Doreen Overstreet is an accredited public relations professional and has been applying her craft for the past 15 years. She is currently the public information officer for Orange County Government. The largest city of Orange County, of course, is Orlando. Before that, Doreen was the vice president of public relations at the Linda Costa Communications Group and was there for more than 12 years.
Talk to the importance of finding a mentor and someone who believes in you early.
Doreen stresses that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the countless people who helped her over the years. Most especially helpful is when someone who is willing to vouch for you and express their confidence in you to someone else.
“You need that “in” to be like ‘I’ve proven myself somewhere else. I can prove myself with you.’”
She also considers her peers and colleagues as mentors no matter their job title. You should always glean knowledge from those around you including the people you work with, explains Doreen. Also, too, age is not a factor. No matter if they’re older or younger, have an open mind that every person has the potential to teach you something.
While Doreen has never formally asked someone to be her mentor, that doesn’t omit the countless mentors she’s accrued throughout her career. And she knows many people who have asked someone point-blank to act as his/her mentor.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in public relations?
Doreen took a career placement test and while preschool teacher came out on top, public relations also scored very high. Stetson University, a private university in Central Florida, didn’t offer a formal PR degree so in addition to majoring in communications, she completed internships and wrote for the college newspaper.
But that isn’t to say you need to study PR in school because her former boss loved hiring English majors because of their incredible writing and editing ability.
“I think any major can make a really good public relations professional.”
Among your many internships, you applied your craft for the LPGA. What do you remember about that?
What’s funny is that Doreen knew nothing about golf but knew it would look tremendous on a resume. It’s a good distinction because you don’t have to know everything about a particular industry to be successful. It’s important that you don’t sell yourself short and to lead with what you’re good at and what you are knowledgeable about, she says.
Doreen recalled a story about seeking her first internship and explaining that while she doesn’t have a wealth of experience or a portfolio to show off, her work ethic was second to none. She cited that, it’s her belief, it was her enthusiasm that won them over.
She describes how her enthusiasm has helped her secure jobs or be turned away from them, but that’s a good thing because you’re going to gravitate to a like-minded culture.
“You don’t really want to work for a place that doesn’t embrace your personality.”
How important are internships and volunteer opportunities when starting out?
Doreen says internships and volunteer opportunities are “paramount” and if there’s any career that you need an internship for, it’s public relations. Her reasoning is because it’s all about proving yourself and it’s hard to do that solely in a school environment. It’s important to show that you can craft a press release, for starters, that you understand what media list databases are, etc.
But that’s not to say if you’re already engaged in a job or career outside of PR that you need to work for free and get an internship under your belt. Just like college coursework can help you get an internship which leads to a job, your experience in any industry can be parlayed into your first PR gig.
Informational interviews are also a great way to get your foot in the door and exposed to accomplished public relations professionals.
How should one seek internship and volunteer opportunities?
Begin with your local professional association (the Florida Public Relations Association for folks in Florida or your nearest Public Relations Society of America chapter). The next thing to do, Doreen advises, is identify the places you’d most like to work. Peruse their websites and discover whether they have an internship program. When she started out, Doreen knew she wanted to work at an agency, so she identified her top three.
“Narrowing down your focus is so important.”
Simply knowing the kind of company you want to work for can help you save time and energy and, ultimately, land your dream job.
Beware of internships that are marketed as PR opportunities but really aren’t. You’ll want to ask specifically what tasks you’ll be responsible for. The thing to keep in mind is that the next time you’re getting interviewed, the hiring manager is going to care less about the title at your previous internship and more about the experience and accomplishments you gained.
What struggles did you encounter on your first job search?
It’s all about timing, Doreen says. She graduated after 9/11 and says sometimes the job opportunities just aren’t there. It’s important to be realistic if this is the case for you and not to feel sorry for yourself.
For Doreen, she was “pleasantly persistent” in email and phone communications to her eventual first employer Linda Costa Communications Group. She recalls interviewing at a rent-a-car company at a time when it seemed like no public relations job was going to avail itself to her. Doreen immediately realized that working outside of PR was not going to cut it for her and following her interview, stopped by the agency. She made it clear that she wanted to be hired and it gave her the courage to be steadfast in what she wanted.
Going back to the timing aspect, Doreen says that someone was on their way out at the time and the thought that she was a potential candidate was put in their heads.
“If [PR] is what you want to do, don’t sell yourself short… You deserve a seat at that table. You have prepared and done what you have done to get that interview, just have faith in yourself.”
What are those skills that all aspiring PR professionals should have?
Number one, you have to be a strong writer, Doreen says. PR writing isn’t a necessity, but clear and concise writing is. It’s also important to understand you’ll get a lot of “no’s” in the profession, so you can’t be easily defeated. In fact, it’s the no’s that will help you become a better PR practitioner, so don’t shy away from them.
Why do you think more folks from the news business are making the jump to public relations?
For one, there are less news jobs available. Newsrooms are shrinking and reporters are being asked to do more. That leads to less job security. While the need for news is never going away, the industry is undoubtedly in flux.
If a journalist is considering the career change, what can he/she do to make the most of their inherent experience?
Reaching out to a PR professional is a great first step. Reporters already have solid relationships with those who work in public relations, so leaning on them for guidance can be very beneficial. Inform them you’re thinking about making the jump, ask if they know who you should talk to and explain the kind of job you’re seeking.
“If you don’t like working with PR people, I don’t think you should go into the profession.”
Doreen thinks if you’re a good journalist, you can recognize the difference between a good PR pro and a bad one. If you’re a reporter who strives to work in the PR industry, always keep that in mind.
What are some common mistakes you’ve seen from resumes to interviews gone wrong?
Doreen thinks applicants can speak too fast in an interview. Another downfall is not doing research on the company beforehand. It’s cliche to say you should “Google” the organization before sitting in the hot seat. The worst thing you could say in an interview is “tell me about about your company.”
She shares a story on how she secured an internship because of her knowledge of the company she was interviewing at. Just as the hiring manager was about to describe the company, Doreen politely interrupted and demonstrated she had done her homework. Doing the proper research can also produce intelligent questions for you to ask at the end of the interview and make you stand out among the competition.
Interviews are also a great opportunity to showcase your writing samples. It’s always a bad sign when someone doesn’t bring a portfolio, says Doreen. You can’t be sure the hiring manager has taken the time necessary to look at your personal website before the interview and read your writing samples, so it’s important to think of the in-person interview as a way to guarantee you’ve shown them all that you have to offer.
And while it’s important to be confident in an interview, don’t be cocky. Conversely, don’t intimate the job is beneath you or that you’re better than the job. To be humble is another good tip.
Pay attention to the line of questions the interviewer is using. More than likely, the organization already has that ideal hire in mind and is trying to determine if you fit the mold. If you’re smart, you’ll drum up the experiences that indicate you’re just what the doctor ordered. The perfect hire might be someone who is just like the person who they’re trying to replace, so figuring out what made them a great worker is helpful.
A great question to ask is, “What kind of person is an ideal fit to work here?” and if their answer applies to you, capitalize on the opportunity to explain why you’re it.
What key trait do you attribute the majority of your success to?
Her drive and relentlessness. She may not reach her goals as soon as she’d like all the time, but she won’t stop until she does. Doreen describes herself as a bulldog.
“I think in PR if you have a goal to meet, you may not be able to meet it today or tomorrow but you are going to meet that goal.”
She also cites her loyalty to the job, organization, goal and client as a reason for her success.
What do you love about working in the PR industry?
Everyone says it but it’s true: every day is different. Doreen also loves to learn new things and PR allows her to do that on a daily basis.
The advent of brand journalism also makes it an exciting time to work in PR. It’s not just about getting your organization’s name in the news because today social media and blogs allow PR teams to tell their own story. And those pieces of storytelling can lend themselves to traditional media covering the same news.
Working with video is also a lot of fun because it allows us in PR to tell stories in a new way.
What is public relations to you?
It’s definitely one of the things she cares about, and genuinely enjoys going to work every day. To her, it’s like her third kid. She enjoys growing with it and learning more about it every day.
And working in local government is exciting because you learn about programs and initiatives that are really making an impact in the community.
What books can you recommend to aspiring and established PR professionals?
- StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
- Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk
Just like you would pitch a reporter on a story, pitch the public relations industry to someone who is on the fence about going all in and pursuing it.
Every industry and organization needs public relations, so imagine working for your favorite organization, being passionate who you work for and, more importantly, enjoying what you do. The possibilities are limitless, Doreen explains, as PR allows you to work in internal communications, external communications, social media and so on. You can even move all the way up to a C-level position now.
Any final advice to that person who is about to embark on a PR career?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to PR professionals and take them to coffee for an informational interview. Most people will say yes, just as Doreen did to Mark when he was starting out on his journey.
It’s true what they say in that it is about who you know, especially in PR.
“You have to put yourself out there and say, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so, I really want to get into this career. Can you help me? Here’s what I’ve done to prepare.’”
Most importantly, as Doreen puts it, “make the pitch for yourself.”