Riley’s PR Career Journey

When it comes to working in public relations, there isn’t a universal path to success. In this series, we ask members of the Stanton team about how they started their PR journey, how they got where they are today, and what they learned along the way.  

Here, summer intern Riley McCarthy shares her experiences in the field thus far.

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

When I was little, I always thought I’d follow in my parent’s footsteps and take over the family real estate business. My dad and mom have been selling homes for as long as I can remember. Over time, I realized that as much as I enjoy looking at houses, I never saw myself selling them. I’ve also maintained a passion for writing over the years. While I never envisioned being a writer, I did dream of jobs where I could incorporate it.  

  1. Where did you attend undergrad, and what was your college major? 

I attended Loyola University Maryland for my undergraduate degree (Go HOUNDS!). I majored in communications with a specialization in public relations and advertising. I minored in political science! I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University.

  1. What was your first experience with PR? When did you first discover it? When did you decide you wanted to pursue PR as a career?   

My first experience with PR was watching the show “Scandal” when I was in high school. While this is not necessarily an accurate representation of the industry, there were some takeaways that piqued my interest on how to remedy a political crisis. I wouldn’t attribute my interest in PR to this show alone, but it encouraged me to do more research about possible careers in the field. 

  1. Did you begin college/your professional career intending to work in PR? 

Going into college, I wasn’t set on working in PR. Since Loyola is a Jesuit school with a liberal arts curriculum, I was required to take an array of courses during my freshman year. One of these was an “Intro to Communications” class. My passion for writing, as well as the role that media plays in our society, drove my interest in pursuing this subject as my major. In both my undergraduate and graduate programs, I’ve had brilliant teachers and mentors who have shared their professional experiences and insights about the industry. They pushed me to achieve success academically and in my personal life by encouraging me to explore who I am, who I want to be, and the steps needed to get there.  

  1. What is your favorite aspect of working in PR? 

PR is a creative field that defies a one-size-fits-all approach. While there are established processes and techniques, success requires focus and original thinking for each client. I find this aspect of the job fascinating. In today’s landscape, PR is all about telling a compelling story through various media, including print, video, and social channels. It demands a constant flow of creative thinking and energy. 

  1. Can you tell us about your work experiences before Stanton? How did you get to where you are today?  

Before joining the Stanton team, I held a few different internships. Most recently, I worked for a marketing agency based outside of D.C. I helped write blog posts, product reviews, and create and post content to social media, which included the company’s TikTok.   

During my senior year at Loyola, I took a capstone course that provided an in-depth look and hands-on approach to how public relations plans are strategically developed and executed, particularly in politics. With the instructor’s supervision, my team and I developed a public relations plan for Sheila Banister, a woman running for the Alabama House of Representatives in the 2022 election. After conducting a situation and organization analysis, my team and I prepared various deliverables, such as a social media policy, plan, and calendar, along with a media list featuring a variety of journalists, a candidate analysis, a fundraising letter, and multiple press releases. These materials were provided to Sheila’s team for execution throughout the campaign. Sadly, she did not win which also taught me valuable lessons about communication campaign success or failure, but I still think our strategies helped her get her messages across in compelling ways.

  1. What advice would you give an aspiring PR professional and/or college student? 

While I’m still a graduate student myself, a piece of advice I can offer is to remain eager to learn. The field of public relations, like many others, is constantly evolving, and staying up to date with the latest trends, technologies, and strategies is crucial for success. Some of the ways I do this are by following the news, reading PR publications such as Ragan’s PR Daily or PR Week, and having conversations with professionals in the industry.  

Additionally, internships give you the chance to explore different areas within the field of public relations. You can gain exposure to various industries and discover which sectors align with your interests and strengths. As you work on real projects, collaborate with teams, and interact with clients or journalists you’ll enhance your communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and time management skills. This professional growth is invaluable for your overall development as a PR practitioner. 

  1. What lessons have you learned through your PR journey? 

Although I’m just starting my PR journey, one of the lessons I’ve learned is to always be reliable. I’ve come to understand that it’s easy to make promises, but not as easy to follow through on them. Whether it’s meeting a client’s expectations or responding quickly to urgent emails, being reliable is something people remember. Our actions must show our commitment. 

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