What do hoola hooping, missions and Public Relations all have in common?
Well, they’re all passions of one of my dear friends, Carissa Caricato.
For this assignment, I interviewed Carissa Caricato, 25. Carissa is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Public Relations/Marketing. After graduation, she began working for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, an organization that brings hope and healing to victims suffering from various crisis’s, whether physical or emotional. Carissa worked there for three years as the Marketing & Communications Director. However, she recently left her job in July, to further devote her time to her newly launched non-profit organization, Hoola for Happiness. I met Carissa earlier this year through a mutual friend and we have worked together supporting her organization as well as with another in Orlando, called Feeding Children Everywhere. Carissa is an inspiration to me not only in the workforce, but also personally. Though she is no longer working with the Crisis Center, she still continues as a PR professional with her new organization. Further, she has had a lot of experience in this field and continues to put these skills to work in her new job.
What’s a typical week like?
At this question, Carissa laughed because no week is typical in the world of Public Relations. As the Marketing & Communications Director she spent a lot of her week doing public relations work, specifically with media outreach. Carissa was responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with the Crisis Center’s supporters and coming up with creative ways to raise money to benefit the center. She has organized many outreach fairs and campaigns, promoting the cause of the Crisis Center.
“The Crisis Center is a non-profit with awesome people and stories, many experts on suicide and sexual assault. The media looks to us for expert opinions about bullying, rape and suicide. 70-80% of the time, the media is contacting me and so my job would be reacting to the media,” she shares.
In the three years Carissa worked with the Crisis Center, she has had over 300 things in the media, usually averaging about two per week. The medium’s she worked with include television, print, billboards, radio interviews, magazines, feature stories, online news and social media. Carissa shared that she loved getting stories and corresponding with the media. Part of herr job was to connect the correct people with the right knowledge as the spokesperson on any given issue.
Carissa shared an example of what a week at her job might entail. If there had been a suicide happen in Tampa, she would spend time connecting with the 211 Call Center at the Crisis Center to receive recent statistics on suicide. Then, she would compile the information found and send it to reporters to follow up with a story. Reporters could then glean from the information given and also share about the Crisis Center, so those reading the story know there is help available.
Tell me about a project you worked on that you are especially proud of.
Carissa worked to put on an event called “Take Back the Night,” a march/rally/candle light vigil held in April 2010, to raise awareness for sexual assault victims. Though this event had been going on for over eight years, 2010 was the first year she was in charge of it. She worked to put together videos, cool logos, new branding, marketing and media, and set a new vibe. The event was carried in the news over 20 times, and that night there was a lot of media coverage. Over 900 people came out to the “Take Back the Night” event.
“People came to speak out about their experiences and feel empowered and share about their journeys,” she shares.
Carissa had co-ordinated events similar to this while at USF when she was a senior. The directors of the Crisis Center met her at one of her events and offered her the job. While at USF, Carissa worked as the marketing chair with the Sexual Violence Task Force of Tampa Bay.
What do you do to keep current in the PR industry?
Carissa shares that she reads a lot, especially sites like LinkedIn, weekly. She also added that trend watching and digests such as ones like RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) keep her current.
Another way is by staying subscribed to 12 blogs and receiving daily top PR tips. She shares that it is important to stay in the loop with the PR industry as it’s always changing. Carissa is also very involved in her local PRSA chapter and has attended the PRSA International conference for the last five years.
What do you wish you would have known before starting your career in PR?
Carissa shares that relationships are everything. While she was in college she worked as the Vice President of the PRSA, booking guest speakers, contacting media and PR professionals. She developed very good relationships to help her in her new job. After graduation, she reached out to many of the contacts she had made while in college. One of these people was Ernest Hooper, a columnist at the St Petersburg Times. He wrote a column about the Crisis Center two weeks after Carissa started there. She shares that she simply made a friend, he returned the favor and she got a story.
“Being savvy and understanding every person you meet has a role and a purpose; build connections and keep them. I wish more people would be proactive and make connections with others,” she adds.
How important is writing in your career?
Carissa shared that writing is very important and you have to know how to write. Though for her job, it didn’t entail as much writing as she had imagined.
“Yes, you need to know the laws of writing and grammar. Make sure your emails look good and are to the point. I went to a school that focused on grammar, punctuation, ect. From a bigger perspective, with lengthy writing, you need to learn how to be brief and get points across very quickly. Journalists don’t have time to read long press releases. Blogs should be quick and have multimedia, write good twitter captions that are short and entertaining, good titles, good FB posts, be relevant,” said Carissa.
She further added that you have to know how to write to get to where she is at. There is definitely a need for good writers and good facts put together. For her job, she didn’t do as much writing, but left that for her interns. The majority of what she wrote was quick things; lots of Facebook stuff.
What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in PR?
1) Go to media rountable events, get involved in your local PRSA chapter—meet at least 8-10 people in the media field to build relationships.
2) Get to know what you are writing about. If you’re working at an agency, get to know clients and what effects them. Spend time with directors and understand what they are experts in.
3) Start subscribing to blogs. Read everything for upcoming trends as the world of communication changes rapidly.
Why did you choose to major in PR?
Simply put, someone told her to. She was going to be a Theatre major, but her father advised her to pick a “real” major. She had an International Marketing class in High School and a lot of it was comprised of research and writing, which wasn’t her favorite. One of her teachers from that class advised that she consider Public Relations as a major in college.
Carissa shared that while she loved her job, her Public Relations degree won’t help her future much more, as she plans on being a missionary.
“It gets old after five years…I loved working with people. PR is a lot of reading, research, creative and not working with people as much as I thought,” she adds.
Carissa now works as the head of her own non-profit organization, Hoola for Happiness, and she calls herself the first “hoola hooping missionary.” Hoola for Happiness sends hoola hoops to impoverished nations around the world. Carissa herself has been to 10 countries, including Haiti, Kenya, Uganda and Brazil. Her mission is to combine her love of hoola hooping and missions to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard. Using her relationship in the PR world, she has put on several fundraising events to help raise money to purchase the special travel sized hoops that she takes overseas. She’s in the process of working on creating a special hoop to reach the Christian market. Take a look at the video below to see more of Carissa and how you can help her spread joy, one hoola hoop at a time.
For more information, please visit Hoola for Happiness.