Featured Speaker Q & A: Julie Williams and Erin Merz

Julie Williams, APR, M.A.

Owner, Versatile Creative

What was your first job in PR?

Technically my first job in PR/Communications was working at The Collegian, Willamette University’s award-winning student newspaper as an editor, columnist and designer, but I only made $250 a month. Later, I worked as a communications and public affairs intern with AARP Oregon while attending graduate school for Strategic Communications & Journalism and this was truly the launch point of my integrated marketing communications career.

Which skill makes you great at your job in PR? What skills do you use daily in PR?

The skill that makes me great at strategic communications work is relationship building and sustenance. Building quick rapport and engaging a vast network of contacts is key to this profession. I use this skill daily in addition to networking resources, writing succinctly, managing effectively, planning nimbly and inspiring commitment to the process.

What can the audience expect from your presentation?

To have a lot of fun (Erin and I love collaborating as thought partners). Opportunities to practice relational skills they already have (but might not realize) and in new ways. Advanced strategies on stakeholder management.

Why do you feel strategy is so important in PR?

Communication is most effective when it’s proactive, strategically anticipating issues and contingency planning. And when it’s responsive, nimbly adjusting to new realities and information, as opposed to reactive. So, it’s not just important, it’s essential.

What are your biggest influences in PR? What are the biggest challenges that are surfacing in PR?

My professional experiences working at or consulting with the most functional and the most dysfunctional organizations have influenced my communications practice the most. Personally, my spiritual practice influences me the most about relating and communicating with others better. The growing illusion of urgency and the compulsive cult of busy seem like big challenges and threats to effective communications and relating to various, diverse publics – both professionally and personally for all of us.

Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you would like PRSA members to know?

Nope, this was really thorough! Excited to connect with folks and share our case study so that they can immediately apply lessons learned to their own current projects.

Contact: julie@versatilecreative.co // 503.961.3261

Connect: www.linkedin.com/in/juliemariewilliams

Erin Merz, M.A., APR

Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing, Portland State University Campus Rec & Student Union Services

Erin Merz, APR, MA, is a seasoned public relations professional with a knack for creating quality content that reaches the right audiences and inspires action. Her communications expertise, passion for storytelling, results-driven mindset, and commitment to building and maintaining strong relationships with stakeholders adds substantial value to the organizations that she works with.

Erin currently manages communications for Portland State University Campus Rec & Student Union Services. In her role she has the opportunity to combine her professional expertise with her personal passion for health, wellness and creating a sense of belonging. Erin has a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Grand Valley State University, a Master’s degree in communications from the New York Institute of Technology and holds an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR). She’s also an active member and volunteer with the Public Relations Society of America Oregon Chapter.

Connect with her online at erinmerz.com or Instagram and Twitter at @erinmerz.

What was your first job in PR?

I worked in sports information — the PR of collegiate athletics — for a couple of years after college. But the job that solidified my desire to work in PR was at Zimmerman/Edelson, a full service agency in Great Neck, N.Y. I was getting my masters degree at the New York Institute of Technology and a professor referred me for an internship (thanks, Jeff Morosoff!). I quickly advanced to an associate account executive and gained invaluable, practical experience that carried me through the early stages of my career.

I highly encourage young pros to experiment with a variety of PR disciplines. Don’t be afraid to switch jobs and try something new. It’s the best way to find what you’re truly passionate about.

What skill makes you great at your job in PR? What skills do you use daily in PR?

A wide variety of skills are necessary to be successful in PR. The top three in my current role are initiative, delegation and the ability to work with people. I know what needs to get done and I get it done, I empower my team to work smartly and independently, and I excel at creating and maintaining strong relationships with the people I work with.

I write every day and can’t stress enough the importance of good writing. Most of my writing is through email and clear, concise written communication is key to success when managing multiple projects with multiple stakeholders.

What can the audience expect from your presentation?

I’m co-presenting twice. In the morning Julie Williams and I will offer stakeholder relations best practices. This session will give you the confidence and know-how you need to successfully work with people, a critical and necessary skill in our industry.

In the afternoon Mara Woloshin and I will take a deep-dive into branding. What I love about branding is that it’s woven through every touchpoint of your customer’s experience. It’s a complex and exciting discipline that deserves the attention of every PR pro. You’ll learn history, theory and practical tips, as well as get a glimpse into businesses who excel at branding.

Audiences of both will walk away inspired and ready to take action.

Why do you feel strategy is so important in PR?

Strategy is our north star. It guides our work, helps us prioritize and keeps us on track. Without it we’re throwing spaghetti at the wall.