By LINDSAY WEININGER
On Thursday, October 13, PRSSA hosted Randy Wheeless to discuss his work at Duke Energy as Communications Manager – and also let PRSSA members in on a few tips to landing a public relations job after college.
After graduating from The University of Richmond with a degree in Journalism, Wheeless took on sports writing for three years. He then did PR for the athletics department at North Carolina Wesleyan College in his hometown, Rocky Mount. Two years later, Wheeless started to do public relations for the N.C. Electric Membership Corp. Wheeless now nears his 25th year at Duke Energy as Communications Manager.
Duke Energy is one of the most dominant utility organizations in North Carolina with over 7.2 million customers. Today, they rank #2 in the nation for solar power and they own the two largest solar farms in the state with the largest one covering 450 acres of land.
“About 20 million people depend on our company,” said Wheeless. “If anyone needs a PR team, it’s Duke Energy.” Duke Energy currently employs about 110 people for their corporate communications.
For Duke Energy’s public relations, Wheeless mostly focuses on reaching out to the state of North Carolina and addressing solar energy, renewable energy and emerging technologies like battery storage and drones, for example.
Wheeless explained the most important people for their public relations to target is not the 10 percent that loves your company – and not even the 10 percent that hates your company – but the 10 percent of people in the middle. These are the people who frequently go back and forth for their preference of your company after seeing either a positive aspect or a negative aspect. These are the people he wants to educate on the fact that Duke Energy is doing more good than bad.
He also expressed the importance of having an expansive and persistent social media presence, mostly through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. “This is how people get their news,” said Wheeless. “Learn from what people are saying, but don’t let it throw off your game.”
Next, Wheeless discussed some important skills he felt students should have when coming out of college and entering the world of PR.
Good writing, he explained, was the most imperative skill to possess. It’s extremely important to write concise. “If you can only have 50 words, what are the best 50 words to use?” said Wheeless. Students should also know how to write fast and know how to write in a way that makes complicated information sound simple to readers.
Students should also understand that knowing how to shoot a video is important, but knowing how to edit the video is even more critical. In this day and age, a 3-4 minute video is preferred by the social media “scrollers” – and even less on Twitter. “Take something happening out in the world and get it down to a manageable 30 seconds for a Twitter spot,” said Wheeless.
That brought him to his next tip: the importance of knowing your social media and how it should work for an organization. Many employers assume millennials already know the ins and outs of social media, so be prepared to prove that is true.
Students should also be very familiar with Microsoft Office Suite products, Adobe Suite products – Photoshop, for example – and Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Editor. Many offices are using these products and it’s most important that PR folks know how to use them efficiently.
“Get something published,” said Wheeless, stressing his final tip for students. Whether it’s a blog post, an article in a paper, an op-ed column or another feature, it’s important for PR students to display their writing. You want to not only tell employers you can write well, but also provide them with proof. “Write about something you are passionate about and be timely,” said Wheeless.
Finally, Wheeless explained the bad news and the good news about NC State PR students finding a job after college.
The bad news: Duke Energy loves to go to NC State to recruit many young workers…engineers. They are rarely looking at the PR students.
The good news: PR teams usually have a lot of turnover. PR employees will go in and out of companies very often so it’s important to keep your ear to the ground. These are often small departments and have many young people working in them.
“Aim for organizations that are based on a passion you love,” said Wheeless.