Think Like a Sponge: My Media Crisis Experience

By Trevor Kinzie

A Wake-Up Call

I have always been amazed at the abundance of opportunities the University of Iowa has provided me with in my four years of schooling. Whether it is résumé building, job and internship fairs, or even a simple meeting with my academic counselor, the University of Iowa is responsible for furnishing my growth from a wide-eyed-without-a-clue freshman into an accomplished soon-to-be graduate.

But there is a limit to the University of Iowa’s ability to ensure a successful future for its graduates. It is up to the students to be bold enough to take risks that will provide them with unmeasurable rewards.

I wish I could tell you that I realized this fact long ago, but the truth is I was completely clueless up until the moment I walked through the front doors of the Adler Journalism Building for the Media Crisis Competition.

And although I consider myself a tenured senior with jobs and internships under my belt, those seven hours of hands-on experience trump everything else on my résumé.

Embracing the Unfamiliar

As one of the competitors on the public relations side of the competition (journalism being the other side), our day began with a presentation from Megan Jasin, a PR & Communications professional and current Sales Coordinator for recycling industry leader Republic Services.

Jasin provided myself and the rest of the PR competitors with valuable advice on how to brand ourselves in order to be noticed by potential employers. One thing she said that stuck with me for the rest of the day was, “Think like a sponge, act like a rock.” Translation: take everything in and don’t show that you can’t handle it.

After experiencing a real-life media crisis scenario and the abundance of stress it entailed, I began to wonder if every PR professional had those eight words tattooed somewhere on their bodies.

The Crisis

With pen and paper ready we were handed our scenario packets and the competition began.

The situation was simple: a star student athlete at the University of Iowa developed a case of the measles and a misdiagnosis from Student Health caused him to potentially spread the virus to a local elementary school. The curveball was that the student did not receive a measles vaccination due to religious beliefs.

Each of the four PR teams were assigned a specific group involved in this scenario, my team was tasked with representing the student’s family. So my partner Candace McCutcheon and I quickly formulated our stance and like a rock we held our ground and faced unrelenting questions from the journalism teams.

Now, I could bore you with the meticulous details of my team’s communication strategy but that wouldn’t be the point as to why I am writing this post. I’d rather tell you that in those seven hours I learned indispensible skills that will last me throughout my career once I graduate and for that I thank the University of Iowa and the members of PRSSA for allowing this to happen.

With the astounding assistance of my teammate we absorbed every little detail of the scenario and through the utilization of real-life communication tools such as press releases, press conferences, social media posts and pitch letters we communicated our stance with unwavering devotion to win the competition.

A Victorious First Impression

To come out of this competition victorious was an achievement, yes, but a victory was not what made this experience a truly irreplaceable one. Since the four judges (Ms. Jasin included) consisted of accomplished professionals in the fields of public relations and journalism, to show them our abilities as strategic communicators was as close to a job interview as it could be.

Each student who attended the crisis could have made the choice to sleep in and forgo the competition altogether, but they didn’t. They were bold enough to further their personal brands by putting themselves in an integral position to be noticed by potential employers.

Though there could only be one winner from the PR and journalism teams, everybody who attended the crisis competition gained vital experience well worth any certificate or plaque.