Head of the Class: PRSSA National President Andrew Cook on PR’s Next Generation

October 2, 2017

“As a kid, I always pictured myself growing up to be a lawyer, like my dad, or a goalie in the NHL, thanks to the hours I spent playing street hockey with my brother Scott,” says 2017–2018 PRSSA National President Andrew Cook.

The Ohio native is now a senior at Brigham Young University, studying public relations with a minor in global business. He enjoys his college home in Provo, Utah, “where the mountain landscape provides endless opportunities for adventure,” and is a BYU Cougars fan while also remaining loyal to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Cook previously served on the PRSSA National Committee as vice president of advocacy. In addition to attending last year’s Conference in Indianapolis and Assembly in Seattle, his favorite memory of the year was traveling to Peru to visit the PRSSA Chapter at Universidad de San Martin de Porres.

In his spare time, Cook enjoys spending time with family, traveling, longboarding, baking chocolate chip cookies and visiting art museums.

How did you first become interested in public relations?

In 2012, I was staying in the dorms at BYU and witnessed the “Stop Kony 2012” video, produced by Invisible Children, go viral. In less than an hour, it seemed like everyone in my building had seen that video and shared it on Facebook.

After seeing the attention it received and how it motivated many people to take action in a short time, I said to myself, “Whatever that is, I want to do that!” and began exploring communications.

How can PR students make the most of PRSSA and their college experience?

Remember: “People, not things, matter most.” Public relations is about building relations centered on trust. I don’t think there’s anything in PRSSA that I’ve accomplished alone — every success has come about through working with fantastic individuals who will be my lifelong friends. I was drawn to them because of their passion and commitment to developing their careers and wanted to learn all I could from them.

I’d also encourage students to be innovators, to constantly be asking, “Is there a better way to do this?” and to use PRSSA as a vehicle to find mentors who will help shape you as a professional.

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

Public relations is exciting because you are constantly learning, and the profession is evolving in many different ways at a rapid pace. Also as humans, we have a need to gather and connect — people recognize the potential for good in using the technology we have available to us today, especially in social media. Businesses are beginning to turn the corner in terms of recognizing the value of strategic communication as our world becomes more globalized and interconnected.

One challenge for our profession is differentiating ourselves, while also showing that public relations extends beyond communications and encompasses other functions that support organizational needs. Because of the nature of the work — solving problems, building relationships, helping people — public relations is a rewarding and fulfilling career path, which draws a lot of students to pursue it.

We still have a lot of work to do in advocating for the profession and attracting the best talent, but if more students (even in high school) were aware of what public relations actually is, then we could see our profession grow even more.

How are your professors using social media in the classroom?

Since I’ve entered the BYU PR program, there has been a heavy focus on understanding and harnessing the power of social media.

In my PR writing class with Dr. Pamela Brubaker, we were required to include SEO terms and social media hashtags with each piece and think strategically about how our content could be shared via social media channels with our intended audiences.

What tools are most important for you to succeed in public relations?

At the end of the day, if I have a good pen and a blank notebook, I feel like I can work wonders. I’m a writer and a strategist at heart, and being able to fill a notebook with thoughts and ideas and organize them into a strategic plan is all I need to be prepared to succeed.

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

I like to keep in mind that every social media user is a real person with hopes, dreams, thoughts and feelings. Everyone checks notifications and notices when you appreciate their content! As humans, we love to know that people are listening when we tell a story. The way to engage your followers is to be authentic and real. If you understand your audience and why they are following you, then you won’t have to worry about what content to post.

I love introducing friends to each other or replying to a story or post with a sincere, thoughtful compliment. There is also wisdom in limiting your social media use to times when you’ll be productive and contribute meaningful content or consume worthwhile information.

Don’t accept a LinkedIn request without starting a conversation. On Twitter, follow a variety of opinions and be willing to challenge your own viewpoints and decisions. Finally, use social media to strengthen ties with people who matter most to you, especially if they live far away. My dad and my siblings are my favorite people to use Snapchat with!

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

I’ve been blessed with wonderful opportunities as an intern and have grown personally and professionally through each one. The real value comes via the mentors you are able to work with and the lessons that you learn from them.

You should constantly be learning. View internships as an apprenticeship and soak up as much as you can from the professionals at that organization. Internships are great ways to specialize your learning in a specific area or practice.

I’d encourage professionals to pay their interns and invest in them beyond what is required, and would urge students to come with questions and an open mind, and share what you learn in school so that the organization can improve too.

Are your classmates worried about the job hunt and life after graduation?

Jobs are top of mind for everyone right now. Finding the right organization with the right position in the right location is a daunting task for every senior!

For all you professionals, reach out to your nearest Chapter as you look to fill positions. PRSSA is a gold mine for talent!

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

I believe that good leaders are individuals who teach by example, inspire others to lift their vision and strive to improve the environment around them. Leaders are teachers, but the most important leadership skill is the ability to listen and understand. For me, the decision to pursue PRSSA leadership grew out of a desire to serve other students as I prepared for my own career.

How can we strengthen the bond between PRSA and PRSSA?

There are so many opportunities for PRSA and PRSSA to work closely together! The three that come to mind include organizing and participating in high-school outreach programs, developing better mentor relationships, and holding more events for both PRSA and PRSSA members. We’d also love for you to join us for our Twitter chats, which are held monthly on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET using the hashtag #PRSSA

Getting to Know… Andrew Cook:

Any three dinner guests?

Betsy Plank, Gordon B. Hinckley and my great-great grandfather Preston Thomas

Best downtime activity?

Sunday walks with my family

Favorite movie?

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Best advice received?

“Seek first to understand before seeking to make yourself understood.”

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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