Becoming a Part of Your Network: Lessons Learned from Touring the USS Carl Vinson

By Dylan Grise, Account Coordinator, Katz & Associates

Take it from me, a recent public relations graduate and newcomer to the public relations scene in San Diego; establishing a network and being involved in your field, outside of work, can be hard. Daunting. Nearly impossible if you don’t know where to begin. It seems easy when you’re in school since you’re taking classes with the same group of people every semester, but once graduation hits and everyone is employed, the challenge begins.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have been told about the importance of networking with local media and influencers or researching target audiences and the various publics that I will be dealing with. I’ve been trained to pay attention to leadership roles and follow their examples so I can become an expert at everything I do. It seems pretty inclusive but it leaves out one very important group of people, arguably the most important group: fellow professionals.

I watch the senior and leadership roles in my office navigate the PR network with ease and hope with time that I can have a strong network myself, but know that this doesn’t just happen. It takes work. I’ve been told about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) by numerous PR professors, but for some reason, I never saw myself becoming a member. That’s changed.

One of the PRSA San Diego/Imperial County Board members works in my office, and I had been asking her about ways to get out and meet people. She forwarded me a list of upcoming PRSA sponsored events and I was immediately drawn to a tour of the USS Carl Vinson’s Media Department.

This is not just any ship. This is an aircraft carrier with a 4.5-acre flight deck that can store, launch and recover upwards of a hundred aircraft while at sea. It was one of the flagship for the US Navy; it hosted the first NCAA basketball game on a flight deck (the Carrier Classic) which was attended by then-President Barak Obama; but most importantly, this was MY ship for four years. The ship that got me out of my comfort-zone and into the military, the ship that inspired me to go to college and “Accelerate my life” (their slogan at the time) and became the driver for my fascination of public affairs.

This was a free tour offered to the PRSA chapter and a few local college student associations, and as a prospective member, I was allowed to tag along for the day.

Our tour guide was a senior Public Affairs Officer (PAO) who had an abundance of knowledge about all things Navy. He explained that while each ship and strike group has its own specific mission in remote areas across the globe, be it humanitarian efforts after a natural disaster or keeping cargo ships safe from pirates, his job is to help keep the overall Navy messaging intact. His day might be guiding public tour groups of the ship while it’s pier-side in Coronado, advising the ship’s leadership during press conferences or shaking hands with dignitaries in a foreign port. The range of tasks that may arise on any given day require the Navy’s PAOs to be ready for anything, at a moment’s notice.

As I walked off the ship with my group, I noticed a few familiar faces from events and work functions that I’ve attended in San Diego. We had some time to chat after the tour and I realized our group was comprised of people who have previously worked for my company or currently work with us on some of our larger projects. There were fellow San Diego State University alumni and soon-to-be graduates. There were people I have never met, but I knew I wanted them in my network.

I continued doing research into PRSA and found that not only is it very affordable for those of us that are new to the field, but they also have a separate function called New Pros, specifically angled for people like me. They offer networking events with some of the top public relations professionals in the area, some that are involved with PRSA and others who serve as leading experts in their field. There are leadership and mentorship programs. There are growth opportunities around every corner that allow me the chance to network directly with the other new professionals that I can grow with as our careers become more developed.

Within a week of joining as a member, I had already attended another event (on crisis communication and planning) and, again, found myself in a room of familiar faces, eager to better understand our industry and meet those that we will inevitably cross paths with in the future.

My experience with the PRSA San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter has restored my confidence in my ability to get out there and meet people effectively. I find myself looking forward to the next event and wondering who may show up that I haven’t seen in a while or what new faces will lead me to new opportunities.

I want to give a shout out to the whole PRSA board here in San Diego for everything they have done to help me find my place in their organization and I know they will play an integral role in me finding MY network.

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