PRSSA panel explores public relations in politics

On Feb. 7, Oakland University’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter hosted a virtual panel discussion about careers in politics for public relations and communication professionals. Special guest panelists John Sellek, Kyleigh Wegener and Mona Shand answered an array of questions on their professional and academic experiences.

To begin the discussion, PRSSA Adviser Chiaoning Su explained OU’s PRSSA chapter was formed in 2019 to support students considering a career in public relations. Since its founding, the chapter has won multiple national awards for its achievements in public relations education and industry involvement.

“We are so lucky to have so many curious young minds in this incredible organization,” Su said. “Although we are young, we are mighty.”

The panelists were then invited to introduce themselves. Sellek, the founder of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs PR firm, detailed his history working on the campaign trail in Lansing.

“Even though I worked mostly for Republicans throughout my career, I take pride in networking with all sides,” Sellek said. “Being able to set your personal biases aside is an important trait in this field.”

Wegener shared her experiences working for the American Heart Association and her current position as a communications advisor at the Michigan House of Representatives

Shand provided an interesting perspective, after having led her own campaign for a state representative position. Although Shand was ultimately unsuccessful in winning the seat, the experience allowed her to secure a position working for Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin as a district communications specialist and field representative.

The panelists were then asked to distinguish between public and private sector work in public relations. Each described public work as akin to working in an interconnected community toward common goals.

“You are so rewarded in many ways by working in the public sector,” Shand said. “I remember working to get masks and food out to individuals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel so connected to my community through this service.”

In regard to specific skills they bring to the workplace, the panelists were questioned about the appropriate way to respond in crisis situations. There was a strong consensus that workers must be calm, communicative and organized in these highly stressful times.

“When you are dealing with crisis situations, you have to view yourself as the ‘eye of the hurricane,’” Wegener said. “You must maintain your composure, create a plan and communicate it effectively. When you have strong organizational skills, you can put your plan into action quickly.”

The panel came to a close with a discussion of a recent crisis that happened close to campus — the Oxford High School shooting. Shand explained the strong emotions Slotkin and her staff had following the incident, and the quick steps they took to provide support to the community.

“When the Oxford shooting happened, we had to take a step back and figure out how we could best serve the people,” Shand said. “Slotkin knew that she needed to be present and available for all community members. When you show up, it makes a difference.”

PRSSA plans to have future panel events to educate students about career pathways in the field of public relations. For more information about the group, visit their GrizzOrgs or their Instagram page, @prssa_ou.