I was filled with excitement as I walked up to the Fleishman-Hillard offices in Atlanta, Georgia, a small stepping-stone from my hometown, New York City. As one of the top public relations firms in the world, I knew that I absolutely could not miss out on an opportunity like this and so I found myself flying down south the night before the internship. As I walked the two blocks from my hotel to the office center, I was shocked by the eighty-four weather-a temperature this New Yorker hadn’t experienced since summer! I entered the building and was immediately redeemed with cold air-conditioning, “the mark of a true southern building” I was told by fellow intern Matthew Shackelford ’15. Matthew and I met almost simultaneously at the front desk where we greeted by a friendly secretary and then our host, McCall Butler.
McCall Butler ‘97, an alum of Princeton and later Dartmouth, was the perfect mentor for us. She connected with Matthew on her connection to Atlanta, where she was born and raised, and to me based on her experience working in New York City. We spent just over an hour talking with her about her background and then her work with her main client AT&T. McCall had a very interesting history, having started in government consulting right of college, and then working at America’s Promise, a non-profit in DC, before going to business school. She then attended The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth where she met her future professor, mentor and employer Paul Argenti. Argenti, an expert in corporate communications, has written many books about the field of communications, most notably Corporate Communication (fifth edition, Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 2009) and Digital Strategies for Corporate Communications (McGraw-Hill, 2009). McCall had a chance to work with Argenti and Fleishman President and Senior Partner Peter Verrengia during her time at Dartmouth and then went on to work at Fleishman-Hillard. She has worked at Fleishman for seven and a half years, working for six years with AT&T. She currently holds the position of Senior Vice President and Partner and works with her team on mergers, quarterly earnings, the AT&T proxy statement, support for the annual meeting and the annual report.
McCall then explained to us how we were going to structure our day:
9–10:15 — Introdution with McCall
10:15–10:30 — Short coffee break
10:30–11:30 — Meeting with Michael Ares & Tammy Gonzalez
11:30–12 — Break and time to ask McCall more questions
12–1:30 — Conference Call with AT&T Team including Larry Solomon
1:30–2:30 — Lunch 2:30–3– Conference Call with Larry Solomon
3–3:30 — Meeting with Chad Corley
3:30–4 — Discussion with Chad Corley, Matthew Browher and Andrew Groom
4–5 — Conference Call with AT&T Team
In our first meeting, Senior Vice President Michael Ares explained his work with a global manufacturing company. He summarized his role in saying that he essentially helps “pull in the resources to get what they need.” Given that I have interest in international public relations, I found what he had to say about his clients’ global markets in Brazil, North American and Europe very interesting. Tammy Gonzalez worked mainly with a manufacturer of industrial cleaning products and told us about how she was drawn into the field of Investor Relations. She also gave us two articles, one published in USA Today about a global pharmaceutical company and another in the Wall Street Journal about the new energy efforts by a governmental agency . She explained how PR companies often pitch the essential message of articles to newspapers in order to promote their clients. Matthew and I were surprised to learn how many newspapers get their stories in this way and thus how much public relations has an effect on world perceptions and the modern consumer.
The conference call with the AT&T team was a very informative phone call and Matthew and I were even able to participate in a very small way. Matthew and I were asked about what sorts of social media networks we use including Pinterest and Instagram and so we were able to see the importance of knowledge of popular culture and social media in the PR world.
For lunch, McCall took us out to a Mexican restaurant where I was able to have my first southern sweet tea-delicious! We talked more about AT&T and its message and McCall’s experience at Princeton. We learned that she is a very active alum and will be celebrating her 15th reunion this year. She told us about her experience as an art history major and also that she was president of her eating club, Cloister, which I am also a member of. It was very exciting to get to make a connection to McCall on a personal level and I loved my quesadilla.
McCall’s next phone call was short and discussed much of what we had talked about before but in more detail. Next we met with Chad Corley. Chad gave us more of a sense of what Fleishman-Hillard does since McCall works more with AT&T. Chad explained about Fleishman’s practice groups and the details of his sector: the consumer group. His group mainly works on how to encourage consumers to use a certain product whether via social media or other means. He talked about his work in business-to business PR versus business-to-consumer PR as well. Then Matthew Browher and Andrew Groom entered the room and we discussed their role in Digital Media and more about how social media has affected PR. Besides getting to know McCall, this was probably my favorite part of the day as it gave a really comprehensive understanding of PR and how it has changed global markets.
McCall’s last phone call included more work with AT&T and by that point, Matthew and I felt very involved in the process. Afterwards we took some pictures at the office and wrapped up with McCall. It was all in all, a really awarding experience and a fantastic trip. Matthew and I were really able to see how different sectors of public relations work and what techniques each group uses. We could not have asked for a better host in McCall and she gave me a deeper appreciation of what it means to be a tiger. Not only do I hope to be in this field one day, but I also aspire to be just as involved as a Princeton alum as she is.