UNO PRSSA adviser lends wisdom to aspiring professionals

By Christian Rush

As an English major at the University of Iowa, Megan Belt thought she would become a lawyer. But when she realized law school wasn’t meant for her, she says she “stumbled around for a while searching for her passion.”

Today, Belt serves as account director in public relations for Ervin and Smith, a digital marketing company in Omaha. Within Ervin and Smith, Belt oversees strategies for their various PR clients, whether it is a Fortune 500 company or a startup. She strives to create brand awareness through media relations and content creations.

Belt has worked in public relations for more than 14 years. A temp job at UPS in San Diego led her to eventually working more closely with the communications manager.

There, she discovered her lifelong passion for writing matched her true talents, which drew her to the field of public relations. She worked with UPS for 11 years until she moved to Omaha in 2010 and began working with Ervin and Smith in strategic communications and public relations.

Belt, UNO PRSSA’s professional adviser, offers three tips for aspiring public relations professionals:

1) Get involved. Belt stresses that getting involved early in your
education or career is very important. Find an organization
related to the professional field you are considering and become
involved. Having that outlet while you’re young will greatly benefit
you in the future.

2) Network. Either network within organizations you are involved in or within your already established career. She used the application “LinkedIn” as an example of a great resource to use,especially if you’re new to an area. “It’s a great way to make connections fast,” Belt says.

3) Look for internships. Especially if you’re near graduation, internships are a great way to find your passion in a certain career field. “Figure out what is important to you,” Belt says. Get the experience you need while you uncover where you envision yourself, whether it is a corporate communicator, or involved in a non-profit organization”

What Belt enjoys most of her profession is the opportunity she gets everyday to help her clients build their careers. She finds it very rewarding when she helps a client build up their brand awareness.

“I love what I do, especially when I can help our clients really gain the brand awareness they’re looking for,” Belt says. “It’s also very exciting getting the chance to work with some high level leaders and CEO’s of various businesses. Learning from them has really helped me gain some vital knowledge of the industry I can use for future clients.”

 

Fun Facts about Megan Belt

Hometown: Bettendorf, Iowa

Family:

  • Married 15 years to her college sweetheart, Steve
  • Has two children Kya, 10 and Flynn, 5

Hobbies:

  • Spending time with family
  • Reading
  • Following politics

Stay cool and calm: Lessons in crisis communication

By Angelina Mangiamelli

Most PR professionals will experience at least one communication crisis during their career. So, no better to learn tips on how to best handle a crisis from than Mr. Crisis Communication himself, Paul Critchlow.

Critchlow returned to his alma mater Oct. 26 to give a presentation on crisis communication. More than 70 students, alumni and community members attended the event, sponsored by PRSSA,

During Critchlow’s career, he led crisis teams for two national events: the terrorists’ attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed more than 2,600 people when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsed and the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Critchlow, senior vice president of communications and public affairs for Merrill Lynch, at the time, led his team away from the headquarters, adjacent to the World Trade

Center. They ran through the streets to Critchlow’s brownstone in Greenwich Village and set up a temporary command center in his home.

He relied on his combat experience with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in the immediate aftermath of evacuating the building.

“Our priorities first were to account for all of our employees and second, to get the business running,” Critchlow says. “We immediately needed communication; everything was down and we had nothing.”

Critchlow stressed the importance of staying calm when there is nothing but chaos.

”Everyone is panicking, crying and confused and you have to remain calm, because that’s your job.”

He outlined four key points in dealing with the crisis.

1. Preparation and planning makes a difference.

2. Your team is everything.

3. Get the facts/set messages/ communicate aggressively.

4. Count on people to do the right thing.

The stress in the aftermath of 9/11 took a toll on Critchlow’s personal and professional life. One of the most difficult aspects was dealing with the death of his 24-year- old media relations associate who was trapped in the Twin Towers.

Critchlow stayed with Merrill Lynch through the Wall Street crisis and merger with Bank of America. He retired in 2015 after a 30-year career as vice chairman of public markets.

Earlier in his career, Critchlow served as the press secretary to Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh at the time of the Three Mile Island’s partial nuclear meltdown.

This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.

Although it was a small radioactive release with no ill health effects on the public, it completely changed emergency response planning, Critchlow says. T

Critchlow dealt with several major issues during this crisis—not from the power plant itself but from the media leaking untruthful information to the public.

He outlined four principles of crisis management to follow:

1. Implement – Assemble crisis management team – act under pressure like you haven’t experienced before.

2. Get the facts and get them out fast – Don’t jeopardize your credibility.

3. Make a plan and stick to it.

4. Tell the truth and be consistent.

Critchlow says they were successful in their plan, although it was difficult with the negativity and severity of the situation.

“Don’t feed into what the media is saying,” Critchlow says. “It is your job to get the facts out and be truthful.”

Critchlow also discussed another crisis that he was not personally involved in but provided perspective for what not to do: the BP oil spill known as Deepwater Horizon.

An uncontrollable blowout ignited an explosion on the rig, killing 11 crew members and spewing a fireball seen 40 miles away. The fire created the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Critchlow gave insight on what BP should have done in its crisis response. At first, BP didn’t admit oil was leaking and denied the allegations. Instead, BP admitted to leaking

1,000 barrels then 5,000 and then 6,000 until it finally exploded. He also criticized

President Obama for a slow response to the incident, waiting several days before visiting the site.

“BP didn’t do what they needed. They should have admitted to leaking oil, how many barrels were leaking and fixed it,” Critchlow says. “This is a prime example of what not to do.”