Actor and author shares Hollywood survival secrets at Manship School

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Manship School public relations instructor Doug Draper

By Manship School public relations instructor Doug Draper

What could be more fun than having a movie star come to your class? Besides a visit by Drew Brees, not much would top it. That was the experience for students in two of my Manship School public relations classes this week. Actor and author Laura Cayouette graciously accepted my invitation to be a guest speaker and delivered profound advice.

Laura has appeared in more than 60 movies and TV shows, being most well known for her role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s sister in “Django Unchained.” Her other movies include “Kill Bill Volume 2,” “Enemy of the State” and “Now You See Me.” On TV, she appeared in “Friends,” “House of Cards” and Oprah Winfrey’s “Queen Sugar.” She has written screenplays and seven books, including the Charlotte Reade mystery series and “Lemonade Farm.”

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Actress Laura Cayouette appears in “Django Unchained” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Photo from IMDB.com.

When I listened to Laura discuss her work at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference a few weeks ago, I knew that my students would love to hear her insights about how to write in a way that grabs the audience’s attention and creates a lasting impression. I’m always looking for role models for my students and thought Laura would be perfect.

Academy Award winner Kevin Costner agrees with me. He wrote a review of Laura’s book “Know Small Parts” in which he said, “She is a role model … and a true leading lady.” Richard Dreyfuss, another Academy Award winner, wrote the foreword for the book and complimented Laura for being “amazingly correct in everything she says and sees.”

Laura politely listened to my sales pitch at the conference and thought the visit sounded fun. It helped that she has several LSU connections, including her parents. Both attended LSU and her father served as class president three times. Her mother-in-law even took Manship School classes. It thrilled me that Laura agreed to make the trip to LSU from her home in New Orleans.

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Laura Cayoutte speaking to Manship School students on March 28

While telling memorable stories of her years in Hollywood, she delivered five powerful messages.

  • Begin the writing process with a plan that includes a mission statement, schedule and outline. As a writer, you need a road map to know where you’re going and how to get there as well as motivation to carry you throughout the journey.
  • Writing demands editing, rewriting and proofreading. That’s the secret to writing. It’s what separates words from stories, prose from poetry and professionals from amateurs.
  • Preparation opens doors immediately or later. It’s the price you pay to be the kind of job candidate that causes your potential boss to lose sleep thinking about how to hire you.
  • Own your space. Stand out in small roles to create the chance for bigger ones.
  • Dare to fail. If you don’t try, you’re guaranteed to miss the chance to do something great.

In closing, Laura said, “Be a pro, be prepared, instill confidence that you are the solution to the problems of those who trust you with a job or task and the investment to make it possible.”

Laura’s secrets for success work in roles far less glamorous than being a movie star. While serving as a PR professional for manufacturers and banks, I’ve applied her tips of writing with a purpose, being prepared and owning my space. The Manship School serves as a great place for students to learn and begin applying these secrets wherever they land—Tinseltown, Wall Street or Silicon Valley.

Manship Professor Finds Balance in Historic Press vs. Individual Rights Case

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Manship School associate professor Erin Coyle

Almost before the ink on the United States Constitution was dry, an ongoing struggle began between individual rights and the freedom of the press. Manship School associate professor Erin Coyle, Ph.D., explored what happens when the freedom of the press came into conflict with the right of an individual to a fair trial in historical research featured recently on the podcast, Journalism History.

In 1955, an Ohio doctor went on trial for the murder of his wife. The shocking circumstances of the trial garnered international press filled with sensational reports and demands for justice. The doctor was convicted amid a journalistic firestorm.

Later, it came out that the doctor had not, in fact, killed his wife. His trial prompted debate on how judges should balance the right of the public to know about criminal proceedings with the right of the accused to a fair trial.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that the doctor’s trial had been unfair because the sensational news coverage surrounding the story before and during the trial, and even just the presence of journalists in the courtroom, had hindered the doctor’s right to a fair trial. A North Carolina judge, Judge Braswell, co-authored a court order in response to this opinion that journalists argued stifled the freedom of the press to cover courtroom proceedings; under the order, anyone who leaked information about the trial that could bias its outcome could be held in contempt of court. The order did not sit well with members of the press.

“Journalists were concerned about the court order because they felt it might keep the public unaware of the investigation and adjudication of crimes. They felt it violated the freedom of the press and the right of the public to know what was going on in these trials,” Coyle said.

To investigate this fascinating case in journalism history, Coyle travelled to North Carolina to conduct an oral history interview with Judge Braswell, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 94. She also reviewed records related to the court order, including the archived papers of Judge Mallard, the other judge who coauthored the order with Braswell, and Sam Ragan, a local editor who advocated for the rights of the press. This comprehensive analysis yielded a number of unexpected insights, Coyle said.

“The press published many cartoons, opinion pieces and letters accusing the judges of doing something that could promote government secrecy by signing the court order, but that’s not what they intended at all,” she said. “It was a painful time for the judges because people so widely misunderstood what they were trying to do. They were trying to protect criminal defendants’ constitutionally protected rights because they felt the nation’s highest court had instructed them to do so.”

Perhaps surprisingly to natives of our current politically polarized culture, the conflict between press and individual rights in this case did find a balance.

“Local judges, lawyers and members of the press all came together in a forum to discuss the issue,” Coyle said. “Some members found they didn’t actually have opposing viewpoints, they just were looking at different aspects of the same problem.”

Following this collaboration, the troubling court order eventually expired. The need for communication between different parties whose interests seem to collide is no less crucial today, though, especially with the press still undergoing a transformation in the digital age, Coyle said. This brings with it a host of new concerns about how to balance individual rights with the freedoms afforded the press under the U.S. Constitution.

“Journalists and judges still have to think through how to balance these rights, especially as media and technology change,” Coyle said. “It’s really important for journalists, lawyers and judges to continue finding ways to come together to address how to balance these rights.”

“My research emphasizes how important it is for members of the press to be speaking and publicly writing about what press freedom means, and advocating for it,” she added. “The need for press advocacy has not declined.”

Learn more about Coyle’s research on the podcast, Journalism History.

Article by graduate student Mary Chiappetta

“I felt like I was at home at the Manship School”

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Manship School alum Max Moll

Max Moll, a 2010 graduate of the Manship School of Mass Communication, knows a thing or two about running a political campaign. Over the course of his career, he’s been involved in more than 30 political campaigns across the Greater Houston region, the State of Texas, and the United States. Because of the connections he made while at the Manship School, Moll turned his unexpected passion for politics into a full-time career and hasn’t looked back since.

Originally from Irvine, California, and growing up in Santiago, Chile and Houston, Moll began his time at LSU majoring in business. However, the primaries of the 2008 U.S. presidential election during his sophomore year sparked an interest in politics that he’d never noticed he had, and Moll wondered if he could make a career out of it.

“I got really wrapped up in it – the strategy, competitiveness and communications behind it,” said Moll. “It just kind of captured me.”

Moll decided to pursue his newfound passion by applying to the Manship School’s political communication program. Once he joined, the small classes and unique communication curriculum allowed Moll to become more confident and step out of his comfort zone to learn about what it means to be an effective communicator.

“From my experience, the Manship School feels very personal,” said Moll. “Despite being on a big campus, I felt like I was at home at the Manship School because I knew everybody. You have to work hard to be successful in the Manship School, so that attitude of working hard and doing my job well is something I attribute to my time at Manship as well.”

During his time at the Manship School, Moll became close with his political communication professor Bob Mann, who, since joining the Manship family in 2006, has taught numerous courses on political strategy and communication after his own communication career in Louisiana politics. Mann helped Moll land his first ever internship as a junior working for the U.S. Senate Campaign for Charlie Melancon. He interviewed with another Manship School alumnus who was working on the campaign at the time, and the team hired him to help coordinate rallies and compose communication letters to spread the campaign message.

“The Manship School gave me the tools I needed to connect with people from various backgrounds and viewpoints,” said Moll. “My internship was really how I cut my teeth, and it’s been useful for me in my career moving forward.”

After graduating in 2010, Moll returned home to Houston and ran numerous political campaigns, taking on roles as a campaign manager, communications director, senior consultant and chief of staff. In his various positions across the city, Moll was involved in at least 30 campaigns in five years. He believes his experiences served as the training ground for his career as a political communicator.

Moll then decided to further his education in politics and earned his master’s degree in political management from George Washington University. Today, Moll serves as the communications director for the Houston City Controller, the chief financial officer of the City of Houston.

“Where I am today is a direct result of the relationships I was able to build with my professors – especially Bob, who is incredibly helpful and who has helped me in every step of my career,” said Moll. “It’s hard for me to put my appreciation for the school into words.”

Article by student intern Amie Martinez

“The Manship School has been the best decision of my life”

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Manship alum D’Seante Parks

In the seven years since D’Seante Parks graduated from the Manship School, her career has taken her through Washington, D.C. with a high-powered political consulting firm, three U.S. Senate campaigns and led her back to her adopted home of New Orleans to build her own practice as a public affairs professional for various municipal agencies.

The next stop in her journey will bring her to Harvard University’s Kennedy School where she will pursue a Master’s in Public Policy.

Through it all, Parks has relied upon her education from the Manship School. When Parks arrived at LSU in 2008, the Manship School offered one of the only political communication programs in the country. Parks worked closely with Professors Jack Hamilton and Bob Mann, conducting research for their book A Journalist’s Diplomatic Mission: Ray Stannard Baker’s World War Diary.

She said she struggled at times through rigorous courses unique to the Manship School, but realized once she started her career in politics that she had a leg up on her peers.

“What other school could you go to—especially at that time—and get that kind of training in how to write a political speech, how to deliver a political speech,” Parks said. “The Manship School has been the best decision of my life.”

Parks landed a job right out of school as a public affairs associate with SKDKnickerbocker, where she worked for a variety of corporate, non-profit and political clients.

“By age 23 or 24 I had meetings in the White House because some of my clients did. SKDK opened a lot of doors and showed me a lot of different parts of the industry,” Parks said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m so close but I’m so far away,”

After two years with SKDKnickerbocker, Parks decided she wanted to get back into the political ground game.

She worked as a researcher for former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s re-election campaign in 2014. Landrieu lost, but Parks put the skills that she developed there into practice on two more U.S. Senate campaigns. Parks served as Director of Community Engagement on Kamala Harris’ successful 2016 campaign in California and as Political Director on Jason Kander’s campaign in Missouri.

Parks, who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas but whose family is from Shreveport, said she knew then that she wanted to come back to Louisiana. She accepted a position as the Director of Public Affairs for the Louisiana Democratic Party and began working as a public affairs consultant in New Orleans.

“This is home,” Parks said. “New Orleans is home for me.”

The career shift to consulting has given Parks the ability to choose clients and causes she truly cares about, a quality that she said shines through in her work. She added that the unique political environment of New Orleans makes relationship building a key part of her work.

“New Orleans is such a small town really,” Parks said. “It’s a major city—an important city—but it’s such a small town in that everyone knows each other. Politics is very personal.”

Through her connections, Parks brought on the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans as a client. Initially, it was facing intense public scrutiny. She managed crisis communications as it rebranded and transitioned to a new director. When the board discussed how it would communicate water shut offs for late payment, Parks was a part of the conversation.

“I’ve been at the table with lawyers, engineers, and CFOs, who are all coming with their own perspectives—and I’m the voice of the public,” Parks said. “I was one of six people at the table making decisions. Not only is it my job to communicate to the public, it is also my job to communicate what the public is saying to my client. It’s really important that you keep your ear to the ground and keep your connections in the community.”

It was in those conversations that she spoke up for the rights of the people while simultaneously creating the messaging for the public. This was a difficult and nuanced truth; if SWBNO did not re-implement collections, it would go broke and be privatized, which wasn’t good for the community.

The experience was just one of many for Parks that underscored the importance of having diverse group of people not just implementing policies but creating them as well. At Harvard, Parks hopes to develop the skills in quantitative analysis needed to do that.

“Because I’ve done some of this work where I have been able to lift up the voices of under-represented communities at these tables, I realize I have so much influence on these policies. I would like to learn more about creating policies and holding government accountable.”

Article by graduate student Paul Braun

Manship School Alum Now Working in Chicago Mayor’s Office

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Manship School alum Roderick Hawkins

Manship School graduate (1997) Roderick Hawkins is a lesson in the winding road that you must sometimes travel to reach your dreams. From music artist to government spokesman, politics defined his twisting path through the Manship School and beyond.

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Hawkins started out as a music major at LSU with the goal of becoming an opera singer. But when he didn’t enjoy music theory as much as he expected, he began to reevaluate his career trajectory.

Hawkins then turned to another of his passions, writing.

“I like to write, and I like to tell stories, so I thought journalism could maybe be a good space for me. So I made my way over to the Manship School and signed up for my first journalism class. I took to it like a fish to water,” he said.

Hawkins’ life took its first turn toward success during one of his first writing classes. At the time, the Manship School’s student radio station KLSU announced a new public affairs radio program for which they sought a host.

“One day in class my professor, Dr. Jules d’Hemecourt, came over and told me about the radio host opportunity, and that he thought I was the one for it,” Hawkins said. “He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time. But sure enough, I got the job. That’s when I was bit by the journalism bug and other things began to happen.”

In his quest to be competitive post-graduation, Hawkins completed several journalism internships while still a student, including one for The Advocate newspaper and two local TV stations. He landed a gig as a weekend reporter for WAFB-TV soon after he graduated, but surprisingly the first full time job he held simultaneously shifted his focus to public relations.

“I kind of just fell into a public relations position with the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge,” he said. “My goal was to be a news reporter, but my public relations job began to take off and I realized this was a track that might for me.”

In his three years at the Arts Council, Hawkins rose from program assistant to public relations director for the organization. Wanting to spread his wings, Hawkins left Baton Rouge and took a job working for a major foundation in Chicago. Then, three years later, the lure of politics called him home to south Louisiana.

“Through Professor Bob Mann I got recruited to work for the first woman governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco,” he said. “That was a tremendous experience.”

Hawkins served as Blanco’s deputy secretary during her governorship, including during hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in 2005. Despite the “trials and tribulations” of those days, Hawkins values his time spent serving the state during that crisis.

“I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience of being on the team during that time,” he said.

A year and a half after Katrina, Hawkins accepted another job in Chicago doing communications work for the Chicago Urban League, a major civil rights organization, where he stayed for more than eight years and became vice president of external affairs. But then, the pull of politics took hold again.

“Politics runs in our veins in south Louisiana,” he said.

These days, Hawkins serves as deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, where he keeps his love of both communication and politics alive by coordinating opportunities for the people of Chicago to meet with and express their concerns to the mayor.

“I love what I do, and I love being connected to people. I enjoy traveling around Chicago and connecting Mayor Emanuel to the residents of the city in authentic spaces,” Hawkins said.

As successful as he has become while walking the winding path of his career, he credits everything to the start he gained through the Manship School.

“I learned the importance of writing, the importance of being not just a good, but a great storyteller, the importance of getting your facts straight,” he said.

Hawkins also credits the Manship School with preparing him to engage empathetically with others, no matter their difference from himself.

“The Manship School provided a safe space for me to have conversations with others, even professors, who were totally on the opposite end of the spectrum from my own perspective,” he said. “It laid a firm foundation for me, and there are things I call upon to this day that I learned at the Manship School.”

Hawkins encourages current Manship School students to focus on diversifying their experiences while still in school.

“Try everything!” he said, “Don’t get yourself boxed in. If you have an interest in being a spokesperson for a government official or organization, do it. If you have an interesting thing you want to report on, do it. Don’t be afraid to take a winding path to success.”

Hawkins himself is a testament to that.

Article by graduate student Mary Chiappetta

Hear from Hawkins himself during his recent visit to the Manship School here: