This is the first in a series of posts in which Account Executive Maggie LaMaack shines the spotlight on individual staff members who make up the Bellmont Partners team.
This year, Bellmont Partners’ very own Heather Cmiel, APR, was named Secretary of the 2014 Minnesota PRSA Board of Directors. A member of PRSA for more than 10 years, Heather is also founder of the Alphabet Bash, and serves as a board member for the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.
I sat down with Heather to talk about how she got her start in public relations and discuss the value professional organizations can bring to PR practitioners:
Maggie: How did you get your start in public relations?
Heather: I got kind of a non-traditional start in PR. I graduated from Augsburg right after Sept. 11 and the market was horrible. Jobs for college grads didn’t exist. After graduation I sent out more than 650 resumes coast to coast.
I sold wedding dresses for a while before taking a job at Mystic Lake in its marketing department. At the time, I had a relationship with an ad agency in town that had a PR arm, and I called the president of the company and said, “I’ll see you on Monday. You don’t have to pay me and I will get lunch for your team, but I want to learn from your PR department.” So, I kind of forced myself into my first internship. From there I was hired at Maccabee, and that is how I got my start in the agency world.
Maggie: When did you first join PRSA?
Heather: I joined PRSA in 2003. The first thing I did was attend a few of their events. The people I met at those first events introduced me to some of the committees. My first real engagement with PRSA was serving on their Programming Committee, where I planned events as well as professional development and networking opportunities.
Maggie: How did you become a member of the Minnesota PRSA Board of Directors?
Heather: I chaired the Programming Committee and at one point served on the Business Outreach Committee. I was also a part of the Advisory Board before deciding to study for my APR (Accreditation in Public Relations), which is a requirement to sit on the PRSA Board of Directors.
Honestly, I started studying for my APR because I wanted to advance to a board role at PRSA, but it ended up being a much more interesting and gratifying experience than I could have expected. Getting my APR reaffirmed a lot of things I knew about the PR industry and also taught me a lot of new things. After receiving my APR in 2008, I was elected to the board in 2011.
Maggie: What do you think are the benefits of being in a professional organization?
Heather: I think the network is the top benefit. I have met some amazing people through PRSA, and even some lifelong friends. When I was laid off in 2013, people from PRSA flooded in offering support, leads and counsel.
I can’t say enough about the network in the Twin Cities. That’s why I created the Alphabet Bash — because I wanted to bring this dynamic network together. This is a big small town. People know each other and are super connected.
Maggie: What upcoming events are you looking forward to?
Heather: I am really looking forward to the Olympics event that PRSA is holding in April. We will be bringing someone who does communications for the U.S. Olympic committee to talk about what it is like to put in to one of the largest events in the entire world.
Not related to PRSA, last year we made the announcement that the Alphabet Bash in the large-party format wouldn’t continue, so we are rethinking what the bash looks like in 2014. I am very much looking forward to doing some different things with the Alphabet Bash and continuing to bring people together.
Maggie: Looking forward to hearing more about the next generation of the Alphabet Bash. Thanks, Heather!