by Sara Krueger, photo by Tarryn Lambert
One day I was sitting on my couch in Lubbock, Texas, reading Tweets, and a month later, I was on a plane to San Francisco to participate in the opportunity of a lifetime. On a Friday in early December, I scrolled through my Twitter feed like I had done thousands of times before. I came across a public relations professionals’ Friday-follow list and followed everyone whose bio stated they worked in a field related to public relations. I am interested in seeing the day-to-day life of people in the communications field, so this is something I do frequently.
An e-mail notification let me know that Courtney Taylor, a corporate development and strategic alliances consultant, followed me. Looking for an opportunity to connect with Taylor, I asked her for public relations advice via Twitter. Instead of advice, I received a message asking if I was interested in interning with her consulting group. I did what any eager undergraduate would do and sent her my resume. A few days later, Taylor announced on Twitter that she would moderate a panel at the Intersection Event at Pixar Studios. The Intersection is an event that brings together influential people across many different industries to discuss how innovation can create beneficial social changes. With hopes of continuing our conversation, I sent her a congratulatory message. Her response was a suggestion that I accompany her to the event and get hands-on public relations experience. The date of the event fell a week before I was due back in Lubbock for the Spring semester. Everything seemed to be falling into place for this trip to happen. The next step was planning.
I spent my Christmas break planning my trip to the West coast. Taylor put me in contact with her travel agent and helped me to get a pass to the Intersection Event. Prior to leaving for San Francisco, I conducted research on Taylor’s panel members. Susan Sarandon, Paul Rieckhoff, and Lauren Bush were the subjects of my research. Learning about the charitable backgrounds of these celebrities was exciting, but I was a little nervous knowing that what I was doing would impact the panel session.
I was very fortunate to have my mom along for the ride. The morning of January 12, we headed from Dallas to San Francisco. We spent the first day wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf and the rest of San Francisco. On day two, I dove right into the role of public relations professional. Taylor notified me that she needed a few more topics researched to frame her questions. Thank goodness for free wireless Internet. I sat in my hotel’s lobby for three hours compiling and organizing information on the new topics. My work for the day was done, so my mom and I ventured out into the city one last time. Later that night Taylor sent a driver to our hotel to take us from San Francisco to Berkeley, Calif., which is closer to Pixar Studios.
My anticipation about the next day made sleeping a difficult task. I was excited to finally meet the woman who so graciously gave me this opportunity, to visit Pixar Studios, and to listen to speakers who were leaders in their industries. I arrived at Pixar before the sun was up to help set up coat checks for the guests. My morning was spent as a volunteer, which was fun because I met some interesting people close to my age. Many of the people I met were intrigued by Texas and curious if the show “Friday Night Lights” was real. The two people working coat checks with me were great at networking, and I learned a lot by watching them interact with the guests.
The caliber of people I was among at the Intersection Event amazed me. Executives from companies like Google, Pixar and Disney; professors from Harvard; actors, and nonprofit leaders made up the list of attendees. Every student I met came from an Ivy League university, so I enjoyed spreading Texas Tech’s name to such a prestigious crowd. A networking event was on the morning schedule, and the volunteers were invited to participate. I met a world-renowned marine biologist, Yahoo’s VP of Design, a corporate communications team member from Disney, video game developers, staff from Stanford’s media team, and a legal adviser for All American Heavyweights. After the networking event, Taylor was due to arrive, and the panels began.
I met Taylor and her friend, actress Nanci Chambers, at the front door and escorted them to seats I saved for them in the Pixar Theater. Taylor and I immediately got to work observing the moderators and taking notes on the things she wanted to replicate for her panel. We took a short break to watch an unreleased Pixar short-film in the real Pixar Theater. Pixar does not offer tours, so the number of people who get the opportunity to watch a film in the company’s theater is extremely small. Another exciting thing about visiting Pixar was standing in front of the organization’s six Academy Awards. I am still in awe at seeing an Academy Award in person. The next event on the schedule was lunch, but for the public relations people it meant work time.
Taylor and I found a conference room and spent lunch-hour making final preparations. We organized her moderator cards, and she reviewed a few main questions she planned to ask each panel speaker. My duties during the panel were to walk to the stage, queue a 30-minute mark, and bring a gift for the speakers to the stage. Technically, one could say I was on stage with Susan Sarandon. I enjoyed learning how to moderate a panel by watching Taylor. We spent the remainder of the afternoon speaking with other attendees and watching the panels that followed Taylor’s. After the event ended, we took pictures with some movie-character statues, then her driver, Dan, took us back to the hotel.
The day after the event was my last in the Bay Area. My mom and I explored Berkeley, and then headed to the San Francisco airport. Upon arriving back in Texas, I reflected on a few things I learned from my experience. These lessons include: be one step ahead of where you are expected to be; reach out to people who are doing what you want to do because they may be willing to help you; and taking chances is a great way to find which path is right for you. mc
Sara Krueger is a senior public relations major from Fort Worth, Texas.
Tarryn Lambert is 2011 visual communications and public relations graduate from Austin, Texas.