Shannon Lappin Offers Leadership Lessons to Young Professionals

Shannon Lappin is one of the most important members of the Rochester PR community for young professionals and students to meet, speak with and learn from. In fact, her dedication and vision for our Rochester PRSA chapter to be inclusive of and helpful to young professionals was the basis for today's YPRP initiatives, including the Advisory Network, Apprentice Program and - yes - even The PRep newsletter that you're currently reading.

A former President of PRSA Rochester, Shannon was recently recognized at the 2015 PRism Awards as the chapter's Rising Star. In the interview below, Shannon provides advice and insight to those looking to get involved in public relations in Rochester, both from a professional and volunteer perspective.

If you find the interview below helpful, don't forget to forward this article to a friend!

How did you get your break into the Rochester PR industry?

Like many of my peers (and many of those before me!) my vision at the beginning of my undergraduate years was that I would emerge as a journalist upon graduation. After taking several public relations courses, joining my college’s local PRSSA chapter as an active member, and most importantly, meeting and learning from many other professionals about the occupation, I found that PR had all of the qualities I was seeking in a future career.

The field itself matched my personal values and strengths. As a student, I always had a passion for writing, building meaningful relationships and strategic problem solving. PR was a natural fit where I could explore opportunities in almost any industry, and serve as a counselor in a specialized field.

The classroom was an excellent starting point and built the foundation, but early exploration in my career also included interning at a variety of local agencies and in-house positions. This on-the-job experience took me to the next level, preparing me to effectively meet deadlines, balance a variety of client workloads and insutries, and eventually have the courage and confience to manage and lead my own projects.

Throughout undergraduate years and shortly following, as I entered into my first position with a local agency, some of the most important things I did were under the guidance of my mentors – both inside my company and in my community. I cannot stress enough the importance of having good mentors. These are the people who will challenge you to push yourself, become a leader at any age or career stage, and moreover, serve as a resource when seeking an objective third-party opinion. It was my mentors who helped to guide me along my earliest internship and career pursuits, and for that I am forever grateful. For students and young professionals seeking to learn more about the PR field, one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is making a real, human connection with a mentor, whether formal or informally-based. You’ll find that today, “reverse mentoring” is very common, and what you have to offer a seasoned professional often has equal value, and more. Fortunately, PRSA Rochester has many outstanding professionals readily available to help, who can point you in the right direction!

You work in-house PR in financial services, which might not be what everyone immediately thinks of when imagining a career in PR. What is the job like?

In-house public relations, particularly in the fast-paced financial services industry, is both an exciting and challenging endeavor. The market is ever-changing, and as a result, the PR pace is fast! Like many other industries (health care, tech, etc.), there is a small, tight-knit trade publication community, much like you would envision in other industries. Although this space may contain more nationally-facing media outlets, the same public relations principles apply; developing meaningful, personal and credible relationships with reporters of all levels. I am fortunate enough to work both on the media relations management side, as well as working within a large in-house marketing-communications department that is highly collaborative in nature.

One of the best parts about the field is the interesting topics and work (retirement, savings, and other related general personal finance topics). Many of these are readily applicable to real life, and there is always an opportunity to identify a new trend, or better understand how a topic might apply to a particular demographic, such as our own Millennial generation. I work on a great team with interesting, talented people, which makes coming to work every day enjoyable. We are all problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and working together toward a like-minded project or goal is often what continuously fuels my passion for the industry.

Tell us about your experience leading PRSA Rochester as the 2014 President, and recent accolade as the 2015 PRSA Rochester Rising Star. What advice do you have for young professionals who are seeking future leadership opportunities, who want to follow your trajectory?

Everyone has the power within to be a leader. Although taking on leadership positions at an early age may seem daunting, you must remember that you are never leading alone. In fact, your best resources are often sitting right next to you. In my experience, whether in volunteer work or in my career, an important skill is learning how to effectively delegate, and identify how you can tap into the unique strengths of those around you, to build your team. I had a great experience as PRSA Rochester President, and in past/present positions on the board, namely because I’ve always been surrounded by a team of amazing professionals. These people serve in leadership positions because they are committed to bettering the public relations and communications profession, and empowering others to do the same. As you grow your career and pursue different exploratory leadership opportunities, engage with people who are committed to “building,” to making something better, through the idea of continuous improvement. Find those who also have a passion about what they’re doing, or the initiative you’re working toward together. Oftentimes, you’ll find that sharing your own passions or enthusiasm (whether a specific industry, hobby, or skill set), may give others the courage to do the same, especially if you’re just getting to know them or working together for the first time.

As for a “path” forward, it’s often filled with unexpected twists and turns, and you have to trust your instincts along the way and take risks. We all have those moments of fear or self-doubt, but half the fun of being a leader or taking on something new, is discovering your ability to get it done, and get past the challenge and make it work. Be entrepreneurial and daring – you’ll find your way. Several years ago, I was asked by several PRSA colleagues to help found a local young professionals affinity group, alongside Kristy Guerra Marks, which today is “YPRP.” Although it was a first-time chapter initiative, and we hadn’t much prior experience in building an affinity group, Kristy and I took it as an opportunity to understand the need, and the people we were trying to serve (students and young professionals!).

Our aim was to create a safe, open space in our chapter for those just entering into the field, through organic community building. Taking on that role, and later roles such as managing our chapter’s finances, helped me to gain a broader, bigger picture understanding of the overall organization. At work or in volunteer roles, I would encourage all young professionals to do the same. “Own” your role. Take the time to self-study and research, become really good at what you do, and use those skills as a foundation for trying new things. Along the way, don’t forget to reflect. You’ve likely added value in some way to a project or organization you’ve served. Write it down, remember it, and pass your knowledge onto others. You’ll find you’re already leading when you least expect it.

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  1. Christina Nordquist

    Jul. 30, 2015

    Great article, Shannon!


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