Category Archives: guest speakers

Discussing fundraising events with Alex Grovenstein

Alex Grovenstein, Director of Annual Giving of Georgia Southern University

Alex Grovenstein, Director of Annual Giving at Georgia Southern University

Last Friday, students in the Events Management class received event planning advice from alumus Alex Grovenstein. Alex’s event planning specialty lies in a niche area of event planning–fundraising. Sure, most people think of wedding planning, release parties, corporate events, etc. as the area of event planning they wish to work in, but someone has to raise funds. And, depending on the industry, they must raise funds all the time.

Currently the Director of Annual Giving at Georgia Southern University, Alex shared his event experiences with students. His advice to them: (1) Get use to not getting public credit; (2) Events don’t always go as planned; and (3) Sometimes you have to do it all yourself.  He provided students with examples from his current and previous jobs to illustrate these points. One such example was a Hockey Classic he planned. He found out 48-72 hours prior to the event that the coils necessary to make the floor freeze were broken and there was no one in the area that could fix the problem. (Sidebar: It takes about 48 hours for the floor in this facility to freeze into ice.) Solution: The building manager of the facility made some calls and found individuals from 4 hours away that could come down immediately and fix the situation.

After relaying this story and others about his event planning experiences, students asked Alex some questions about event planning. Below are the bulk of those questions, and his answers.

Social media was not around when you began in the industry. How did you raise awareness of events without social media?

We held a number of events locally; used word of mouth; traditional print; had media partners in radio and television; and each event consisted of committees and those committee members were centers of influence. We knew if we had those members it would instantly boost the credibility of our event.

What are the best events for fundraising?

Career fundraisers do not like events as a model for fundraising, and there is a whole argument behind that issue. However, you have to cultivate relationships with potential donors. The best event, however, depends on your market. Typically, the most successful events allow for everyone to participate. That is why running events are so popular. But also, look for something unique to the area.

How do you handle the pressure of planning and executing an event?

You have to plan in advance, and do not sweat the small stuff. There will be points of failure, but there are times when you have to go with the flow. When you are in the moment of the event you get tunnel vision and you just get it done. Keep a running tally of what is needed for next time to help with the planning.

What advice would you give potential event planners?

Finding a job in strictly event planning will be difficult right now because people will pull someone from a larger project to run an event for them. Therefore, not as many people are hiring for just an event planner right now. You will need to move to a larger market for that. Be patient and keep looking if you want to exclusively plan events for your career.

What is the most challenging part of your job–besides fundraising?

Politics, but this is part of every job. Also, this job is a transition from a private sector to a university setting, so there are some differences there as well.

What additional questions would you like to ask Alex about fundraising and event planning? Maybe we can get some of those questions answered. Comment below.

Many thanks to Alex for speaking to the class.




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Public relations counseling with Bill Sledzik

Bill Sledzik

Last semester students in the PR Firms course had the opportunity of listening to Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, discuss public relations counseling. If you are wondering why I asked a professor to discuss public relations counseling, then you should view Bill’s credientials. In short, he knows his stuff–and the student’s loved it.

Although we know counseling is important it is one of those things that most people, unfortunately, don’t consider until things go bad. Maybe that explains the rise of interest in crisis communications, reputation and image management, etc. So what is necessary to become a respected public relations counselor?  Here are Bill’s top three pieces of advice:

1. Listen-Listening skills are core. As counselor you must not only be able to ask the right questions and write well, but you must also be able to take information in and synthesize it. “In the end we are problem-solvers who use writing and listening to help solve problems.” In essence, what is causing the client pain. “No pain=no work.”

2. Research-You must dive-in and build-up your knowledge of the issue, client, etc. Understand the benefits of secondary (and primary) research.

3. Candor-Sometimes the client is wrong and you must find a tactful way to tell them they are wrong. “PR counseling is what you say and how you say it.” If you make the client your friend it allows you to listen to them, it makes it easier for you to be honest with them, and of course it is more difficult for them to fire you. Who fires their friends?

Prior to opening the floor for questions Bill provided the students with the following list of professional skills he deem necessary to be successful in public relations firms:

  • listening
  • writing (refer to “The three minute drill” by James Lukaszewski)
  • public speaking (ability to synthesize (simplify) information)
  • learning to say no (professional value)
  • willing to take risk with your career (can’t be afraid to move from agency to agency).

Many thanks to Bill for speaking to the class.

Photo image found on Facebook. All rights are reserved by Bill Sledzik.


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Toolkit Box of Survival Skills for New Graduates

Last week Kami Huyse, president and chief operating officer of Zoetica, shared with public relations students in the PR Firms course information regarding agency life. Her talk provided students with an overview of the three types of agencies–soloist, specialist, and full service–things students should look for in a potential employer–mentorship and the agencies reputation–and some survival skills for graduates.  Of the various areas touched upon, not to mention the question and answer portion, it was the survival skills, or what employers look for in recent graduates, that attracted much offline discussion from students. Below is a recap of that information.

Kami Huyse

Toolkit box of survival skills for new graduates

  • Writing: Blogs will help to enrich this skill
  • Conversational outreach: The ability to build relationships and talk to people without pitching or selling. (Of course persuasion is necessary, but you must be able to establish a long-term working relationship with the person)
  • Monitoring tools: You will be expected to be able to use and understand how monitoring tools work. A few to know, at minimum, include Google alerts, Twitter search, etc.
  • Video and Audio Skills
  • Understanding of Social Media

Prior to opening the floor for question and answer Kami offered this piece of advice that was shared via Twitter: Understand you will be back at the bottom again (in essence, be teachable), but don’t be afraid to share your ideas.

Any additional tools (skills) you would add to Kami’s list?

Photo image found on Flickr in kamichat photo stream. All rights are reserved by kamichat.

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Interview with Alicia Deal

Last Friday I had the opportunity to chit-chat with departmental alumna, Alicia Deal. Alicia is the account manager and public relations representative for #33 on the racecar circuit, Kevin Harvick. I asked her to provide a few words of advice for students majoring in public relations, specifically those currently enrolled in the practicum course. Our practicum course is a class designed to prepare students for life after graduation, whether that is graduate school or the work force. Alicia addressed the following questions:

  • What she wish she would have taken more seriously.
  • How she landed her job.
  • How working is different and similar to academics.


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Talk with an Agency Principal

Last week Don Rountree, president of Rountree Group, Inc., spoke with the Public Relations Firms course at Georgia Southern University via Skype. Don’s visit focused on his role as an agency principal with respect to his education, hiring employees, progressing through a firm, handling clients, etc. At the end of his talk students had the opportunity to ask Don questions– and they did. Below is a recap to some of the student’s most pressing questions regarding firm life.

Question: What characteristics do you look for in a potential employee?

Answer: I look for those who are using emerging applications and are embracing social media.  But of course they must also possess the traditional characteristics in respect to reading, writing, research, the ability to multi-task, flexible, team player (putting ego aside), and someone with the ability to grow.

Question: What are the top three mistakes you see with those seeking employment opportunities with you?

Answer: The top three mistakes I see with potential candidates are no related experiences, not keeping social media accounts/skills current, and thinking networking–without any experience– will land them a job.

Question: What do you offer to help promote/increase/sustain the skills of your employees?

Answer: We allow our employees to take charge of their career through Rountree Group University. Rountree Group University consists of a series of self-run programs within the company that allows for employees to expand and/or increase their skills. Also, after six months of employment we will pay for employees to attend events, seminars, etc. that are appropriate to our field.

Question: What advice would you give someone seeking entry-level work at a  public relations firm?

Answer: Research the company, look up available information on the person you will be conducting the interview with (many people are on LinkedIn), ask questions regarding your job function as the job announcement will not be all inclusive, come prepared with questions, and be professional.

Many thanks to Don Rountree for speaking with the class.

Image courtesy of Rountree Group, Inc. blog titled PRConnections: Building Bridges of Communications for Clients.

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Advice from an Event Planner

Savannah International Trade and Convention Center at night

Kelli Sauers, Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, took the time to discuss the ins-and-outs of event planning with students enrolled in my Event Managment course this semester. You may remember the 2004 G8 Summit was hosted at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. You will have to contact Kelli for a recap of working that event.

Kelli works on the conference side of event planning and made it clear that this is different from the arena side of event planning. The arena side of event planning invovles the large concerts that one might attend. Immediately after college, Kelli spent a few years working in Belk’s before she landed her first event planning job with the March of Dimes.  She is now the senior event manager at the Savannah Trade and Convention Center. Kelli has had the pleasure of helping several corporations host their event at the Center, such as GM, Georgia Power, Georgia assembly, local banks, etc. Here is her advice for those who aspire to be professional event planners.
  • It takes a special person to put up with what you will go through, yet event planning is always interesting, fun, and rewarding.
  • Don’t do anything until a contract is signed. (This may differ based on your area of event planning.)
  • The first question you ask a client is “How much do you have to spend?”.
  • Being friends with a client is important, but it’s not the be-all end-all.
  • Qualities every event planner needs includes patience, dedication, and the ability to read clients.
  • You don’t make a lot of money, especially in the beginning.
  • Yes, you will work weekends. In some cases you’ll work several weekends.
  • Not everyone begins in event planning. It is a difficult business to find work in.
  • Yes, there is some math involved. You have to consider how the space is being used and the best way to maximize.

    Esplanade at Night

Not all events are equal. After her talk, Kelli presented the students with some trivia questions regarding events held at the Trade Center, along with trivia regarding the building itself.
  • The Trade Center is a 300,000 square foot building.
  • Most attendees at an event in a day was 15,000.
  • As of her visit to the class, the Trade Center had served 80,000 gallons of coffee AND 750,000 units of soda and bottled water. (One gallon of coffee is $300 plus.)
  • The electricity bill is $35,000 per month.  The highest electricity bill they’ve had was $80,000 in a month.
  • The most meals served in one day was 4500.

Many thanks to Kelli Sauers for speaking with students regarding event planning and for providing pictures for this blog post.

What additional advice would you give aspiring event planners?

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A discussion of ethics and public relations

Each academic year the Public Relations Advisory Board (composed of practitioners who are friends and alumni) network with public relations students at Georgia Southern  University. Past networking experiences involved student challenges, resume critiques, workshops, etc. This year was a discussion in ethics and public relations.

left to right: Alex Grovenstein, Don Rountree, Tal Wright

Industries represented on this years panel included energy, a PR firm, and academics. After approximately 10-15 minutes of each panel member providing examples of ethical dilemmas on their job, along with their opinions on some recent turn of events, the floor was open for questions. Here is a synopsis of the question and answer session.

Is there a difference between company ethics and public ethics?

  • There is a difference betwen the two as the company looks at ethical parameters while the public is typcially more morale, not research based. An example would be the debate over the promotion of sexual abstinence. (Don)
  • More companies are training on ethical standards. Companies are requiring employees to complete yearly ethics test. Signature confirmation is required upon completion. (Tal)
  • Is it okay to blog on behalf of the client? No. But we will help them with the process-outline, editing, help post, etc. The client must be engaged.  (Don)

If the problem is in one branch, do you inform all branches or just the one?

  • This depends on the situation. If the issue invovles possible contamination then yes, we would tell all of our branches. However, if it is an employee related issue in one area then every branch does not need to know what has taken place. (Tal)
  • With regards to education we would inform everyone. Of course we would tailor the message for the audience seeing as individuals will be more concerned with their specific major. (Alex)

Have you ever been in a situation where your ethics where questioned?

  • Yes. Just last week with a billing situation. The client stated he didn’t know he would be charged for the services, yet I had documentation proving otherwise. We talked about whether or not he was happy with the services and came to an agreement on the charges. (Don) 
  • Yes. We had an issue with the Savannah pot hole covers due to a fire beneath the tunnel. We were invited to speak with some of the local authorities. A reporter from the AP was not invited to cover the meeting and called us. The reporter initially believed we were unethical in regards to holding a meeting behind close doors. We explained to him that we were invited to speak at the meeting and did not call the meeting, thus it was not our decision as to which media personnel would or would not be allowed to attend. We did ask the local authorities about allowing the reporter and they said no. After the meeting with local authorities we presented to additional media the same information presented in the meeting.  (Tal)


This is truly a synopsis of the information shared by the participating advisory board members. Many thanks to the students in attendance. I look forward seeing you all at the next networking event.

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