Path to Prosek: PR Things Happen for Reasons – Michelle Mandara
For the latest edition of our Path to Prosek series, Michelle Mandara, who recently joined our firm as a Managing Director, shares the journey that led her to becoming a public relations professional.
Prior to working at Prosek, Michelle was the Head of Broadcast Communications at Meta. Before Meta, she spent over a decade in consumer public relations at Golin, Lippe Taylor, DeVries Global, and Madison Square Garden, working with various brands including Nintendo, Revlon, Allergan, Tupperware and Keds. And before that, she was an Account Executive…just like many young PRs today. But, as Michelle notes in this piece, the path she took to get there isn’t your usual story…
I never considered Public Relations as a career. During my time at Syracuse University, I had my sights set on advertising, inspired by a boyfriend who was pursuing a career in the industry. However, after graduating during the dot com bust, the job market was tempestuous.
After months of searching, a dear friend called with a lead. A local NYC advertising agency, DiMassimo Brand Advertising, was hiring a new Account Executive in an unconventional way. Inspired by the popular reality shows at the time, Survivor and The Apprentice, the agency issued a call-to-action for new grads to take part in a week-long competition they were hosting at their office.
Out of thousands of submissions, I was one of the eight finalists chosen to compete for this entry-level job. Taking cues from the television programs, the agency's founder and creative director, Mark DiMassimo, invited us contestants to live and work at the agency, where we competed in a week-long series of advertising-related tasks.
We slept in sleeping bags on the floor and were given a free one-week pass to the Crunch Fitness gym next door where we showered and prepared ourselves for the days ahead. From developing a new advertising campaign for the Plaza Hotel, to handling a simulated client crisis, we performed these daily tasks not only under the scrutiny of marketing executives, but also under lights and camera. Video crews were capturing our every move with the plan that this competition would one day become a reality show. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it never did—ha!
During this “Account Executive Survivor” competition, we were also supported by a PR agency, Jericho Communications, which was tasked with promoting this campaign and contestants. I had my first taste of media exposure with national and local interviews from outlets such as the NY Post, Time Out New York, even the Darien CT Times, my local paper, who all wanted to hear about my experience. This was the first time I’d learn about the power of a "hometown hero" story that I often ask about in client meetings at Prosek. We were even booked to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but sadly, the segment was cancelled due to breaking news when legendary musician Jonny Cash and actor John Ritter both passed away, and we were bumped. This was an early lesson learned in PR on how unpredictable the news cycle could be.
Each contestant was assigned a mentor who guided us through the competition; and at the end of each day, we taped confessionals before the voting-off process began. The competition was quickly winnowed down to six contestants by the second day, and another two were booted off before the winner was chosen from the final four contestants.
I made it to the final round and watched as Annie O’Rouke was selected as the Account Executive. But that day I also won. Immediately following the contest, I received a job offer from Jericho PR, which had been supporting me all week—they admired my work ethic, creative energy and passion, and they saw my potential in the PR industry. This was the start of my career in PR, and I’ve never looked back since.
Twenty years later, I am proud of the career I have built, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. This experience taught me the value of perseverance, hard work, and taking chances, even when the odds seem stacked against you. And I’ve carried that lesson with me ever since.