A Guest Post by Lauren McDonald, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism Student
Every opportunity is what you make of it. In March I heard about an opportunity to visit a film set for Pioneers in Skirts™, a documentary about obstacles women still face in their careers. Given that my career aspiration is to one-day be an entertainment publicist, I jumped at the chance to meet a director and volunteer on her set.
Before I arrived I researched the film and the director, Ashley Maria. She was an alum of UNC-Chapel Hill, an award-winning director, and she had been working for three years on her documentary. During the shoot the crew made sure I was comfortable with what I was doing and encouraged me to ask questions. I was asked to pull my weight too! I took pictures and posted content to social media.
After the film shoot, I reached out to Ashley and her producer, Lea-Ann Berst, to let them know I had some free time and would be happy to help with anything that would benefit the film. They gave me small work items at first. I was sure to show them no task was too small. I looked at every assignment they gave me as an opportunity to learn more and expand my knowledge.
Eventually, after working for a few weeks on contacting reporters and creating buzz, I was offered the chance to officially work on targeted public relations for the film. I was excited to help define a role for me that allowed me to learn my trade as I helped build awareness for the film. Today, my main focus is on creating publicity on university campuses, since I am still a university student myself, and to find out how we can get more college men and women interested in the film.
What began as an amazing volunteer experience on set soon turned into an opportunity to learn what it means to be a publicist and have a platform to gain both experience and exposure. True to the mission of the film, Ashley and Lea-Ann are always encouraging me to learn things that will help me in my career!
Being a public relations volunteer on Pioneers in Skirts has given me firsthand experience into the world of publicity. I have called reporters, created buzz for the film on social media, worked on media releases and much more. This has not only helped me to build my confidence and learn firsthand what it takes to work on publicity for a film, it has also given me a platform from which to seek advice from public relation icons like Deirdre Breakenridge.
Knowing that it would benefit the film as well as my knowledge-set, I reached out to Ms. Breakenridge asking for advice on how I could increase publicity for the film. Had it not been for my being involved with Pioneers in Skirts, I would have never had the confidence to ask advice from such an established professional in the field. Oh boy, did that confidence pay off: before I knew it I was having a phone conversation with Ms. Breakenridge and she was interested in helping me increase awareness for the film. Before Pioneers in Skirts, it would have seemed unimaginable to have the opportunity to speak with a top PR professional!
The one piece of advice I have for any college student or recent graduate looking for opportunities is this: never overlook any opportunity. My role in Pioneers in Skirts began as a student volunteer hoping to learn more about what goes into making a documentary. This led to me writing about Ashley Maria for Her Campus Chapel Hill, from which we both benefited. I had the privilege to write about the film and add the piece to my resume, and Ashley Maria had the opportunity to share her story with college women.
Pioneers in Skirts is a documentary that aims to make a social impact. None of the team behind Pioneers in Skirts are paid. It’s a passion project for every person involved. I know from speaking with many of my peers that many college students will only do work that is paid. While for some I know this is a necessity, for others it has more to do with ego.
I say: don’t discount any opportunity because you think you are too good, or you don’t think you will learn anything. The more exposure and experience you have, the better. Being successful is all about networking and being willing to do whatever it takes. Never underestimate where volunteering to work on a project you are passionate about may lead. Professionals want to see that you love what you are doing and have the drive and ambition to do whatever it takes to make it.
If you had told me last March when I stepped foot onto the set of Pioneers in Skirts that I would be doing PR for the film two months later I would have never believed you. That is the crazy thing about life and opportunities: they don’t always present themselves as life changing events. So make sure you make the most of every opportunity you are given, and one day you will find that every step you took, no matter how small, led you to where you are today.
Lauren McDonald is a UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism student majoring in Public Relations. She is part of an all-volunteer team making an innovative documentary film called Pioneers in Skirts™. The filmmakers are professionals – the Director is a DGA winner. Lauren’s focus is within the university segment, and as one of the film’s targeted segments is “educated women who are starting out in their careers,” the filmmakers plan to screen the film at universities across the U.S.