Meet our PRSSA and IU alumna, Marah Harbison Yankey!
What did you study as an undergraduate? I majored in journalism with a concentration in public relations, and I also received a certificate in arts administration from SPEA.
What was your extracurricular involvement like at IU? During my time as a student at IU, I worked a lot with recruiting prospective students. I was a tour guide with the Office of Admissions, a member of the Scholarship Advisory Committee with the Office of Scholarships and a Media School Ambassador. I also helped establish the Crimson Clovers Irish Dancers at IU, and was of course a member of PRSSA!
Where has your career path taken you since graduating? After graduation I took a job as an assistant director of marketing and communications with the IU Bloomington Office of Admissions. I was working mainly on print marketing materials (viewbooks, brochures, postcards, etc.), but also was an admissions counselor with a recruitment territory. I travelled to high schools and college fairs in Ohio and made decisions on applications from the state. It was a great first job, but I realized pretty quickly that marketing and PR are not the same thing and that marketing was not my thing!
After exactly one year in that position, I was contacted by a colleague in the university's central media and marketing office, IU Communications, about an opening in internal communications. I got the job planning content and writing mostly for newsletters for IU faculty and staff across all campuses. I was recently promoted to senior news and media specialist and shifted focus to external media.
What does your current role entail? Our office functions a bit like an agency and our "clients" are different departments and schools across the university. We work with these partners to promote big news and strategically communicate their priorities, while also making sure messaging fits into the university brand and serves university broader goals.
My "clients" include The Media School, the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, the Maurer School of Law and students. I communicate and meet with media and marketing professionals in these areas to create communications plans for big news, write web content and press releases about this news, pitch to media directly and through Agility, and coordinate with our social media and visual teams to make sure communications have appropriate visual and social elements. I field calls from reporters looking for experts in my area, and also constantly monitor local and national news in my topic areas in case we have faculty experts who I can pitch to reporters proactively.
What are your long-term career goals? I really love working in higher education and would like to lead a team at IU or another large, public university. I was never super interested in consumer PR or healthcare and always knew I wanted to work for mission-driven organizations. Unfortunately, a lot of times working in nonprofits, museums, etc. means that you have to make a lot work with very little resources or support. That's not the case at IU. It's the best of both worlds, because I am proud of the organization I work for AND I have amazing professionals to learn from, job security and sweet benefits.
What did you enjoy the most about IU PRSSA while you were a member? The people! It's always exciting to be part of a group of people who share the same interests as you and get excited about the same things you do. Our class has done a really good job of keeping in touch since graduation, even though we're scattered throughout the country.
How should current PRRSA members prepare for a career in PR and communications? If you don't pay attention to the news, start. Those current events quizzes that you dread in your classes are actually SO important. Everything you do in public relations is related to the news cycle and how you can plug your clients/organization into it. So follow a few newspapers and reporters on Twitter, start listening to news podcasts and even pick up a print publication every now and then!