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Full interview: Nikki Jimenez, PR award recipient

Alumna Nikki Jimenez received the New Professional of the Year award Oct. 15 from the Public Relations Society of America, San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter.

As a graduate of PLNU in 2009, the broadcast journalism major and public relations minor has had some time to think over her professors who helped her along the way in the communications department. Namely, she remembers communication professors Alan Hueth and Kathleen Czech and the teacher who taught her the most about PR, previous PLNU professor Clark Greer.

In February, Jimenez will reach the five year milestone at Focuscom, a public relations and affairs firm; however it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Jimenez. She decided at the end of her college career that she wanted to pursue PR over broadcast journalism, that she would go on a LoveWorks trip and YouthWorks trip abroad to Thailand and later the Philippines.

After thinking she secured a job before leaving for her trip, the economy crashed forcing Jimenez to coach field hockey on the side while working an inpaid internship. Jimenez jumped at the opportunity to work the San Diego Asian Film Festival and help with PR and that’s where she met her idol, Lee Ann Kim, who showed her the ins-and-outs of broadcast journalism, and her future boss, Dan Hom.

“I spent 15 minutes in the interview and almost five years later, I’m still at Focuscom and it’s awesome,” she said. “So definitely a series of God divine events where it was just like, nope, this door is closing, this door is opening, and I remember at that time specifically, praying for opened and closed doors and Focuscom was that open door for sure. And the Asian Film Festival led into it.”

Jimenez took the time to talk with The Point about everything she’s already done, or the job search, finding your calling and preparing to do something you love after college.

The Point: How has what you learned at PLNU impacted or helped with your success?

Nikki Jimenez: Well it’s funny because I think as a graduate of any college, a lot of people ask you what you do and what you studied. But they always go, ‘You’re actually doing what you majored in and what you studied in college?’ It was one of those things. I went into Point Loma knowing I wanted to do broadcast. I declared late in the game, but I already knew at that point how hand in hand broadcast and PR went. It was a no brainer for me to work in PR and I love working in PR and developing that relationship in the community. I knew that they would offer media and community outreach. I’m grateful that I’m working in PR and studied at PLNU. I’m grateful that they offered the minor, which is not necessarily a popular area. I don’t think a lot of schools offer PR as a minor or even a major. Only a few schools do.

You won the New Pros award; How do you feel after receiving the award?

NJ: I feel so humbled and honored to receive the award. It’s one of those things where you know you put in the work and know your hours for something and it’s so nice to be recognized for that. And honestly, it was just a surprise. Just hearing my name being called, I just wanted to make sure, I was like, ‘Wait, did they really say my name? Like oh, man. With it being at a venue, in a place where you are surrounded by peers and colleagues and other professionals in PR, it’s totally an honor. I felt very blessed to have this award and be surrounded by my Focuscom family.

This field can be pretty hit or miss and difficult to succeed in. How would you say you did it and how would you encourage others who are in the more creative/liberal arts fields, to get out there and get a job?

NJ: Well I think I started networking and going to professional development groups while I was still in college. That was really huge. It was actually Dean Nelson who was the one who recommended that I join the Asian American Journalists Association, the San Diego Chapter, and that was huge for me. AAJA gave me my first internship. I found a mentor through AAJA who helped me understand the ins and outs of broadcast journalism and then through that internship and the national outlet to get out there and explore the different types of avenues and types of projects and or types of clients that you’d want to work with, that’s what you’re going to get in your internship. It’ll either really solidify that you’re on the right course or totally derail you, but that’s good that you’re knowing that now through your internship.

One [piece of advice I would give is] learning how to network. And I think you do that by joining and attending professional development workshops and mixers. Don’t be afraid. I think working in PR and broadcast, one of those natural personality traits you have is you’re outgoing to a certain degree and you’re comfortable with approaching strangers and starting a conversation. I know that can be intimidating, but my suggestion to start up a conversation is knowing what’s going on in the world around you. I think so many times college students can get caught up inn just what’s going on in their immediate schedules and their immediate world, but being up to date with current events, what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the community, in the nation. Those are all really good conversation starters with adults. It can be intimidating being the college student but it is really helpful.

Any advice for those who are graduating and discouraged about their career path?

NJ: So much of our world is around relationship building. Not just relationship building, but authentic relationship building. So while you may not have the job lined up or anything like that, I still think it’s important to be out in the community. And when you’re out in the community and serving in some way that you’re passionate about, I think you’re going to align yourself with other like-minded individuals who have a whole other network of people that they’re connected to. … So while discouraged, maintain those relationships, be in the community to serve, understand what it means to be in a relationship, whether it’s professionally or with a friend. They all look very different, but there’s still an authentic self of you that’s behind every one of them.

I remember coming out of my last interview and Dan … looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re not the most qualified person for this job.’ And I was like, ‘I know!’ And he was like, ‘But, I really like you. I love your personality and I see a lot of potential in you so I’m going to hire you. I’m going to bring you on and a create a position in my company. I was like, oh my gosh, that was an open and closed doors. I think just because you’re not qualified on paper, I think meeting with somebody in person and having your personality and your passion shine through your time with that person, it totally matters.

In your other interviews, you talk a little about storytelling? Why do you do what you do and why do you think storytelling is important?

NJ: Storytelling can come in so many different forms. For broadcast journalism, I think that was one way but it wasn’t the only way for me. I chose PR ultimately because variety of career choices I can pursue and the variety of clients I’d be able to work with. Storytelling can come through video and the traditional media, but also through being in community and highlighting a specific story, and not being confined to quick turnaround that news may have. I chose PR to focus on relationships that it really emphasizes.

Everyone has a story to share and that story is meant to be heard by somebody. Not everybody but there is a specific group of people that your message pertains to. I think it’s exciting and challenging for me to find out what that way is and who that message is for. I think storytelling, that’s how people relate to other people. If a brand has a really good story to tell and it’s delivered well, that elicits emotion from people. I think that’s a really cool way to connect to audience is telling your story in the right format.

What’s the next step from here?

NJ: It’s just a huge validation to know that I’m on the right track. I just feel like thanking God for breathing life into this passion and into my community through PR.

Knowing that validation, that I’m on right path for me, that this is what I’m passionate about and how I want to serve my community, what’s next is just knowing that I would love to work on a nationwide campaign. I would love the ability to travel and bring clients on in New York, and travel to New York to be on the Today Show, or something like that. That’d be so awesome. That’s a huge career goal for me.

I don’t know. It’s been interesting for me because my firm is both public relations and public affairs…With my job, it’s been really cool to work with city government and be able to meet the mayor and all the city council people and see decision makers who are so important in our city who have a direct influence on how we conduct our city and how our economy is run here locally in San Diego. And to be involved in that circle and seeing those policy changes.

What is something that students should know about PR and news that is often mistaken?

NJ: PR is not just social media. Facebook started when I’d just gotten into college, but you guys have grown up with it even at a younger age, so I think there’s definitely a strategy behind social media that a lot of college grads don’t necessarily understand and that is a miscommunication or misconstruction about what PR is. That is one aspect of it, but it’s definitely not a whole, all encompassing picture of what PR is.

Anything you’d like to add?

NJ: I feel really fortunate that Point Loma offered the PR minor because honestly coming out of college I feel like I had a one up on others because I had at least a formal foundation for what PR was. Even though it wasn’t a major, it was a minor, I got those establishing classes to help me understand the basics of PR so then I could build upon when I got into a job or an internship…I definitely acknowledge the training that I had at Point Loma for the job now. And again it gave me that foundation for me to build upon that and get the real world experience to build upon the basics.


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Focuscom Inc. team at the PRSA Bernays Mark of Excellence Awards: Tomas Urtasun, Elycia Nelson, Nikki Jimenez, Olivia Stafford (intern and PLNU senior), Dan Hom (Photo courtesy of Nikki Jimenez)