By Hannah Ross
AU PRSSA alumni are doing big things. We recently heard from Evan Martinez about his experience working at a trade association and Jenna Mosely about her work with global communications. For the next blog in our alumni series I talked to Ashley Sayers, AU PRSSA alum and former eboard member. Ashley graduated from American University in 2015 and immediately began working at The Herald Group, a public affairs firm until she recently joined Porter Novelli in their public affairs and corporate communications practice. In her spare time, Ashley also solo contracts for lifestyle brands doing influencer engagement projects. I asked Ashley how she balances a full-time job with her freelance work and what insight she has on building a network and managing multiple career focuses.
- When did you join PRSSA?
I joined PRSSA my freshman year and remained a member throughout undergrad serving as the events director and later the director of finance and fundraising.
- What made you interested in public affairs?
I always wanted to work in public relations, but was looking for my niche. I started to really get involved with politics during the 2012 election and after discovering public affairs, I thought this is it! I can combine my passion for public relations with my interest in politics…and here we are.
- You recently started a new position at Porter Novelli. What attracted you to work there?
Porter Novelli’s roots are grounded in social impact and you can really feel that when you step into their offices. The PN team is not only extremely talented but also incredibly passionate about driving positive change through their work. It’s a company and team that I’m really proud to be a part of.
- What does your day-to-day work look like?
No two days are the same which is what I find really exciting about my work. I am often reading the news on my client’s issue areas, writing content like op-eds and letters to the editor, working with local and national media, coordinating calls and meetings, tracking action items and deliverables around campaigns and joining with colleagues for brainstorm sessions. PR professionals wear many hats!
- You’re taking on the lifestyle PR world through side work. How did you begin that process?
I have always had a passion for brands and products and I wanted to explore lifestyle PR on my off time. I started ASH Marketing & Communications as a way to feed this passion and since September I have been lucky enough to work for some really fun clients on influencer engagement projects.
- Can you talk a little more about influencer engagement?
Influencer engagement is a form of marketing where focus is placed on specific key individuals rather than an entire target market. Brands now more than ever seek to connect directly with Instagrammers, YouTubers, Viners, Snapchatters, and bloggers to partner and promote products and services to the influencer’s loyal friends and followers. This is a booming space and it’s fascinating to work in because it allows for new creative tactics and relies on building and maintaining genuine relationships that are supported through credibility and trust.
- Do you work by yourself or in a team?
I work by myself, but sometimes partner with a friend and fellow freelancer on projects that are larger in scale.
- Working in public affairs for a few years, you’ve probably built a network of public affairs professionals. How did you expand your network and find contacts in the lifestyle PR world?
I think the key to making connections in any industry is time and genuine effort. Reaching out and following up, asking for informational interviews, building new relationships and nurturing the ones you already have, and being open about your goals with friends, colleagues and mentors who may be willing to make introductions. My initial contacts in lifestyle PR came through a longtime professional friend.
- What type of unique challenges do you face working in the public affairs world?
There are people in the public affairs world who know a lot about politics. I was a political science minor, but that was my only political education prior to my professional experience. I have to read a lot and ask a lot of questions to keep up with them.
- What type of unique challenges do you anticipate facing in the lifestyle PR world?
I have always loved brands and products and have been reading and studying this material as a hobby for as long as I can remember. I think the challenge with lifestyle PR will be learning specific tactics that I haven’t used before in public affairs.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I have absolutely no idea. If you would have asked me that same question 5 years ago, I would not have described to you my life as it is today. I have learned that visualizing a specific plan for your life can sometimes be limiting as it closes your mind to new ideas. Instead, I like to set short term goals, work hard, keep an open mind to new opportunities and put a lot of thought into the decisions I have in front of me. I know as much as you do about where I will be in 5 years and I find that really comforting and exciting.
- How has your time in PRSSA helped you get where you are now?
I am so thankful for my involvement with AU’s PRSSA. I learned so much about the industry and the professional world through the organization and came away from it with a network of talented and driven professionals and friends. I met some of my greatest mentors through the organization and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without their support and advice.
It was so great hearing from Ashley and getting her words of wisdom. She’s already a PR rockstar and I can’t wait to see what she does next with her multifaceted career. To keep up with AU PRSSA alumni like Ashley, check out the other stories in our Alumni Series!