Public Relations Senior Defines Leadership and Embraces Change
By Lenore Devore, B.S. Journalism, 1984
Increasing engagement and building community define Carolyn Lok’s time as president of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Tireless and focused define Lok, B.S. Public Relations 2021, the first PRSSA president to be elected virtually, the Communication Department’s social media guru and an Operations Manager at The Agency.
Overseeing 300 chapters and 6,000 PRSSA members across the United States and South America, Lok had to lead students who were dealing with Zoom fatigue, a lack of engagement and the cancellation of the annual international conference, where momentum builds for the following year.
“We were trying to be creative. I had been through some professional development seminars and networking opportunities like Managing Your Student-Run Firm During COVID-19,” where she realized the organization had to engage students in new ways, like Twitter chats, and convince them the real value in the organization was them.
She ran for president on a platform of standardizing educational materials to ensure all students have the tools necessary and are up to date with today’s trends. The goal is to develop certificates or competitions — like one on ethics — where students “can really flex their skills and be in tune with the latest industry trends. We as students can make mistakes without that much pressure.”
She wants to make PRSSA a resource for students to “take education to the next level — not just things you learn in the classroom.”
When her one-year term ends in June 2021, she will remain on the board as immediate past president. She would like to be involved with the parent organization, the Public Relations Society of America, and after getting established in her career “create a scholarship fund (at PRSSA) to help underrepresented, minority students studying communications pay for their dues and education.”
Lok, who was born in Alexandria, Virginia, but grew up mostly in Jacksonville, Florida, where her mother’s family lived after immigrating from Cambodia, wanted to study international relations in Washington, D.C., to become a diplomat like her father. “When I applied for colleges, I had no idea what PR was. I didn’t want to stay in the state.”
Then she toured UF and discovered The Agency. When she took Dr. Marcia DiStaso’s Introduction to PR class, she was hooked. She started working at The Agency during the spring semester of her freshman year. “I was so happy that I chose this field. I haven’t looked back since.”
She started as a media coordinator but now is one of six Operations Managers, helping oversee daily operations, schedule meetings, and support and guide client accounts that have a lot of PR and media deliverables.
She served as the lead on The Agency’s Gator Nation Giving Day campaign for the College. Her team has helped CJC become the No. 1 college in total gifts for two years in a row. This year, her team experimented with incorporating Tik Tok into the campaign. “We want to create some case studies for future Agency members on how to use TikTok for fundraising.”
When the pandemic hit, Lok received a quick lesson in pivoting. “We had to adapt to a changing environment. We learned how to collaborate across departments, build motivation on your team, hold people accountable and work with different personalities.”
Lok headed to Washington, D.C., in 2019 to work as a communications intern for the Cambodian embassy.
“I was a little apprehensive, but thought, ‘Why not? Let’s expand my knowledge of the political side of what PR does,’” she thought at the time. She tracked the news and sent a weekly report on social media activity to help the office develop a social media strategy.
In November 2019, the Public Relations Department offered its students a trip to New York City to tour agencies like Edelman, IBM, NFL and GLAAD. “New York had always been the goal for me after graduation, and this trip affirmed that decision. I’m thankful to be a part of a College that creates these opportunities for its students.”
In addition to applying for jobs at places like Ogilvy and Edelman, she’s also applied for an internship at Spotify, a brand she loves. “They are very good at telling their users’ stories and creating a user experience through their product. … They know what their audience is looking for, especially with Gen Z. This is going to be the biggest buying generation coming into the industry now and being able to know the trends and the values and the wants of us to create that brand loyalty — I think Spotify does very well.”
The pandemic has been a silver lining, helping her deal with “imposter syndrome,” the feeling that she’s not good enough even though she has all the skills needed for a job. “It gave me a chance to take a step back and reassure myself everything will work out.”
She’s grateful for the advice she received from Clickbooth CEO Erin Cigich, B.S. Advertising 2007, at the College’s “Becoming a Woman of Influence” event in 2019: “When you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on it.”
“I think a lot of us are guilty of letting amazing opportunities pass us by because we’re too focused on the uncertainties and ‘what ifs.’ Throughout my time at UF, I’ve learned that you can never predict where one opportunity or one conversation can lead you. It’s best to take a chance and learn from it than wonder what could have been the rest of your life.”