Ashley Sherry – Corporate Communications Specialist, First Citizens Bank

This Friday’s Palmetto PR Diva Dish focuses on Ashley Sherry, corporate communications specialist for First Citizens Bank.

I discovered that both her and Liza worked at Cookerly Public Relations, but missed each other by a few years! Read on to learn more and have a great weekend!

As Corporate Communications Specialist for First Citizens, Ashley handles public relations, media relations and a variety of corporate communications for the company. She serves as the managing editor of internal publication, First Citizenship. Ashley also develops, writes and pitches stories about topics relevant to the financial services industry and writes various corporate messages for executive management to deliver to internal and external audiences. In addition, Ashley manages internal and external corporate events.

Additionally, Ashley was recently selected as one of Columbia’s 20 Under 40 Rising Stars in Business. For all of her hard work, she was also the recipient of the 2006 Rookie of the Year Award from the South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

o How did you become interested in the public relations/advertising industry?
I interned at Cookerly Public Relations in Atlanta when I was in college and loved it. I knew then PR was what I wanted to do.

o What changes have you seen in the industry that is the most interesting to you?
Just the rise of technology and the use of social media in PR. It is amazing to me to see the shift from “fact-based” articles in newspapers to the idea of viral marketing via text messages and Facebook. I think this type of PR and marketing is something everyone in PR needs to take note of and use, if is in the best interest of the client or company of course.

o Are you involved in any professional associations? If so, what are they and what do you learn by being involved?
I am actively involved in SCPRSA. I serve on the board of directors as Midlands Regional Director and membership vice chair. I also serve as luncheons chair for the Midlands. The organization has been a great way to get involved and further my professional career, as well as network with other professionals.

I am also involved with Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR), which has allowed me to become more involved with the City of Columbia and network. I also sit on the Healthy Learners Fund Development Board.

o What is the one piece of advice you would give students that are interested in pursuing a career in the public relations/investor relations/marketing industry?

Only one? Well, I would say to gain some internship experience. In PR, you can study all day, but you really need to learn hands on. The field has so many aspects to it, that internships are a great way to see it all. Also, try to intern on both the client side and the agency side.

o What is the best thing about your job?
The collaborative team environment is the best thing about my job. I also have a boss that is great at brainstorming and mentoring. I am able to use my talents and skills, but also learn more each day.

o What is the thing you like least about your job?
The research. It is necessary, but not my favorite.

o How do you balance your professional career with your personal life?
I think this is one of my strengths. In prior jobs, I worked long hours and on weekends, but I’ve had to discipline myself to take time for myself, friends, family, and relationships. I leave work at work, but tend to it if needed past a certain time. I am very career-oriented, but I’ve learned that I can have a rewarding career and personal life. I also think that the people I choose to socialize with have similar concepts of work/life balance, so that helps. We are usually all busy at the same time or all together enjoying life.

o Anything else you would like to add?

PR is a great career. It has it challenges and its rewards and I can’t think of doing anything else.


Wal-Mart Goes Local..But I’m Not Buying It

So, I just read a story in The Greenville News. And one story caught my eye so much I just had to share it with you: Wal-Mart Selling S.C. Produce.

I am not a Wal-Mart fan. Yes, I’m sure the retail giant does lots of good things that often go unnoticed, but I still feel like they push out the local businesses that make communities unique. (They’re building a Wal-Mart about two miles from my house, which is sure to make the area even more of a cluster than it already is, but big development won out there).

In any event, this latest announcement by Wal-Mart to start selling locally-grown, S.C. produce just smells rotten to me. Sure, maybe their hearts are in the right place. In the end, does it really matter WHERE you purchase the local produce as long as the local farmers benefit (which in my mind is one of the great reasons to buy local in the first place)?

Who cares where you buy local, as long as you buy it, right?

But for me, I’d still rather go down to the Greenville State Farmer’s Market on Rutherford Road or the Saturday Morning Market in downtown Greenville and purchase my local produce. There’s something very real about meeting the farmers and merchants who grew these vegetables and flowers with their own hands that makes me feel better about what I’m eating.

Wal-Mart’s latest announcement, while it might help local farmers, just feels like a publicity stunt to me.

What do you think? Am I letting my personal grudges get in the way of what is ultimately a good thing for S.C. farmers? Or should I still hold my self-imposed boycott of Wal-Mart purely out of principal?

Tips for summer grads, new interns – landing that first job

Summer is a time when many college seniors pack up their dorm room for the last time, proudly change their tassles from one side to the other and enter the so-called “real world.” 

For those who are prepared, they have at least a few internships and a little industry experience under their belt.  Others might just use their formal education or apply their real-world experience to use as a launching pad to land their first paying gig.  

Obviously, Liza and I have been on both sides of the interviewing process.  We all had to start somewhere and have a few painful interview experiences of our own to share.  And on the flip side, Liza and I spent much of our time reviewing resumes and writing samples and interviewing potential interns and account managers during our time as agency department supervisors. 

Even now that we are out on our own, we still meet with and chat with up-and-coming public relations professionals, and we are happy to lend any advice we have to those who are entering the field…With that said, I thought it would be helpful to jot down a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

I’d love to hear from others who can add to this list. Any advice to give our future PR leaders is always appreciated!

Here are a few tips – the first few are a given:

  • Be on time.
  • Get involved in your local PRSA– You can obtain a wealth of experience by attending professional development events, volunteering on committees and being available to assist with upcoming luncheons, events and communications inititatives.
  • Dress like you would for an interview at your dream job – Those tank tops and capri pants can be awful cute, I know, but dress it up a little for an interview – even if it’s just an “informational interview.”  And if your new employer has a casual dress code, then by all means sport the tanks at work!
  • Be courteous – Thank the person for their time and consideration.  These days it’s hard to find a minute to spare.  If someone has taken time out of their day to steer you in the right direction, thank them.  This can be at the end of the meeting, but I also think it’s great to send a quick e-mail, while others would prefer an actual “Thank You” card delivered to them via snail mail.
  • Be flexible – When you start out you will most likely be asked to do things you don’t want to do, including answering the phone, making coffee or ordering lunch…Do it with pride!  Even with 20 years experience, you’ll be asked to do things that might not fall under your job description, so just get used to it! 
  • A good attitude and persona can be equally important as someone with an impressive job history.  If you are genuine and really like what you do, it will show and people will want to work with you and include you in a variety of projects that can make you a superstar in your field.
  • Make the most of your current situation – Are you sending out memos and press kits all day and not getting as much time as you’d like in front of a client or at brainstorming meetings?  Well, be sure to read the memos and news releases to get familiar with language, style and client preferences.   When you do get your shot at a client meeting, you’ll already be way ahead of the game.  Also, if you are a waitress, an administrative assistant or a cashier, see if you can use some tactics you learned at school to help promote a small event or personnel announcement at your place of work.
  • Position yourself as an invaluable resource – Don’t focus on what this potential job can do for you and your career, position the situation as an opportunity where you can do great things for your employer.
  • Don’t badmouth your previous position– Look, I know how it feels to be stuck in a job that you don’t like but no one else cares.  If you slam your job in front of me, how do I know you aren’t slamming me when you’re speaking to someone else?  Save the drama for whine and cheese parties with your closest buds.

And last but not least, remember that those who you are interviewing can be instrumental in helping you land your first job, but if they aren’t impressed by you, they can be just as instrumental in not helping you.

Congrats to all the summer grads and good luck!


Palmetto PR Diva Dish – Nicole Cendrowski, owner of Big Gnome

Liza and I would like to welcome Nicole Zokan Cendrowski to Greenville!  She and her husband moved from Charleston and – while they are still getting settled – she was nice enough to meet us yesterday for coffee to tell us her story.  We had a blast and look forward to seeing her around town more often!  Here’s the scoop:

Nicole Zokan Cendrowski


o        Please provide title and a brief description of what you do:


I’m the owner of Big Gnome, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm. 


o        How did you become interested in the public relations/advertising industry?


I loved writing and majored in English, but I didn’t want to work in academia or become a journalist. I landed a writing and account management job with a public relations and marketing firm. They pretty much took a chance on an unknown kid.


o        What changes have you seen in the industry that is the most interesting to you?


Social media on the Web and determining if and when to use it. It can be a PR nightmare. If there are major problems within an organization, they’ll be exposed even more quickly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it demands accountability and change.


o        Are you involved in any professional associations?  If so, what are they and what do you learn by being involved?


I attend PRSA and AMA meetings. I’ve learned how invaluable networking is with other people in the industry, made several life-long friends, and built strong working relationships. Young Professionals happy hours are fun, too.


o        What is the one piece of advice you would give students that are interested in pursuing a career in the public relations/investor relations/marketing industry?


Create your own internship, volunteer opportunity, or job. Volunteer with an organization that you love or a cause that you believe in. Offer your skills to their PR committee, marketing department, or development/fundraising office. Pitch stories and do freelance writing for local/regional publications, or whomever you want. It’s amazing what can happen when you take that step on your own.


o        What is the best thing about your job?


Being my own boss. Once you’re used to taking a break to go for a bike ride, run, nap whenever you want (or need to), the idea of ever returning to a traditionally structured job is unattractive.


o        What is the thing you like least about your job?


Being my own boss (haha). Actually, what I like least is dealing with people that are dishonest and/or seem to thrive on drama or crisis. Running my own business, I can make the decision to walk away, take action, and do whatever is needed to eliminate/minimize exhaustive relationships.


o        Are there any exciting announcements you’d like to tell us about (either with your company or one of your clients)?


Big Gnome is going green – Greenville, S.C., that is! My husband and I recently moved from Charleston to the Upstate. I won’t be a stranger to the Lowcountry though. I’m stoked about possibly working on some craft beer-related events down there later this year. I’m a bit crazy about beer. If anyone wants to meet up at Barley’s in Greenville sometime, call me.


o        How do you balance your professional career with your personal life?


Prayer and exercise. I’m a driven and committed person, so I naturally throw myself into client work. I have to cut myself off. The work will always be there. Step away, take a deep breath, and have fun. Also, having a husband who can help me slow down is such a gift.


o        Anything else you would like to add?


Many thanks to Jacque Riley with Riley Communications for nominating me for this week’s profile.


Need a little PEP in your step?

Liza and I attended the June SC PRSA meeting yesterday where Greg Blake, chief encouragement officer for PepWorks! International spoke. The topic was “ER for PR: How to stay up in down times.”

I have met Greg for coffee twice and each time I left so motivated and energetic just from being around his positive energy, I felt like I could conquer the world (just ask Liza – I called her after our first meeting and I think I caught her off guard on how excited I sounded).

Because of this, and because of his experience in giving motivational speeches and team leadership workshops to a number of Fortune 500 companies throughout the nation, I thought it would be a great idea for him to come speak to SC PRSA.

Let’s face it, with the constant string of news stories about the sagging economy combined with the fact that the public relations industry can present a number of challenges throughout the day, it’s more important than ever to learn the keys to staying motivated.

Some of his words of wisdom are things I’ve heard before but needed to hear them again including: put your goals in writing; don’t stop networking; and keep your priorities in order (hint: career should not be the FIRST priority!). They are all great ways to feel proactive and in control of your life, thus staying positive no matter what challenges you face.

But the one new thing I took away from the meeting is that I need to learn more about my colleagues and clients and their lives outside of work. Nothing too invasive, but little things, like what are their hobbies? What do they do on vacation? Who was their first crush?

O.K. That might be going a little too far, but I think Greg’s point is that when you go throughout the day “business as usual” with everyone you meet, it can be hard to connect and stay motivated…so maybe a little personal touch just might do the trick.

What do you think? Have you incorporated any of this advice into your own life? Do you make it a point to actually get to know your coworkers, clients and vendors beyond just learning their vital signs? And by all means share with us who your first crush was!

Was anyone else rooting for Rocco?

I know.  I know.  I know.  Tiger Woods is the best golfer.  Ever. At the US Open he went out this weekend and beat every golfer on one good leg while still recovering from knee surgery and now needs only four major titles to tie Nicklaus’ record.  He is mentally strong, physically strong and is the best – period.

I’m not taking anything away from Tiger, but here’s the thing. I am a big fan of the underdog – always have been. I wanted the Giants to beat the Patriots. I want local coffee shops to prevail over a certain Seattle-based international coffee conglomerate. And I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to thinking the Baltimore Orioles will ever be good.

So here comes Rocco Mediate, a 45-year old who held his own against Tiger for the whole weekend, and then came back on Monday only to lose to Tiger after 19 holes. Ugh. Tiger wins. Again. What can you do but be happy for the him?

Maybe it’s my entrepreneurial spirit, but I think the reason why I always root for the underdog is because I think if you have the experience, the grit and the determination, you can be just as good as your competitor – no matter how much more muscle or name recognition they have behind them.

This rings true in the business world, too. Liza and I went out on our own because we wanted to have the ability to give our clients the best service possible and we wanted to have the chance to build deeper relationships with our clients.

We have the big agency experience and we also have large clients with great reputations, but it’s a challenge for us as independent practitioners when we set our sights on new business opportunities. How can we compete with national and international integrated advertising and public relations agencies that might be approaching a prospective client, too?

Does anyone out there have any advice for entrepreneurs that – like Rocco – can go head to head with major competitors – like Tiger – and make a name for themselves? Are there any other IPs out there that can relate to my wishes that the underdog prevail? Tell me I’m not alone!!

Budweiser Bier?

Beer fridgeLast week, an announcement came down about Belgium-based company InBev’s desire to purchase American icon Anheuser-Busch beer (BUD), which includes Budweiser and Budlight brands, among others.

And although my family’s personal favorite “The Blue” Miller Light and Miller Brewing Company was purchased by South African Breweries a while back, it didn’t garner the same attention as this potential sale.

The sites and have popped up to gather support to stop the company’s sale. Anheuser-Busch has long been seen and targeted as America’s beer, and the thought of it being run by a company overseas, like so many iconic American brands before, is sitting worse for a lot of people than a glass warm, flat brew.

I’m not a big beer drinker myself, but I’ve got to say, there’s something nostalgiac about Anheuser-Busch. I’ve grown up watching those Clydesdale horse commercials, the red-white-and-blue cans remind me of summer picnics and ballgames. And while most people won’t be able to tell a lick (or taste) of difference in their beloved Budweiser even if this sale goes through, it’s just the principal that matters most to me.

Is this just another case of globalization run rampant? Does it matter? I think it does. It’s why we cheer so hard for our respective countries every time the Olympics roll around, because we’re proud of where we’re from and we want to keep those traditions and cultures alive. We stand up and and speak loudly (or create Web sites, in this instance) to make our voices heard.

What do you think? Is this just another blip on the globalization radar screen? Why fight for one American brand and not all of them? What sets certain American brands apart from others as representatives for our culture?