Manship School alumna Elizabeth Lagarde has had a whirlwind career since graduating with a degree in public relations in 2010: she has worked on producing events for ESPN, Turner Sports, Essence Festival, Sports Illustrated, the New Orleans Saints and even College Football Playoffs.
As a freshman at LSU, Lagarde didn’t quite envision herself as a rock star event planner. She just knew that a career involving communications might be up her alley after a successful high school theater career. What sealed the deal on her journey to event planning was an opportunity at KLSU, the student-run radio station at LSU.
“While I was at KLSU, we would host on-air giveaways of promotional items or event tickets for things around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I was able to attend a few music festivals like Jazz Fest and Voodoo Experience, and other similar events,” Lagarde said. “I became excited about the behind-the-scenes stuff and what it takes to make these events happen. It kind of started as a fascination with event management.”
Today, Lagarde works as an Account Manager at See-Hear Productions in Covington, Louisiana on numerous aspects of event planning and management, from the initial conversation between clients who are sharing their vision for a future event, to sponsorship activations, consumer engagement, branding opportunities and more. The company lists McDonald’s, Cox Communications, Raising Cane’s and L’Auberge Casinos and Resorts among its clients.
In her previous position at Solomon Group, Lagarde worked as an Event Manager, helping progress the conversation between existing and potential clients, helping them conceptualize an event and then execute it.
“Who are you talking to? What is your strategy? What is your brand? How do we engage your audience with this event?,” Lagarde described as some of the questions she works on with her clients.
Her most proud moment yet was working on with the College Football Playoffs National Championship game in Atlanta, Georgia in 2018.
“ESPN debuted an inaugural halftime performance during the game’s telecast with Kendrick Lamar, and our company produced the concert, all while also doing a large watch party for thousands of college football fans in Centennial Olympic Park. We pulled off this huge event along with a separate three-day concert series and other supplemental events for sports fans, all in freezing temperatures! I was getting texts from my parents saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m watching this on television and it’s amazing.’ To see moments like that become a successful reality – that’s essentially what I’m doing,” Lagarde said.
“It’s way more than just putting out a press release,” Lagarde said. “There’s so much blood, sweat and tears – so much work and planning is involved. It’s been fascinating to see how event management has become such a sought-after career. There’s plenty of skilled communications required to be successful.”
Lagarde credits experiential opportunities like working at KLSU among the reasons she is successful today, along with mentors at the Manship School like Dr. Jinx Broussard (who teaches public relations and was recently named National Teacher of the Year) and John Friscia, who directs student media at LSU. Said Lagarde: “Seeing events come to life is what I do. I love my job.”
Can you imagine sharing work space with a team comprised largely of folks who could have been your classmates? At the marketing office responsible for generating and managing marketing, public relations and other content for Franciscan Missionaries of our Lady Health System (FMOLHS), this dynamic is a reality. FMOLHS runs five hospitals in Louisiana, including Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, and about a third of the FMOLHS marketing team are graduates of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. (#ManshipMade)
“All the communications focuses that Manship offers you can do here at FMOLHS. Advertising, public relations, social, digital, strategic communication, even political communication. It all supports what we do here,” said Stephanie Roussell, a 2013 Manship School master’s in mass communication graduate who manages brand for Our Lady of the Lake and its larger health system, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.
While public relations concentrations dominate the majority of the Manship School grads’ backgrounds, other concentrations like political communication and strategic communication play a role as well. Each major contributes uniquely to the success of the department. This close-knit relationship between the many aspects of communication essential to a robust communications department mirrors the dynamic present in the Manship School, where a holistic and strategic understanding of communication forms the foundation of excellence.
“I graduated in public relations, but my work experience is more in the digital marketing side of things. I like how this organization puts marketing and communications together,” said Hailey Johnson, a 2017 Manship School public relations graduate.
“Our organization locally has 7,000 team members, and across the state it has 14,000,” added Rachel Totaro, a 2011 Manship School political communication grad. “So we’re communicating with a lot of people in a lot of different markets. Being able to think of content from a strategic point of view is key.”
The diversity of concentrations and experience the Manship School alumni bring strengthens the office’s communication efforts.
“This office is a great representation of so many avenues you can go into,” said Grace Weber, a 2012 public relations graduate. “So yes, it’s healthcare, but I do both earned and internal media. We’ve got people who do social media. We’ve got people who do a lot of strategically based jobs.”
All five of the alumni credit their Manship School education with preparing them to effectively perform their communication roles.
“What other degree could you go and play on social media in class?” said Lexi Verret, a 2015 Manship School public relations graduate. “It was a fun learning environment. I think the Manship School did a really good job of making learning fun while I was there because they used a lot of modern tools in the classroom. As a business student for my master’s, we weren’t on social media during class to use it as a learning tool. So to me that’s a fun way to learn.”
Beyond the fun learning environment, this group of successful alumni all agree that the Manship School prepared them well for their careers by keeping abreast of current trends in mass communication and incorporating real-world experience into the classroom.
“The Manship school equipped me with the skills necessary to be a successful communicator,” said Ryan Cross, a 2014 Manship School public relations graduate who serves as communications director for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. “Whether through hands-on experience, professors committed to seeing you be successful or opportunities outside of the classroom to learn, Manship went above and beyond to empower my class to pursue our career dreams.”
“The Manship School does an awesome of keeping the curriculum current,” Johnson added. “It’s a lot of writing, but it’s also learning about digital media and social media and learning how to incorporate that in strategic campaigns.”
In her political communication concentration, Totaro recalls the weekly long form papers that prepared her for success in the professional world of non-negotiable deadlines.
“That cadence of regular deadlines was really helpful,” she said. “It taught me how to prioritize my time, how to outline a long paper, how to organize my thoughts. I still use that today.”
“The focus on a solid writing foundation has continued to serve me exceptionally well and I still refer back to lessons learned from professors’ own experiences,” Cross said.
They also emphasized the power of the Manship School reputation.
“Having been on the other side of hiring, Manship School grads’ resumes are always on a different level; I find that their writing and their communication is always much more professional,” Roussell said.
“And it’s not just in the hiring process,” Weber added. “When I worked for the state and I met people who knew I graduated from the Manship School, it was like the reputation was already there. It was almost like, ‘Okay, that person is stellar. They went to the Manship School.’”
“And we can rely on each other knowing that we have the background to step into something you’ve never done before if we’re short staffed, we know you have that skill,” added Roussell. “There is no worry that you can’t handle that because you have that preparation.”
The alumni suggested current students and alumni make the best of their Manship School education by getting as much experience as possible before graduation, even if they have to make their own opportunities. They also recommended learning to write comfortably in as many different ways as possible.
“Read a lot of different content and learn how to write blog style. Learn how to write press style. Learn how to write casual social media. I think in our job we take a lot of complicated information and we have to make it interesting or short or easy to digest, and so I think that’s a skill that you’re never going to be sorry you practiced,” Verret said.
“We write all over the spectrum,” Weber added. “We do a lot of long form stuff like press releases and shorter content like blogs and stories, but then you have campaigns and you have to come up with fun, quippy things.”
Beyond these practical tips, they also recommend students hone the softer skill attributes no less essential to professional success.
“Have a personal brand,” Roussell said. “Know who you are, know what your core values are, what your personal brand positioning statement is, your vision statement, and don’t be afraid to tell that in interviews or use it.”
“And be willing to jump in, even if you’re not 100% sure how to do something,” Totaro added.
Most importantly, they recommend that current students and recent graduates use the power of the Manship School’s close knit community.
“Find that other Manship grad!” Verret said. “I think that’s the best way to make that connection and find a job.”
*Quotes in this article have been edited for clarity.
A forthcoming book by Manship School professors Andrea Miller and Jinx Broussard will fill a gap in information about crisis communication, a critical but often neglected component for every business and communication organization. Often, businesses fail to think about how to handle the backlash that sometimes accompanies crisis until a crisis is already upon them.
“You can’t make a bad response good with good communication, but the opposite is also true. Organizations must have a crisis plan, and it must include communication,” said Miller.
“Another major problem is having a plan on paper but never practicing it, never training, just having it sit on a
shelf such that when a crisis occurs, no one knows what to do, where to begin, or how to deal with the situation,” Broussard added. “A negative event does not have to be a crisis.”
Miller and Broussard’s book, Public Relations and Journalism in Times of Crisis: A Symbiotic Partnership is unique because it does what no other existing book on crisis communication has done: it addresses crisis communication from the point of view of both journalists and public relations professionals.
“The value of our book is that we approach crisis communication from the perspective of the journalist and the public relations practitioner,” Broussard said. “The other value is it’s a how-to guide and a best practices guide for journalists, public relations practitioners, professors who teach crisis communication or risk communication, as well as the students who will one day have to address crisis.”
“There are many books for public relations professionals on crisis communication, but not one that includes best practices for journalists, too,” Miller added. “Information is so important in crisis that it makes sense to approach crisis communication together.”
Miller and Broussard reviewed national news stories and the way in which large organizations handled crisis issues that were followed by media closely around the country, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014 that sickened two nurses in Dallas. Other crises they studied included the listeria contamination of Blue Bell ice cream in 2016, Hurricane Katrina and the “great flood” that affected Baton Rouge in 2016. As part of their research, they reviewed press releases and other media materials and interviewed public relations professionals and journalists who covered these stories.
Their comprehensive dive into notable crises yielded unique insights on best practices for both public relations professionals and journalists, Miller said.
“There are constants in all crises, but every crisis is different,” she said. “Each crisis has nuances and experiences specific to it. Communication professionals have to be ready for surprises.”
“Journalists and public relations people need to understand the roles that each profession performs or undertakes,” Broussard added. “And then, learn how to work together during times of crisis. That entails establishing relationships way before a crisis takes place and fostering those relationships throughout.”
Miller said the most important thing to keep in mind when managing communication in crisis is to prepare a strategy for dealing with the inundation of media requests that inevitably follow a high-profile disaster.
“It’s important to manage press requests without clamming up. That’s not a strategy, it’s to your detriment,” Miller said.
“The journalist’s job is to get information to the public in a timely fashion. The public relations practitioner’s job is also to get information to the public in a timely fashion,” she said. “In an absence of information the rumor mill begins, and once that rumor is in the public sphere it’s very difficult to get the correct information out to the public.”
Miller also recommends that public relations professionals sometimes prioritize national media requests over local ones, which isn’t always the best strategy.
“Make sure you’re giving information to the local media so they can give it to the community, so that the community can heal,” she said.
For the working press who are covering a story, taking care to not sensationalize stories or get involved in the blame game is key.
“Both journalists and public relations professionals need to keep their constituencies in mind in crisis, and give them the information they need to make the best decisions about their lives and livelihoods,” Miller said.
Like the ideal symbiotic partnership between journalists and public relations professionals, Miller & Broussard’s collaboration on this book brings together the best of both worlds in a how-to, best practices format.
Miller, a former journalist, was inspired to produce this book when she found herself creating materials for her own crisis communication classes that fused the needs of public relations professionals and journalists in a holistic fashion. In the real world of communication, these dual sides must work together, Miller said. Like Miller, Broussard’s many decades of experience in high pressure public relations positions gives the book the complementary public relations point of view.
“I have lived crisis communication,” Broussard said. “I was the public relations director for the city of New Orleans and press secretary for the mayor of New Orleans. We were always bombarded with potential crises.”
Miller’s interest in crisis communication came from her own practical experience working in the field as a journalist in Dallas. Then, other crises throughout her career piqued her interest in how the media and public relations professionals work together – or don’t – in communicating with the public in crisis.
“I hope professionals read this book and understand each other a little bit better, and see their job a little differently than they might now when it comes to crisis,” Miller said.
“I hope readers will take away that a negative event does not have to become a crisis,” Broussard added. “Planning in advance can help mitigate a negative situation such that it does not become a crisis.”
Look for Public Relations and Journalism in Times of Crisis: A Symbiotic Partnership in June 2019.
Advertising alum Joe Reitz personifies the versatility a Manship School degree can give you when paired with passion, hard work and a little bit of adventure.
A 2007 graduate, Reitz recently earned the prestigious honor of Marketer of the Year at this year’s Adobe Summit. That a communication professional educated by the Manship School would excel in marketing should come as no surprise, but unlike many communications professionals, Reitz found his niche in the field of marketing automation.
In the past marketing automation was confined primarily to those sometimes-annoying automated emails you might receive from marketers. Now marketing automation entails the entire concept of making marketing more efficient and intelligent using online, cloud-based solutions. The problem is these solutions tend to be “sink or swim” for the marketers who use them, Reitz said. Once purchased, marketers are on their own to figure out how to implement the software that some find can be difficult to use. This can put marketers with less tech savvy backgrounds at a disadvantage and leave them reliant on the software’s customer support to catch up.
Enter Joe Reitz. In his position at Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of Amazon’s most profitable business units, Reitz develops innovative ways to level the playing field by offering training in software like Marketo, Moveable Ink and Vidyard to marketers who automate their marketing through AWS.
“My job is basically to level the playing field for marketers with various levels of technical ability and show them how to use these systems to create marketing experiences that delight our customers,” Reitz said.
Reitz’s method of training marketers brought drastic increases to the company’s business leads and revenue last year. It also earned him his designation as Marketer of the Year at the Adobe Summit.
Besides offering training courses in the various technologies that make up the modern marketer’s toolkit, Reitz also offers office hours twice weekly to give hands-on support to the network of 1000 marketers worldwide who contract with AWS, but might need a bit more help beyond their initial training.
When he isn’t training marketers or supporting them in their roles, Reitz spends his time plotting out his roadmap for future growth. Reitz works closely with senior leadership to constantly evolve their approach and marketing model.
“The constant at Amazon is that nothing is ever set in stone,” Reitz said. “No two days are the same.”
The constant flux and openness to change satisfies his sense of adventure, Reitz said. And because his position is so heavily focused on training and support, he also gets to travel regularly to offer training and roadmap support to clients all over the world.
“I travel somewhere about every two months. I go to Singapore once or twice a year; anywhere in Europe, usually London; I’m going to Japan next month. China… yeah, we’re all over,” he said. “Before taking this role I’d never been out of the country. In the last year and a half I’ve been to many places I’ve wanted to travel to for my entire life.”
Like so many other alumni, the trajectory that launched his exciting career off the beaten path in mass communication began with the Manship School.
“Having that appetite for learning new things and not waiting for someone to tell you what to do is something that professors at LSU try to prepare you for, like Lance Porter. Dr. Porter was very instrumental at driving that in all of his students,” Reitz said. “The phrase ‘for the things we know not how to do, we learn by doing them’ really sums up how I’ve gotten to be where I am.”
Reitz credits the Manship School with helping instill the idea of having passion for what you do into his career trajectory, as well as for infusing him with keeping the customer’s experience as his top consideration. Dr. Porter’s capstone course, in which Reitz built a campaign for a fake client, tops Reitz’s list of influential Manship School experiences that helped to lay the foundation for his career.
“I think the thing I took most from that is the idea of customer obsession,” he said. “No matter what you do, whether it’s in advertising or marketing, or even if you’re a surgeon, it’s important to think, ‘What’s the best thing for the people at the other end of this?’ That’s the thing that’s taken me the furthest,” said Reitz.
Now that Reitz is a successful and award-winning alum, he has plenty of tips to offer current students and recent alumni who might still be looking for ways to launch successful careers.
“Lead by example. You have to earn people’s trust by being good at communication,” he said. “It’s a relatively small world, and good leadership combined with empathy opens a lot of doors.”