Utah Valley University communication grads have the versatility to beat the job market's long odds
By Matt Reichman
UVU Magazine, Spring 2013
Nate Gray '11 learned the ropes of public relations as a student at Utah Valley University.
He practiced pitching news stories in his P.R. campaign class. The finer points of
AP style — how to properly abbreviate "Calif.," for instance — were forever stamped
into his memory in a mass media writing class.
But somehow he missed the lesson about unveiling a new breed of rose with 'The Bachelor' host Chris Harrison at a Las Vegas resort, which would have come in handy in his new role as public relations coordinator for the Venetian and Palazzo resorts. No matter, Gray says; his communication degree gave him all the tools he needed to learn on the go.
"Our alumni are able to adapt," says UVU communication department chair Janet Colvin. "They're able to change with the market, change for jobs that haven't even been invented yet."
Gray is one of many UVU communication grads of late to scoop up a primo P.R. position. The communication department has been on a tear as it enters its 10th anniversary: top honors in the 2012 state Golden Spike Awards, national faculty recognition and, above all, employment of its alumni by the likes of other reputable organizations such as the Utah Jazz, Motor Trend Magazine, Ancestry.com and the CONAN show.
"Amid a tight job market, UVU students are getting great offers across the nation," UVU P.R. coordinator and assistant professor Stephen Whyte says.
ROLL WITH IT
Gray keeps a list on his desk of notable events and people he's hosted at the resorts
in Las Vegas, Nev. "Later on down the road, I want to look back at this and relive
it," he says.
Less than six months after he started the job, the list read like an issue of Us Weekly: Emeril Lagasse, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" show, the "Glee" cast, "Shark Tank," and dozens more.
The Littleton, Colo., native has barely come up for air since joining the resorts' four-man P.R. crew, writing press releases, managing photo requests, negotiating appearances with visiting celebrities and local news affiliates — the to-do list goes on.
"I was thrown right into the water," he says. "There was no other choice. We had assignments that needed to be done. But I'm better at what I do now because of that opportunity."
He says regardless of what he's asked to do now, he's not intimidated, having been immersed in plenty of practical, real-world scenarios while at UVU, including placing in the top ten in the 2011 national Bateman Case Study Competition. The competition pitted five-man teams from 49 different schools against one another, each challenged to craft a strategic communication plan for a common theme (financial literacy).
"[Employers] are looking for somebody who is really passionate about what they want to do and gets the fundamentals," says Gray's supervisor, Keith Salwoski, executive director of public relations for the Venetian and Palazzo resorts. "Everything else just kind of fills itself in."
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
Life came at Melissa Garrett '12 awfully fast when her boss went on maternity leave
seven months after hiring her at Ancestry.com. It left the bulk of the corporate and
tech P.R. duties — the company has 1,100 employees worldwide, so no small task — in
the lap of her boss's relatively new hire.
"Holding down the fort while she (her boss) was on leave was a great opportunity," says Garrett. "My boss feels confident in me enough to throw almost anything my way when she does not have the availability."
Her role as a P.R. specialist for the online family history service normally centers on managing the company's reputation from technology- and business-related perspectives. "Most people don't think of Ancestry as a tech company, but we're dealing with over four petabytes of data and 11 billion searchable records," she says. That's why she's continually helping to pitch business announcements and press releases — getting coverage in CIO and GigaOM, for instance — prepping company leaders and executives with media training, and fielding all state tech and business media inquiries.
It's a lot to take in for a recent grad, but Garrett says her degree gave her just the right opportunities to keep up, most notably via the communities that professors built around the P.R. emphasis, she says. For example, she gained leadership experience as vice president of member services through her local chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America.
That professional circle and the relationships she formed within it were crucial to her hiring at Ancestry, Garrett says.
"I'm really grateful to have gone to school in Utah Valley and joined the workforce in the local area," she says.
EARN YOUR KEEP
There were two ways to play it when Chris Bailey '12 finished his internship with
Utah Jazz Fan Relations. The first was to toe the dirt shyly and thank them for the
opportunity. That would do, if all he wanted was to get his hair tousled and his name
Or, he could skip the Oliver Twist routine and furnish his director with a comprehensive communication audit of their organization. He chose the latter, titling it, 'Why you should hire me.'
Several months later, when a full-time slot opened up with the Jazz, that report got his name remembered and he got the gig.
Handing in that unsolicited audit was one of several leaps of faith, says Bailey, 27, en route to his degree at UVU, which he finished in December.
Last year, for instance, he spearheaded a class project to establish a fundraising campaign on behalf of one of his classmates, who was suddenly stricken with leukemia. A few months after that, he wound up venturing to Atlanta, Ga. — totally uncharted waters for the Liberty, Utah, native — to intern with Ogilvy Public Relations. Now the Utah Jazz Fan Relations account executive juggles dozens of responsibilities, including managing roughly 600 ticket holder accounts, game-day activities and the creation of a social media communication plan for the team's 12,000 season-ticket holders.
A big chunk of his duties revolves around organizing ticket-holder events, including player clinics, so on any given day, he might find himself, say, driving with the 6-foot-11, 267-pound Turkish center Enes Kanter in the passenger seat of his Chevy Classic.
"How he fit in there I do not know," Bailey says. "We went on a 50-minute car ride to Heber. Pretty surreal."
He is quick to credit UVU's public relations program — and a certain faculty member in particular — for providing the foundational skills he needs to keep pace with all the demands.
"I studied public relations, but I basically studied Stephen Whyte and the way he interacted with people," Bailey says of UVU's own winner of the Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award at the 2012 PRSA national conference.
Whyte deflects the personal accolade, crediting the department as a whole for "incorporating the latest research, strategies and tactics from the workplace. All that prepares students to hit their job running."