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                    From M.A. to the A.M.As  



Taking a brief respite from an extremely hectic schedule, Catherine Bocke considers the spectacle surrounding her. During this mid-November week, her work has taken her to Los Angeles for the 40th American Music Awards. Currently a Media Associate at GolinHarris, she works in the firm’s Healthcare group on the GlaxoSmithKline account, where she supports public relations efforts for several consumer health brands including Nicorette, NicoDerm, BreatheRight and TUMS. On this night she is working on behalf of Nicorette and NicoDerm at the official A.M.A. gifting suites, launching their newest initiative, “Pledge or Quit.” She works providing celebrities, producers, and journalists with advice on how to quit smoking and passing out product gift bags. Her job requires her to balance demands from multiple brands, to deliver high quality work on short deadlines and, at times, takes her across the country to work at television award shows. This is the life of a young public relations professional.

Bocke began her career in public relations as an undergraduate student at Eastern Illinois University, an education she continued in the Communication Studies M.A. program. As an undergraduate student Bocke participated in the department’s Social Marketing Internship program, which helped her see the potential an M.A. held for her career advancement.

“I actually wasn’t planning on attending graduate school,” contends Bocke, “The internship I did with the Department of Communication Studies and the Health Education Resource Center during my senior year at EIU opened the doors to it. I realized I really enjoyed health communication, so I applied for a graduate assistantship as the PR/Marketing/Web Design coordinator for the campus’ Health Services. I truly enjoyed my undergraduate experience, so I thought if I could learn more about health communication while gaining an advanced degree in a department that I already had such amazing experiences with, it would be a win-win situation.”

When she started her M.A. Bocke knew what she wanted to do with her life.  That enabled her to tailor the program to her future career. She credits this foresight as one reason for her success and believes new students need to take full advantage of their time as M.A. students.

“If you know what you want to do afterwards, tailor your studies and extracurriculars towards that goal. Get as much experience as you can and immerse those experiences into your studies. After graduation, if you can show [employers] those two years helped develop you academically and professionally and those two worlds work in tandem, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead [of those you are competing with for jobs].”

When she finished her M.A., Bocke began at GolinHarris as an intern. Starting with 16 other interns, Bocke refers to the experience as humbling. “Everyone in the intern class had such amazing experience, from interning at other agencies to TV stations like E! and FOX.”

But Bocke had her own significant experiences to draw from. “I had something that no one else in the group had: a Master’s degree and the experiences that came with it. Starting with my initial interview, I was able to talk about the projects I had worked on at EIU—conferences, focus groups, research papers, presentations and of course, my thesis. The critical thinking, writing and presentation skills—not to mention multitasking skills—were all put in high gear during my internship, which I saw as a 12-week interview.”

With 17 interns and only a handful of job openings available at the end of the internship (ultimately only five), everyone felt the pressure.  Asked to develop a new product launch she had only two weeks to create a plan, develop it, and craft an interesting presentation, which would be given to the entire agency and representatives from the product’s brand.

“I knew my graduate program experiences would kick into gear. I know how to balance a demanding schedule after two years in graduate school. For those two weeks, my team was in the office for a full eight-hour workday, additional two-to-five hours afterwards to work on the project, plus weekend hours. I was able to use the research skills I had developed to turn around insights for our plan quickly. And luckily I honed my presentation skills during those two years in classes, several EIU communication day panels and one regional conference.”

Bocke knew it was going to be an intense experience and when the presentation began the room was full. “My supervisor sat directly in front of me. Al Golin, agency founder, was front-row center. The director of the healthcare practice, who would ultimately make the decision on hiring me, smiled at me from across the room and my team members had cleared their schedule to attend the presentation.” The presentation went well and at the end of the 12 weeks Bocke was ecstatic to learn that she was one of five interns hired as full-time employees.

“I really feel that my Communication Studies M.A., coupled with my experience as a graduate assistant, opened the doors to my career. At EIU, I was able to pair hands-on experience through my GA with in-depth research, analysis and writing through my studies. I attribute these complementary experiences to me landing the internship that led to my career.”

at board

Working at GolinHarris’s worldwide headquarters in Chicago, her daily tasks include media monitoring, developing media materials, identifying media targets and conducting outreach, participating in program ideation sessions, assisting in the development of program plans and in event execution. “I start the day off by doing media monitoring for our smoking cessation brands to get an overview of the topical landscape and flag any trends or issues we might want to act on.  Then, it could be anything from researching issues and trends and developing summaries for the team, drafting media materials, developing media and blogger lists, pitching stories to journalists and bloggers, participating in brainstorming sessions, tracking media coverage or writing results summaries for our client.”

Looking back on her M.A. work, Bocke believes her thesis has played the largest role in her current success. “A huge portion of my thesis project was analyzing media coverage and being able to take that information and make sense of it. That’s something I do every day at my job. At the beginning of such a big project, it seems impossible, but being able to break a large project down and tackle it one part at a time is an experience that’s very useful in managing my time and projects at work.”

While at the AMA awards she encouraged celebrities and producers to sign a “Pledge to Quit” wall on behalf of themselves, their loved ones, or fans. “Two Backstreet Boys, Lance Bass, Cyndi Lauper, and 25 other influencers signed our pledge wall. Larry Klein, producer of the AMAs, said our booth was ‘the coolest one’ there and signed our pledge wall to quit smoking on January 1.”

But for public relations professionals the event is not the most exciting part – that’s the buzz that comes from a well-executed event. “On the night of the AMAs, I started noticing #Nicorette and #AMAs being mentioned together on Twitter.” Sensing something must have happened Bocke recalled that she and a teammate had arranged an interview for the client with Adrianna Costa, a red carpet host. After quickly scanning the Internet Bocke found that the official live-streaming AMAs preshow, “Coca-Cola Red Carpet LIVE @ The 2012 AMAs” had featured a segment on the gifting suites, and more importantly, the interview they had set up was aired.

The interview and the Pledge to Quit initiative was streamed live on YouTube, AMAs365.com, ABC.com, Livestream.com, Ustream.com, PopSugar.com, AP Live Entertainment and CokeMusic.com. The results pleased Bocke. “Nicotine replacement therapy—and healthcare PR, for that matter—isn’t always glamorous. But when we’re able to execute a successful program and get great results, it certainly feels that way.”