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Archive for March 2010

Melissa McCurry is the events coordinator for Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, Ga. She has a degree in English Communications from Armstrong Atlantic State University and has worked at Uncle Bubba’s since its opening in 2005. Uncle Bubba’s is owned by celebrity chef, Paula Deen and her brother Earl Hiers (a.k.a.“Uncle Bubba”). Melissa is my cousin so I was able to schedule an interview with her pretty easily.

 Melissa said that her education prepared her “a little” for her career. Her degree is in English Communications which is not a typical degree choice for an events coordinator but she also didn’t plan on being an event planner. Melissa originally wanted to be a writer but she quickly realized that she “could not survive off of eating peanuts.” She went back to school for her Master’s in early childhood education, but then realized that teachers have to survive on peanuts as well. She was offered a job as a manager of Uncle Bubba’s and a couple of years later she was given the job of events coordinator for the restaurant. “I love planning events,” she said, “but no one taught me anything. This position didn’t exist before me so I had to learn my own way.”  She did say, however, that her education taught her how to write persuasively which helps her to reach more clients. She also said that the marketing aspect of her education helped her to market herself into getting a job and eventually a brand new position.

 Melissa actually has a fairly regular weekly schedule for an events coordinator. She typically works from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, unless she has an event. She spends most days answering phones and emails and making contact with new companies and tour groups. She sets up parties and creates menus to meet each client’s specific needs and ensures that they are satisfied with their experience. On event days she sets up everything necessary for the event, decorates, and speaks to the host to make sure that the menus and everything else are executed properly.

 The event that Melissa is most proud of actually came about because of a terrible disaster. On February 7, 2008 a huge explosion and fire occurred at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Savannah. Fourteen people were killed and 38 others were injured. After the plant was rebuilt, the company held a few reopening celebrations and Melissa was lucky enough to have the opportunity to plan one of the events. The CEO of the company came from Texas to host the event and 70 people attended. This was Melissa’s first in-house event for a large, multi-million dollar company. “It was gorgeous,” she said, “we had gifts for each of the guests at their place setting and a note from Paula Deen and [her sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen].” A professional photographer was brought in to photograph the event and the pictures were used by various local news outlets. The event was a great success and “the CEO, CFO, and other important initials were there and they were so pleased,” she said.

To stay current in her career, Melissa stays very involved with organizations in the community. When trying to raise money for events, she talks to different non-profit organizations to get new ideas for fundraising and obtaining donations. She’s on many Chatham County school boards and she created the “Uncle Bubba’s School Night Out” which has helped many public schools in Savannah raise thousands of dollars. She’s also involved with the Humane Society and solicits Uncle Bubba’s customers for donations for the Humane Society. “By being involved in our community and helping with fundraisers, the restaurant gets to put its name out there and let the city see that we are not just Paula Deen’s restaurant,” she said.

When asked what she wished she would have known before starting her career, Melissa said she wishes she’d known that event planning is not a steady career. “Opportunities do not just fall into your lap,” she said, “If you are not willing to work for leads then you will not have many events to coordinate. Motivation is definitely a part of the paycheck.” I thought that this was excellent advice and something that all recent college grads should be aware of. It’s a reminder that a college degree alone does not equal a career.

I was surprised to find out just how important writing is to an event planner. Melissa writes all of the contracts for every aspect of her events. She has to meticulously check every email, fax, contract, etc. for errors because even a small typo could result in a disaster. She also writes the introductions to her packages and letters to different organizations in order to get to know them and to introduce herself as well. Melissa explained that “if CEO’s/volunteers/leaders are not interested in what you are writing at first then they won’t continue reading about what you are trying to offer.”

Melissa gave three tips for those of us who are preparing to start our careers. First she encourages us to never give up. “Keep putting your name out there and people will eventually listen and want your services.” Second, she recommends starting small. “Don’t think you can get big companies right out of the gate. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your Rolodex be large at first.” Finally, Melissa said that it is important to always have a backup plan. “If a group sees that you are panicking then they will panic,” she said, “things will go wrong but you have to fix them quickly and not let the whole event go down as a failure.”

After interviewing Melissa I am definitely more likely to want a career in the PR industry. Melissa loves planning events and she has the perfect personality for it. She’s very people-oriented and pays great attention to detail, which I believe are two of the most important skills for an events coordinator to have. I’m not sure yet if event planning is the aspect of PR that I want to go into, but Melissa’s passion for it does make it seem more enticing. Whatever I end up doing in my career, I hope that I have just a quarter of the drive, work ethic and wisdom that Melissa has so early in her career. Who knows? Maybe it runs in the family.

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I think I can honestly say that in every class I have taken for my major, my professors have encouraged me to intern somewhere. Well, I took their advice and this summer I will be doing an internship at a magazine in Savannah. I got the internship because I have a friend at UGA that interned there last summer and she highly recommended it and gave me the name of the person in charge of interns. After getting the internship, I asked my friend for advice about it. She had some really good insight, but the thing that stuck out most in my mind was that she said to talk to and connect with every person that I can. She told me that she made incredible connections during her internship because she was able to go on errands and meet people and also talk to people that came into the office. She said that she has kept in touch with these people and she hopes that they will be able to help her in her job search when she graduates this May. I also talked to one of my friends at GSU, who had done an internship last summer as well, for her advice. She, too, had good ideas, but what I received most from her insight was that it’s extremely helpful to be able to adapt to any situation. She told me that the place where she interned was very laid back, but she was often sent on errands to other businesses that were far more rigid so she had to be as professional as possible on those occasions. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that adaptability is an important skill for everyone to have, not just in the business world but in life in general.

Cornellbusiness.com has a list of the “Five Best Pieces of Job/Internship Advice You Will Ever Get.”  The list includes:

  1. Know what you’re getting into and speak up from the start: Basically, know what’s expected of you and do it to the best of your ability.
  2. Be proactive: You aren’t paying off those student loans for nothing! It’s time to put all of that stuff you learned in endless hours of lectures to work and proactively use what you learned.
  3. Do your homework: This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s pretty important. Know what your company does! Know its products or services, its goals and objectives, the head honchos in the company, even the mission statement is important. The more you know about your company, the better you’ll be at your job.
  4. It’s the little things that count: Know everyone at your company because you never know who you’ll need. Learn the receptionist’s name and say “hi” everyday. Know the custodial staff, the people in the mail room, everyone. “The little things are the big things.”
  5. Network, network, network: Get to know as many people as you can. You can do a great job, but what good is it if no one knows about it? Start by getting to know everyone in your office and they can lead you to people outside of your office.

Finally, here is a YouTube video from the “Intern Queen,” Lauren Berger with quarterlife.com. The video is only about 2 and half minutes long, but it’s packed full of good advice about making the most of your internship, volunteering for any and everything you can, and using social networking in the office.

I hope this was helful. Talk to you soon!

– Allison

To see the notes for this slide show visit Full Frontal PR PowerPoint.



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