PRSSA Mixer: Overcoming challenges and trusting yourself with Awa Sy

By Director of PR, Brittany Jones

PRSSA members held a virtual mixer Thursday, Oct. 15 with a recent UTA graduate and SPM Communications Account Coordinator, Awa Sy.

Sy shared details of what her college experience was like, how she gained confidence and handled challenges during her internships.

“I was not super active in my community college,” Sy said. “And when I got to UTA I was like, I’ve got to do something, I don’t care what it is. I need something on my resume that shows I was interested in school.”

Sy heard about PRSSA which matched her major and decided to go to “a meeting or two” which ended up being super interesting and brought situations to life for her. She had opportunities to meet professionals and ask them questions and learn skills that weren’t necessarily being taught in class.

“Being on the [executive] board really helped me pick up those leadership skills or hone in on them,” Sy said. “And kind of understand what teamwork really means outside of a group project.”

When asked how she would define public relations, Sy said public relations is brand protection. While at SPM, they focus on protecting the brands and helping them tell their stories.

“Public relations is another form of story-telling,” Sy said. “Letting the publics know why your brand is important, why what they’re doing matters, and why they should support them.”

She then invited members on the call to define what public relations means to them. Brittany Jones, Director of PR said she feels like she’s still trying to figure out what PR is, but she’s been doing a lot of social media.

“So, it’s just making people aware on social media of your company,” Jones said. “That’s what I think of when I think of PR.”

Ryan Jackson, PRSSA Vice President, defined PR as taking the writing style of journalists with the engagement in advertising and put those together and that’s public relations. Sy liked that definition but placed emphasis on how public relations is earned rather than paid like advertising.

Jennifer Little, public relations professor and PRSSA advisor hopped on the call to talk to Sy about her “awkward comment” which was made earlier during the mixer. Little said the comment is not unique to Sy and that it’s common to hear students describe themselves as awkward or shy. She then asked what advice Sy could give to students who have a similar mindset.

Sy said she’s always mentioned that she’s an awkward individual and that she gets nervous when it comes to speaking to anybody new.

“The biggest thing that helped me in school was, I’m not going to lie, PRSSA,” Sy said. “Had it not been for PRSSA and literally being forced to like, talk to people outside of my classes, not about schoolwork. I don’t know where else I would’ve gotten the practice to just put myself out there.”

By going to PRSA Dallas events and being left on her own with professionals, allowed Sy to become more comfortable in putting herself out there. As a professional, Sy said she still struggles with phone calls.

“I shake, I have a list of reporters to call and I’m like, the cold-calling in me is not there,” Sy said. “I don’t know who they are, they don’t know who I am. They don’t even have to answer my questions, they don’t have to care.”

Sy added that it’s all about putting yourself out there and trusting that everything’s going to be okay. For students to get it done, walk away, and take their lessons.

Sy’s had several internships, but she took PRSSA members through a day of her most recent internship at SPM. She would go in around 9 a.m., check her emails to see if she had any tasks. Sy had an internship manager who would assign her tasks. If she had a question, her manager was her touchpoint person.

“One thing I liked that SPM did was schedule sit-downs throughout my internship,” Sy said.

Somedays she would sit down with the Vice President of Editorials to discuss press releases and crisis communications. After that, she would check her emails or watch someone send a press release to The Wire.

Rebecca Speranza, PRSSA Communication Co-chair asked how Sy approached mistakes and challenges that were thrown her way.

Sy described herself as a person that really likes feedback because she thrives off it. She needs to know what she’s doing that’s working and what she’s doing that needs to be improved upon.

“It’s funny because I used to not be this way. I used to be like okay, I’m going to get through it, send it off. Whatever’s wrong with it, they’ll let me know.” Sy said.

But now she’s much more proactive about it and that’s something she’s learned that’s really important. Sy encourages students to stop if they’re confused about something and ask to know if they’re doing something correctly.

Sy also encourages students to network. Something she used to hate doing but has learned to love and appreciate.

“I feel like connections are everything and you could literally be one person away from your next position, your next opportunity,” Sy said. “So, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

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© 2017 by The University of Texas at Arlington Public Relations Student Society of America

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