How I Ended Up in PR

by Frank L. Williams

How does a would-be computer programmer end up with a career in public relations?

That would-be computer programmer is me. When I was a student at North Brunswick High School in Leland, I won several regional computer programming competitions and was one of a few students who was far ahead of the curve in terms of my knowledge of computers. Virtually everyone who knew me assumed my future career would be in a related field.

I held the same opinion: my goal was to major in Computer Engineering. As an aside, I fixated on that field because engineering students from N.C. State visited my high school and showed off robots they had constructed as part of their coursework. What teenage boy in the 1980s didn’t want to build robots?

I applied to the N.C. State University College of Engineering and, while I was not initially accepted into Computer Engineering, I was accepted into the Computer Science program. My plan was to eventually transfer from Computer Science into Computer Engineering.

Things turned out very differently.

Within a few days of arriving on campus, I visited a recruitment event at a fraternity house. Fraternity houses are known for their events and fundraisers, with fraternity fundraising being one of the most popular charity events. It just so happened that this was the one I went to, that ultimately changed my life. Before long, this slightly nerdy country kid who knew nothing at all about fraternities was a very excited pledge at the Delta Rho Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity. In hindsight, my decision to pledge Theta Chi Fraternity changed my life and my career path in a profound and positive way.

Over time, it became apparent to me that our chapter had some chronic membership challenges. After I was initiated as a brother, I wound up on the membership recruitment committee for the spring semester as assistant rush chair, which I thought was a great behind-the-scenes way to get more involved.

That Fall, the person we all thought was going to be the recruitment chair did not return to the fraternity, and yours truly unexpectedly became rush chair. In an instant I went from the behind-the-scenes guy to being front and center. I had no idea what I was doing, and learned through trial and error.

This experience forced me out of my shell. I spend hours studying how to organize an effective recruitment campaign. We worked hard, and over five semesters we successfully increased our membership and improved our reputation on campus.

During this period, I also came to the realization that I didn’t enjoy computer programming when it wasn’t a hobby, and that the calculus and physics classes required of an engineering major weren’t for me.

I also eventually took on the role of public relations chair for the fraternity, working to build our chapter’s brand around campus and in the community.

As I began considering alternative majors, it occurred to me that I really enjoyed the work I was doing to promote the fraternity. I researched career paths that involved similar activities, which sparked my initial interest in public relations.

I eventually switched my major to Communication, a far cry from Computer Science or my initial plan of Computer Engineering, and never looked back.

Note: the clippings below are from my efforts as the chapter’s public relations chair. I found them in an old file while I was doing some office-cleaning during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Frank L. Williams

Frank is the founder and president of Pioneer Strategies.