Award recently.
Jones, a native Philadelphian who worked in city for nine years before moving to TODAY in 2014, talked about her path from Wichita, Kansas to Northwestern University and working in small television markets before ultimately landing a job in large-market Philadelphia.
She leveraged that job to land a dream position for any broadcast journalist – a spot on the iconic TODAY Show, NBC’s signature news program.
As we heard Jones’ story, it hit me. The principles Sheinelle discussed – risk taking, persistence, developing meaningful connections with colleagues and mentors – were universal. What worked for Sheinelle Jones in broadcast journalism can work for those of us in PR.
We can find success when we apply those exact same things to our daily activities – something to consider the next time you hit a rut.
Consider these professional lessons from Sheinelle.
• Rejection Doesn’t Have to Mean “Give Up”: When Jones graduated from Northwestern University, she sent nearly 100 VHS audition tapes around the country. No one called, but Jones persevered. She turned the tables and cold-called the same people who ignored her packages. If there was no job available, she still asked for advice. Ultimately, she kept going when another person would have given up. By expanding her network, she put herself in a better position to land opportunities. We can remember her resilience the next time a new business meeting becomes hard to land or when a media pitch draws nothing but crickets. The more creative you think, the more you’ll be able to find something to break through a logjam.
• Don’t Fit In When You Can Stand Out: When Jones arrived at Northwestern University, she soon realized that “everyone there was a valedictorian or salutatorian in high school.” So, she loaded up on internships – one every summer throughout her college career. She was able to intern at mostly local television stations, but one summer she got national experience, landing at BET. When she graduated, she stood out by having a fuller resume than her competition – and, more importantly, a renewed drive to be the best. In our public relations activities, we too can find something extra to offer – coming up with or even offering to staff a client’s big event when such an action isn’t necessary. By pushing ourselves a bit further, we will separate ourselves from competing practitioners.
• Ask for an Assist, but also Help Without Being Asked: Networking doesn’t have to be a one-way street. By helping people in power, you can also help yourself. Jones talked about watching a boss’ children overnight – an act that goes far beyond a simple favor – and one that made her supervisor highly appreciative. A few months later, when a coveted morning show anchoring job came up, that same boss advocated for Jones to get that spot. The babysitting job was not contrived – Jones is a genuine person who likely wasn’t considering her own self-interests when she volunteered to watch the children. Still, by being herself, she earned valuable advocates. The same can be true in our field – something to think about when a new client lead come from an unexpected source or a media contact asks you for a source for a story.
As a PPRA Board member, I was lucky to get a valuable few seconds with Sheinelle at the end of the event. I considered asking for a photo or maybe even pitching a client. Instead, I wanted to let her know her message resonated with me – as I hope it resonates with others in our field.
Sheinelle Jones may have accepted an award, but she also left behind lessons that we can remember throughout our work in the field for years to come.
Adam Dvorin is a vice president of AKCG – Public Relations Counselors and a Board Member of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association.