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Breaking into the PR industry with Colin Wylie | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Breaking into the PR industry with guest Colin Wylie and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicLearn how to successfully break into the PR industry as a recent graduate with our guest Colin Wylie.



Our episode guest is Colin Wylie, assistant director for marketing and assessment at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Reeve Union. Colin also serves on the board of directors for PRSA Northeast Wisconsin.



The one with Colin Wylie on how PR students and recent graduates can navigate their careers early on



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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. How to transition from being a PR student to a PR professional 

  2. Understanding the PR industry as a recent graduate

  3. The importance of relationships, networks, and professional associations when navigating the first years in your PR career 

  4. How to use your student experience to give you an advantage after graduation

  5. Why you should apply for the Axia Public Relations scholarship if you’re a college student  


  • “If you treat mistakes as learning experiences, that’s when you’ll see the most growth.” — @thecolinwylie

  • “If you don’t make the ask, you won’t get new opportunities.” — @thecolinwylie

If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?


About Colin Wylie:

Colin currently works as the assistant director for marketing and assessment at Reeve Union at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He also serves on the board of directors for PRSA Northeast Wisconsin. Colin graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.


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Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving and promoting online customer reviews.




- Hello, I'm Jason Mudd, your host of On Top of PR. For this episode, we are joined by Colin Wylie, a scholarship recipient from Axia Public Relations and the Public Relations Society of America Foundation. Colin is a recent graduate and he's gonna tell us what he's learned in the first few years of his career, and he's also gonna talk to us about the importance of relationships and how he's leaned on relationships, networks, and professional associations as he's navigated his first years in his career and how that plays an important part of his ongoing career and growth and personal and professional development. So join us welcome Colin to the show. And I think you're really gonna enjoy this episode.


- [Woman] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.


- Welcome to another episode of On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd, and I'm joined today by Colin Wylie. Colin, welcome to the show.


- Hey, thanks for having me, Jason, I appreciate it.


- Colin, we're glad you're here. For our audience, Colin is a recipient of the Axia Public Relations scholarship from the Public Relations Society of America's Foundation, and he went to college and was active in the Public Relations Student Society of America. And we were thrilled to give him a $2,000 college scholarship to further his studies of public relations. And we thought it'd be fun to catch up with Colin and see where he is now and what he has learned in his career so far. So Colin, why don't you give us a kind of an update on a, maybe two or three sentences on what you're doing now?


- Sure. Yeah, so when we first met, that was a couple years ago now. I graduated in 2019 from Brigham Young University in Utah, and my wife and I were expecting a baby, and so we were looking for work in the Midwest to be closer to her family, and we ended up just a couple hours away from her parents here in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I work here at the university and work as a marketing communications director in this area.


- Excellent, excellent. Terrific, well, thank you for that update. And how old is your baby now?


- He's actually a year old now. It's kinda crazy how time flies so fast.


- Yeah. I love being a father, and I'll tell you those first years are hard. Personally for me, years three to seven were my favorite where they're the most playful and the most enjoyable. And now I have two teenagers at home so it's a completely different experience I promise.


- Sure.


- Yeah, and Oshkosh, I think I've driven through there once and may or may not have met Oshkosh finest for driving a little too fast on the interstate so--


- Nice.


- But yeah, well, excellent. Well, like I said, we're glad you're here and looking forward to learning more about your career. So Colin, let's talk about what are some of the things you've learned early in the first years, the formative years of your public relations profession?


- Sure. One of the first things that I thought was important was when I transitioned out of being a student to being a professional is still staying involved with professional organizations. So I am continuing to stay involved with the Public Relations Society of America. I actually serve now on the board of directors for our local Northeast Wisconsin chapter. I felt like to me, it was a really natural transition because I had served on our student chapter board and was involved there. But more than anything, I think that being involved in a professional organization gives you an opportunity to give back. It gives you an opportunity to meet people within your sector or within your industry locally, which I think has a lot of value, 'cause we moved here and I didn't know any other professionals, like professional communicators. So I think that has been something that's been really important to me, and I've loved getting involved there. And I think the other thing that I've learned is for students leaving college or for anyone new into the profession is really taking an opportunity to recognize that it's a learning experience and that mistakes are okay. And if you treat mistakes as a learning experience, then I feel like is where you'll see the most growth, because I've had a year now and still haven't had a full school year because with everything that happened with coronavirus. We were kinda shut down and we're learning from that. But every experience that I had ended up being that learning experience that's continuing to shape me as a young professional.


- Good, so for our audience, we're recording this on September 1st, and it will probably air a couple weeks later. So tell me right now, are you working from home? Are you in your home office or your work office?


- Sure. I wish the air conditioning was as good in my home office. So we're doing a combination of being on-campus and remote. With my job, I'm really fortunate that I can work remote and have worked remote for most of, from March until August. I actually supervise a group of students in a marketing office that kind of works like an agency. And so because the students are gonna predominantly be on-campus, I'll be doing a mixture of kind of being on and off-campus.


- Okay, okay. So right now you're at home.


- No, I'm sorry, I'm in the office, yeah.


- Oh, okay, okay.


- My home office is currently in our master bedroom.


- Okay, sure.


- Fortunately we're actually buying a house right now, so I'll have my own home office, but for now


- Very nice.


- We're just in our small little apartment that we got when we moved to Oshkosh.


- So when COVID-19 is not a pandemic in America, tell me about what your job would normally be like. What is your normal responsibilities?


- Sure. So as I mentioned, I oversee those students and each of them will have different roles. I have designers, I have digital marketing specialists, a web developer. So we oversee, 'cause I work for the student union doing the marketing and communications from that area.


- Okay.


- I also, we touch on the assessment aspect of things, focusing on really looking at the data from when we reach out to students, looking for different information and seeing how their experiences. But generally, so we will communicate a lot of different messages. We help with dining on-campus. We help with student involvement, programming, the actual union facilities when there's changes or updates or things happening in the facility. But then we also will partner with different on-campus departments, as I mentioned, as kind of like an agency where a campus department could reach out to us and we could be creating an entire marketing plan for them for an event or for a specific initiative that they're trying to get across, and we'll create all the design collateral and social media assets, and we'll help them kind of create that campaign to roll out.


- Gotcha, okay. And in the current era or situation where COVID-19 is currently a pandemic, and you've got, you're working from home and working from the office, and everything is kind of up in the air, what are some of the things that you're dealing with and having to manage that would not be part of your normal job description?


- Sure, yeah. So a lot of similar things. One of the biggest changes in higher education is obviously this transition to being remote, and that means that programming goes remote. Dining isn't remote thankfully. That would be a lot harder. But so it's a lot of, we've done a lot of research to figure out how do we get students involved still remotely. It's not optimal obviously. Students wanna be in-person and getting together, but what our team has really been focused on is how can we give them the, how do we give our programmers the best chance for success in their programs. And so what do we do to market it differently? So a greater emphasis on the digital aspect of things, social media, more like paid social compared to where we used to lean heavily on print. We're doing that sort of stuff. Additionally, there's a lot of messaging that's going out from the university and from our area talking about distancing, wearing face coverings on campus. Things are changed pretty significantly, and the state of higher education is really volatile right now. A lot of campuses that have opened earlier, have been open for a week, closed down because rise in cases and concerns. Our campus will open up here just after Labor Day weekend, and we're really hoping that we can encourage students to be making smart choices off-campus and on-campus as well.


- Right.


- So that we can continue to stay open. That's like the number one goal obviously is to try and stay in-person through the semester.


- Perfect, okay. And so tell me about the org chart. So it sounds like you're managing part-time students who may be obviously focused on studies, and so you probably have some challenges there with turnover as students graduate and things like that. But who do you report to and what kind of things are they asking of you?


- Sure. So I oversee those students, and then my direct supervisor is the executive director for Campus Life. Our area is out of student affairs, and so she has a big job where she's supervising a lot of full-time staff that are doing a lot of different things.


- Right.


- Generally it's, I'd ended up doing a lot of the strategic aspect of communications. And so the direction I get from my supervisor really is focused on what's the high level, really important messages that we need to get across.


- Right.


- And then she gives me the ability to kind of work on crafting and creating those messages, and then also partnering with the University Marketing Communications Department who'd kind of speak for the university as a whole.


- Sure, okay.


- To make sure that those messages are kind of cohesive across the brand.


- Yeah, that makes sense. What kind of KPIs are you reporting up the org chart?


- Sure. We'll report a lot about social media analytics and how people are receiving stuff or interacting. We also will do, depending on the time of year, we do a lot of different, we'll do data grabs when it comes to like dining experience on-campus, we have the ability to monitor and calculate how many students are attending events. One of the cool things, we have a system where when students will come to an event, they can swipe in, and then what's neat is we can track when those students are attending an event, but then we can find out which events they're attending throughout the year, if they're only coming once, if they're returners. And so then we can try and adjust our communications to the different types of students that we have. 'Cause you have in a normal college setting, you have students who are go-getters, they're involved on-campus regularly, then you have students who a lot of their campus or a lot of their college experience is off-campus. And so we use that data to try and figure out, okay, who is it that we're trying to reach? And we also will end up adjusting our programming to try and reach different groups of people. So for example, a lot of students will commute from home from nearby rural communities. How do we provide programming that's going to fit their needs 'cause a lot of times they're on-campus and then they don't come back in the evening. And so it's kind of adjusting based on the data to see how we can best suit, serve the students.


- Right. Right, okay, okay, excellent, excellent. So how did you land in this position?


- Sure. I was expecting the role that I was gonna take after college to come like from networking and from professional associations. I ended up just applying for this job just on the internet and went through kind of the application process. I came out here to do an interview and a series of interviews, I suppose. I think a couple of the things with my background, I worked, during college, I worked for an academic department doing their communications, and so I think that was one of the big things that supported me into this role. And obviously being a student, I was able to understand how students think. I'm not too far removed from what the kind of a typical college student is like. And so, yeah, it was kind of a scary process, applying for that first full-time job, but I was really fortunate to have a lot of mentors that really supported me and gave me a lot of advice throughout the process. I reached out to several of those mentors to have a good idea of how do I really navigate interviews and when we talk about negotiating and all that sort of different stuff. So I was really fortunate in that regards.


- Yeah, it definitely seems like you've been someone who has taken advantage of having mentors and connecting with people and having a support system behind you all along. So Colin, we're gonna take a quick break and we'll come right back with more of On Top of PR.


- [Woman] You're listening to On Top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social, and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.


- So Colin, you've mentioned a couple times that you have had, you were well-connected, or connections have been important to you, and networking have been important to you both when you were in college, when you first arrived to the market, as you were going through the interviewing process. And obviously, I mean, you had a very successful collegiate career, otherwise you wouldn't have won scholarships and gotten the recognition that you earned. What advice would you give in the event that there's a rising star of public relations who is either in the midst of their college career or wrapping up their career, what kind of advice would you give to Colin who's still walking on campus and still a student of public relations?


- Sure. It's funny you say that 'cause once I received the scholarships at that conference, I had like the college reaching out and wanting to like write an article about me. And I always thought like I'm not really that special and I don't look at myself as like this top student, but I think what it really comes down to is when it comes to like scholarships or looking for those opportunities, a lot of times you just have to make the ask. I think there's a lot of data that show that scholarships across the US constantly aren't getting applicants. And so the first thing you wanna do is obviously apply for anything and everything, apply for grants and scholarships, apply for opportunities to go abroad if that's something you're interested in, applying for internships that maybe seem out of what you think might be a reach. 'Cause if you don't make the ask, then you won't have that opportunity. Beyond that, I think I can attribute to, I had a great support system. I got married during my college career, and my wife, she allowed me to get involved and to work a lot of late hours, and I was really grateful for that support. But you just kinda have to put in that work. And I think thinking outside the box and trying to, the network that I created, I tried to really cultivate it and build friendships more than anything.


- Perfect.


- I look to the connections that I made as being something more than just a connection but something that's really important where I still am seeing people that I connected with in my freshman year, like on social media, and still like interacting and seeing them in their lives.


- Perfect. Yeah, I would say that as I look at the landscape, the people I know that are currently employed who are at more of that entry level are the folks who did multiple internships and worked hard when they're in college. And the people who are struggling are those who either for some reason didn't do an internship or they only did one or something like that. And I think there are folks who are benefiting from their work ethic and their investment in their career who have done multiple internships. And obviously those are the interns we prefer, and we prefer to hire the ones who come to the table with significantly more experience. It just gives them more edge both as an applicant and also obviously in their careers. So good. Colin, we just received notification of who is the winner of our scholarship for this year from the PRSA Foundation, and it's a student from Louisiana State University. And on paper, I haven't met her yet, but from what they sent me, it looks like a very well-qualified individual. Why don't you speak a little bit about your experience with the scholarship and maybe some pros and cons for people to think about if they are considering applying for the scholarship?


- Sure. I look back at that time, it's interesting, my wife and I, I remember before we went to that conference, we were kind of in a tight financial spot and weren't really sure about, we just paid tuition and then there goes a large chunk of your money when you're poor college students. And we were like pretty worried about like what were we gonna do financially? And receiving that scholarship was really what helped us get through and set us on track. For students that are looking to apply, like I said, I think it's just a matter of, first, you gotta like commit to filling out the paperwork. And then beyond that, I think it's, when you're looking to maybe make yourself stand out in a crowd or amongst other young professionals, trying to find unique opportunities. As you mentioned, internships during school. I completed, I don't know if that's the right word, but I worked in about six different internships and they were all in different industries. I dabbled in the nonprofit industry, healthcare, obviously education. And so that depth gave me greater experience. And I was fortunate 'cause I didn't just have to do social, but I also dabbled in videography, with graphic design, with strict campaign creation, strategic analysis. And so that variety gave me a great opportunity where I was able to, when I applied and showed my resume or my work experience, that I had a kind of diverse background.

- Good. So in the role you are, excuse me, your role today with the university, kind of where do you wanna be in a year or two from now? What are kind of some of your personal goals?


- Sure. My plan is to stay here for a few years, for sure. I think that it's important. I mean it's really easy in your beginning of your career to wanna hop jobs. And while it's not as common nowadays, like for example, my father stayed in his career for 35 years, while it's not necessarily common to stay at a job for that long, I think that there's a lot of value with having that continuity over time. Really my plan is stay here for a little bit longer. I'm interested in pursuing a master's degree. And so the next step to be honest would be to look for a job at the institution that I wanna get my degree at, and then make that transition where I could work full-time and then go to school part-time. Maybe looking at doing an MBA but I'm still kind of exploring options. I do really like higher education, and I could see myself happily staying in higher ed for the rest of my career, but I'm also open to doing other things.


- Right.


- And so it kinda just depends on what the cards are dealt, and once I actually kind of get into that master's program, I recognize that there's gonna be opportunities that will come through there.


- Sure, yeah, that's why it's certainly wise to go to school somewhere or be employed somewhere where they might pay you to get your degree or--


- Yep, yeah, there's a lot of institutions that offer tuition benefits, and that's something that I definitely keep my eye on.


- Yeah, you should, you should absolutely do that. You should also really think about the pros and cons of getting a master's degree, whether it's in PR or an MBA or whatever it might be, and see how that aligns with kind of your career trajectory and where you wanna go in the future if that makes sense.


- Sure.


- I know a lot of people just, they get a master's degree but they don't really think, okay, what's gonna be the impact and the application of that into my career. Some master degrees are very much about philosophy and theory and not application. And so, but I know you'll do all that, you'll lean on your support network and everything else. So yeah. So if our, as we're wrapping up here, if our listeners are interested in connecting with you on the internet, what's the best way for them to reach you Colin?


- Sure. So I'm pretty active on most social media platforms. Professionally, I usually stick to Twitter and to LinkedIn. People can find me at, my handle is @thecolinwylie, just all lowercase. And yeah, I love to interact with people. I'm also pretty active in the PRSA community and with their social channels as well. And so love to see people on Twitter chats about different topics or and have those different dialogues about the industry.


- Sure, that makes sense. So, yeah, that's great. And for our audience, if you're interested in connecting with Colin, all that information will be in the description and the show notes for this episode today. Colin, any closing thoughts as we're wrapping up today?


- I think this has been a great opportunity. And I think what's interesting is as I've been kind of thinking about recording this, really just thinking about how beneficial taking the opportunity to reflect on your career, like we talked about, your trajectory, but also where you've come. When you can look at that retrospection and look back and see, oh, I've grown so much or I've changed so much, or I'm doing something that I never thought that I would do. So I think it's really valuable, I think for young professionals to either be looking at their college career while they're still in it, or looking back and thinking, okay, what did I learn from these that I can, these experiences that I can take forward?


- That's good advice. Everyday I try to reflect on my day, what went well, what could have gone better, and what lessons did I learn from it. And I never regret having those conversations with myself and that time really to think through how I'm feeling and what I accomplished. And that's a great way to kind of do a check with your true North to see if you're headed in the direction you wanna be headed in. So Colin, it's great to reconnect with you. It's been a while since we've talked. I'm really proud of you and pleased with what you're doing. And you've exemplified our investment in you well. And I just wish you and your family and your career very much success. And if there's ever anything I can do for you, please don't hesitate to reach out.


- Thanks Jason, and thanks everyone at Axia. I'm grateful for all the hard work that you do and the support that you give to students and young professionals.


- Our pleasure, our pleasure. Be well my friend.


- Thank you.


- [Woman] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.

Topics: On Top of PR

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