A Class Act: National President Emma Finkbeiner on Leading PRSSA

October 31, 2016

Though Emma Finkbeiner hadn’t heard of public relations in high school, she had a great adviser when she started college who was a PR professor. “I felt lost in the big, general communications major and he suggested I consider public relations by inviting me to a PRSSA meeting. The rest is history,” says the DePaul University graduate student.

Now, Finkbeiner is the PRSSA National President for the 2016-2017 academic year, and is pursuing a master’s degree in public relations and advertising. She is an alumna of Northern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism.

Finkbeiner previously served as publications editor-in-chief and initiated a redesign of the tri-annual newspaper FORUM, while simultaneously running the national blog Progressions.

“I still have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to that first entry-level full-time position and building steadily from there,” she says. “I’m also looking forward to getting involved in the professional Society. I can see myself running for Chapter positions, then board positions and, someday, I hope to receive the tremendous honor of being a PRSA Fellow.”

What was your dream job as a child?

For a long time, I thought I was going to be a veterinarian or a marine biologist — I love animals. When I discovered I wasn’t the best at science, my dream job changed to editor-in-chief at Vogue.

What advice do you have for others for success in PRSSA?

I believe that you get out of PRSSA what you put into it. What’s so great about PRSSA is that, at the end of the day, anyone has the chance to sit where I’m sitting. I came from one of the smallest Chapters in the country and climbed the leadership ladder.

How involved you want to get and how far you go in the Society is up to you, but you have to want it, you have to love it and you have to work hard to get it.

PRSSA adds so much value to your college or graduate-school experience. Just being a part of the largest pre-professional public relations organization is saying something, but what matters is what you do with all of the opportunities PRSSA has to offer.

Why do you think there is a growing interest in public relations these days?

Public relations is something more students are becoming interested in as they discover that it is an option. Once I learned about it, I knew it was what I had been looking for in a career path all along.

The explosion of social media is a big factor in why so many students are interested in public relations, though that is just one small portion of what a professional might do in the workplace. And as public relations grows and more industries and organizations find themselves hiring PR firms or in-house PR professionals, the breadth of options for a career in public relations is showing itself to the masses. I see it as a major and profession choice that is growing among those my age.

What are some of your social media habits and news sources?

Though I share a lot of content on Facebook, I actively and more thoughtfully update my Twitter and LinkedIn. I like Snapchat but don’t tend to use it as much as most people my age. My favorite social media platform is Instagram. I’m fascinated by the influence that Instagram can have for certain industries. I recently started following a lot of dog accounts, which are fun.

I love The Wall Street Journal, and when I’m traveling, I try to pick up a New York Times. I have a soft spot for hard-copy newspapers. I also like the big industry publications, like Adweek and PRWeek, but most of my daily reading is based on PRSA’s Issues & Trends emails or articles linked in my daily Skimm email.

You are an active Twitter user. What are some tips and best practices?

Don’t continue to blindly post meaningless information into the Twitter abyss. See what people are talking about, read through the trending hashtags, follow professionals and brands you want to know more about or already like. Then, insert your personality and thoughts in a relevant way. I’m not saying you can’t also share personal parts of your life on Twitter — I still do — but your feed should reflect the things you’re interested in. Your feed is one manifestation of your personal brand.

What experiences at DePaul have prepared you best for the real world?

In my graduate classes at DePaul, working in teams to solve problems is common, not only as a large assignment but also as a regular in-class activity. Many students groan at group projects, but in the workplace, working as a team to solve a client’s problem through creative, effective communication is the job. Really, there is no better way to prepare students for the real world than that.

What have you learned from your own internships and what advice do you have for others to make the most of theirs?

I’ve mostly completed nontraditional internships due primarily to my previous place of residence, but it taught me to seek out opportunities that may not be so obvious and, when necessary, create my own opportunities. I completed a research internship with the Northern Michigan Office of the Governor that was the first of its kind — I scored a meeting with the director through my mentor and proposed the idea to him myself.

Though I’ve never interned at a large agency or major company, my experiences are diverse. You can make the most of any internship by remembering that it is a learning experience. Even if you work on a client you aren’t particularly interested in or feel you are out of your comfort zone, remember you are there to learn and try new things. Big or small, it’s all about adding value to an organization and being able to show that once you move on.

What are your classmates talking about right now? Are they worried about the job hunt and life after graduation?

No matter how prepared a student is prior to graduation, I would be surprised if anyone wasn’t at least a little worried about the post-grad life and the job hunt. Even I worry! The topic of conversation regarding the job hunt among my peers right now is how we can best differentiate ourselves among our talented peers.

What makes a good leader? And why did you pursue a role in PRSSA leadership?

I’m a believer in the servant-leader style of leadership. Great leaders start as people who have a desire to serve others. As the definition of this leadership style reads, “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

I had such an incredible experience reaping the benefits of PRSSA — and specifically writing for the publications — that I wanted to be able to provide that experience to others. In simpler terms, I had a desire to serve others in the Society.

How do you think we can best strengthen the bond between PRSA and PRSSA?

It’s important to show the closeness between PRSA and PRSSA from the top, down. I’m looking forward to partnering with PRSA this year in outreach efforts to help grow our Chapter base. Our National Professional Adviser Kelly Davis, APR, has also been working hard to make sure that all PRSSA Chapters have proper professional advisers in place. Advisers help support Chapters and keep the communication channels open between PRSSA and PRSA members, which can lead to a more smooth transition for a student into the professional Society.

Getting to Know… Emma Finkbeiner

Any three dinner guests — past or present?
Betsy Plank, Joe Maddon and Anna Wintour

Favorite movie?
“Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Do the right thing. That doesn’t always mean you get everything right the first time, but you can still do the right thing to make it better.” – My mother

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

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