Discipline vaults advertising/public relations major into future opportunities

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Hannah Mulhern is on the track, she can launch herself 13 feet, 6 inches into the air. This summer she is on a different track, and aiming much higher.

Mulhern is a pole vaulter for the Penn State women's track and field team. She also is an advertising/public relations major with a rigid work ethic that helps her succeed competitively and professionally. With one more season and school year to go before graduation, Mulhern has the bar set extra high.

This summer she is interning at the Pittsburgh office of Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications company. For 10 weeks she is getting a firsthand look at life in one of the biggest PR agencies in the world.

An Academic All-American who competes at the highest collegiate levels does not have a lot of free time, and that’s the way Mulhern likes it. She has to be smart with her calendar. During track and field season her schedule is structured out of necessity, and it helps her to maintain focus on all of the important things.

“I wake up. I practice in the morning. I go to class. I practice in the afternoon. I study at night. I sleep,” Mulhern said of her in-season routine. “I get lost in the day. I know I only have so much time for each thing.”

Mulhern got her start in communications 45 minutes southwest of the University Park campus in Altoona Area High School’s TV studio, where she edited video, wrote stories, and helped host a morning show. Already a focused, competitive student-athlete, she found her way to Penn State for three reasons: academics, the large alumni network, and Big Ten athletics.

Mulhern said she is a people person and a strong communicator who likes to get to know others and tell stories. As an incoming Nittany Lion, she knew communications was the curriculum for her, but wasn’t sure which field.

“I didn’t really know what PR was all about at the time, to be honest,” Mulhern said. “But people told me it was something that I’d be good at. I took some intro courses and really enjoyed it.”

Since then, Mulhern has been seeking out unique opportunities in the industry. Last summer she interned with Luxuria Public Relations in San Diego, California, a firm significantly smaller than Burson-Marsteller consisting of two full-time employees. She said it was beneficial to see public relations from the viewpoint of a small “boutique agency” and gained vital experience at the firm.

This summer, Mulhern wanted to go global. With the help of Mike Poorman, the director of alumni relations in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications who also teaches communications courses, she found Burson-Marsteller, which operates in more than 100 countries around the world.

“I sat down with Mike and he asked me, ‘Where do you want to be this summer?’” Mulhern said. “The network was one of the reasons I came to Penn State, and he was a huge help.”

Poorman connected Mulhern with Gina Richardson, director of consumer and brand marketing at Burson-Marsteller and a 2006 alumna of the Bellisario College. Mulhern and Richardson talked on the phone and scheduled a time to meet over winter break. Mulhern drove to Pittsburgh and met with Richardson to discuss Burson-Marsteller and the internship opportunities there. She got advice about the industry and ways to make her resume stand out.

Six months later, Mulhern was in Pittsburgh making pitches, connecting with media outlets, and helping to organize campaigns. Starting at Luxuria was the perfect introduction, she said, and now getting experience with an array of clients all over the country has been incredible.

“We really give interns an understanding of possibilities and where they can take them,” said Gillian Brennen, a 2009 Penn State Bellisario College alumna and the internship program supervisor at Burson-Marsteller. “Interns get real-life, on-the-job training scenarios … and we knew Hannah would knock it out of the park."

A few weeks in, Mulhern said she’s been enjoying seeing teams in action and creative minds working together toward a common goal. Brennen said interns finish the summer having led a campaign from start to finish. This includes anticipating crises, organizing budgets, and tackling day-to-day management. She said the public relations program at the Bellisario College prepares Penn State interns, as well as new alumni, by emphasizing the importance of writing and practical knowledge.

“When you go through the program at Penn State, you become a tremendous writer,” she said. “There is a journalism component that is important. You learn about media pitches, real-life experiences.”

Mulhern said in addition to the practical exercises of class and internships, she most appreciates the Bellisario College’s faculty members, many of whom worked around her strict schedule and found time to help outside of class. With their assistance, she felt prepared to take on new challenges — like spending a summer in San Diego or interning at a multinational agency in Pittsburgh.

In addition to being a pole vaulter at Penn State, Mulhern is a part of the University’s Athletic Director’s Leadership Institute. She also is the vice president of the Fit for Fritz Charity Walkathon, an event that raises money for the American Cancer Society in the name of track and field assistant coach Fritz Spence, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. With Mulhern’s help, the initiative raised $11,700 at its annual event last year.

This year’s event is set for Nov. 7 when Mulhern and her team hope to raise the bar even higher — something she always seems to do in order to challenge herself and maintain the mindset to push herself to greatness.

Read more about Mulhern and her experiences in public relations in her blog, “The Purpose in PR.”

Last Updated July 21, 2017