An Interview with Jessica Highsmith

Jessica Highsmith

By: Joseph Havey

So you’ve snagged a PR degree. Now what? What is it like transitioning from the classwork and internship experience into the real world of a PR agency?

According to Jessica Highsmith, an Account Coordinator at Largemouth Communications and a recent graduate of N.C. State, newbie status in the PR world has its pros and cons. Getting up early was the hardest adjustment for her; as N.C. State students, we can sometimes spoil ourselves with 10:15 classes. Another challenge was the high amount of multi-tasking she has to do on a daily basis.

Conversely, Highsmith says that social media work comes easily. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter climbed to the level of permeation they claim in our lives today while she was at N.C. State, giving her ample opportunity to familiarize herself with them.

What’s most exciting? The incredible experiences she has enjoyed in just nine months out of college, from the Salute our Troops campaign to writing a letter to Justin Bieber.

Her background:

After graduating summa cum laude from N.C. State last May, Highsmith began work as an account coordinator for Largemouth Communications, which is located in RTP. Largemouth is a full service PR firm that focuses on media relations. Their clients include Eaton Corporation and Southeastern Freight Lines.

Before working for Largemouth, Highsmith interned at French West Vaughn, fielding media opportunities for clients, and Heartland Publications where she produced feature stories. She cites her background in journalism as important not only to her, but to her employer…perhaps to Justin Bieber as well.

On working with the media:

Highsmith describes media relations as challenging, but immensely gratifying. The interdependent relationship between the media and PR practitioners is by no means dead, despite the incredible changes the media has gone through in the past few years. Highsmith pointed out that calling this connection one-sided is inaccurate.

“PR practitioners are not the only ones reliant on this inevitable relationship,” Highsmith said. “Media outlets find value in reliable, honest relationships with PR professionals to source story ideas, connect with experts and more.”

Media relations can sometimes feel like sales, and Highsmith’s experience is no different. It’s sometimes difficult to grab the attention of reporters and producers, but Highsmith enjoys the pursuit, oftentimes crafting her approaches repeatedly until she gets a “bite.”

“It’s amazingly gratifying when you pitch a client’s story to a reporter, coordinate and secure an interview on behalf of the client and then finally see it come full circle,” Highsmith said.

One of her favorite experiences at Largemouth has been working on the Salute our Troops campaign, a summer-long fundraising campaign to support of various military organizations, including the USO, National Guard, Wounded Warrior Project and US Veterans Corp. Largemouth heavily utilized the media to spread the word, and secured several in-studio interviews with military heroes and spokespersons.

The campaign, a textbook case in community relations and run by Kangaroo Express, raised nearly $1.5 million in 2011 and $3.17 million this past summer. A caravan tour of military heroes traveled across the entire Southeast to raise funds for the above military charities.

“As a person with military in the family, I was extremely passionate about this campaign,” Highsmith said. “I also had the privilege of meeting some of the most inspiring people; many of them wounded veterans that have sacrificed so much for our country.”

Her advice to PR students:

Highsmith advised current students to keep an open mind and dive into the real world as soon as possible, in the form of internships.

She also encouraged students to utilize N.C. State’s resources, such as the career center. Highsmith’s employer told her that a large part of why he hired her was that her personality shone through in the interview.

“If you haven’t scheduled a mock interview at the N.C. State career center, I definitely recommend it,” Highsmith said. “They asked me some of the most brutal open-ended questions, but it was very helpful because you can never be too sure what an interviewer might ask you.”

And, like everyone else, Highsmith advises students to improve their writing. N.C. State offers a handful of English and journalism classes to help with things such as quality and APstyle. Writing is so crucial in PR, and who knows? If you’re good enough, you may get to write a letter to Justin Bieber.

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