Going Global: Study Abroad Provides a World of PR Opportunities

How did study abroad add value to my education?

It took me a long time to decide that I was going to study abroad. The toughest part of the decision was weighing the benefits of the program when compared to starting an internship. After spending most of my junior year talking to my peers and professors about how to maximize my college experience, I decided to participate in a program that focused on international communication. Little did I know I would be building international connections  within my first 48 hours abroad.

Christina Wieselthaler, public relations assistant at Ketchum Publico, located in Vienna, Austria, was one of the first professionals I met.

“I know how it is to be a student but it was the combination of using my creativity and strategic thinking to find a solution that has made me successful here,” Wieselthaler said. “The best thing about public relations is that every day is different and not one day goes by without me learning something new.”

She started her academic career as an undergraduate journalism major and then studied public relations during graduate school. Wieselthaler believes great public relations professionals should be able to multitask and is also good with people. Before working in Austria, she handled the public relations for a hospital in Charlotte, N.C.

“Word of mouth has a greater power in Austria compared to other countries around the world,” Wieselthaler said.

As a member of the Public Relations Austria (PRVA) organization, comparable to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Ketchum Publico values networking and company growth. The company also utilizes PRVA’s workshops, field trips, lectures and other events to foster relationships.

On the other hand, Wieselthaler’s colleague, Pepita Adelmann, wasn’t always attracted to public relations. It wasn’t until she took a chance and interned at a small public relations agency that she found her calling. Her internship experience focused on media relations, which led to her international career. Now, Adelmann is one of Ketchum Publico’s senior public relations consultant.

Why is being globally aware beneficial to public relations?

One morning my class heard from the Austrian Airlines Head of Corporate Communications, Peter Thier. He began by telling us about how his professional career unfolded. Thier studied communications science and later practiced journalism professionally for five years. In 1988 he secured a higher paying position at Bank Austria to develop their international public relations.

After nine years with Bank Austria handling media relations, marketing and internal communications, along with the development of its international presence, he moved to Austrian Airlines in 2012.

“The best lessons I learned were in Bulgaria in 2002. I helped to build up the communications department from scratch when Bank Austria acquired a local bank. I was responsible for the change communications and company rebranding later in 2007. It was important to know our international market and recreate a global brand,” Thier said.

I want to work internationally. How can I accomplish this?

As a college senior entering her final terms as a public relations student, I am beginning to consider the career possibilities of the future. Many of us are asking ourselves where we would like to be located after graduation, what sector of public relations we want to enter and what company or firm we wish to be hired by. Beyond answering such questions for ourselves, we also have to make the moves to acquire our post graduation job. So what if you want to work in a different country? It was not until Peter Thier entered our classroom to discuss his internationally-based career that I gained some sense of how to accomplish this goal.

“So then how would you suggest acquiring a job internationally?” I asked Thier that morning.

Thier said he looks for three key characteristics when interviewing candidates.

“First, I go through to see any college-level work. Practical experience is important and networking abilities are vital. Who are their connections? It is also important that one should have some experience in journalism or social media work. And lastly, I look for honesty. I don’t want him or her to be obviously desperate,” Thier said. “Sometimes there is a special glow in the eyes. That’s the right one.”

You may think I have an exact plan now as to what I hope to do after I graduate. But the truth is, I don’t. However, studying abroad gave me a greater sense of the possibilities I have as a future public relations professional. I had never considered working internationally, or even out of my native state of California, until this experience. Studying abroad provides students with experiences and options they may have never considered before. I learned more about myself, including my strengths and weakness, and grew more as person than I ever expected.

Sophie Lair is a student at the University of Oregon and the Chapter president of its PRSSA Chapter. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @sophielair.

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