January 9, 2024

YCP@Work: Ashley Crist '08

6 Minutes

Ashley Crist graduated from York College in 2008 with a B.S. in Communications and Public Relations. She currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Harrisburg Academy in Lemoyne, PA.

What made you choose to pursue a degree in this field?

I love telling a story. Marketing and public relations are essentially getting to know a person, organization, or cause and telling their story in an effective and compelling way. I also really enjoy writing and finding the key words and phrases that catch the audience's attention and make them feel. That feeling can be good, bad, empathetic, excited, or hopeful, but when someone says something and you can't help but feel a certain way–that's a great feeling. Words are so powerful.

Describe a typical day on the job.

I work for a small PreK-12 private school in the Harrisburg area, so while I always have specific events I'm promoting, a list of changes to the website to increase engagement, and advertising deadlines to meet, the day really depends on everything happening among the students on a given day. I have a steady to-do list in my planner, but any time a student is running a donation drive, giving a speech, or working with a team of peers on an experiential learning project, I quickly abandon my task at hand and go capture photos and videos of the exciting and fun activities happening throughout the building and across grade levels. We engage with the local media consistently to promote those activities throughout the school and really showcase what happens inside the building, so often I am creating reels and collages for social media, creating talking points for podcasts and news appearances, and examining everything in the building to find a way to create a compelling enough story around it to gain earned media for the school. Every day is different and that's what I enjoy most, the inconsistency.

How have you used your York College education since graduating?

I attended York College in the era of Dr. Robert and Mrs. Hope Carroll and Dr. Brian Furio, and while I don't remember the exact lectures or the exact notes I took in those classes, I remember the discussions. York College professors have a way of connecting with students because of the small class sizes and personal relationships built, and I remember and think fondly on those snippets of conversation. I've been focusing on graphic design work much more in the position I'm in now, and I very much remember the design class I took with Mrs. Carroll when I'm working. Not justifying the copy text and leaving widows (a hanging word at the bottom of a paragraph) still bothers me to this day because she always wanted a clean and aligned paragraph in brochures, articles, and advertising projects. I stand by those rules even now, 15 years later. Dr. Furio was a compelling speaker in my Marketing courses and I think my love of storytelling and using words in the right way to elicit a response came from him. I'm a comfortable and careful public speaker to this day and attribute those skills to his classes and how engaging he was with his lessons.

What is most challenging about a career in this field?

It can be really difficult to craft a message that resonates with a specific audience. You can create a beautifully written message with what you think are the right buzzwords and compelling graphics, but you can still miss the mark with your intended audience. It takes market research and a real understanding of who that audience is to be able to sell or promote anything that will reach them on the level you want. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes can be difficult, but it's so necessary for this career path. What you personally think will elicit a response can be completely off-base and become a detriment to your ego and way of thinking. It's important to talk to others in the field, in the market, and outside of your experiences and understand what they need and want. It's disappointing when you don't hit the mark and that can become discouraging. I have failed multiple times. When I started to succeed was when I stopped writing and selling to myself, and started gathering input and asking questions to gain different perspectives.

What do you like best about your career?

I really enjoy being able to talk to those around me and gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. It can be really eye-opening and also challenging, but the challenge is the best part. When you create a campaign that resonates with an audience completely different from you and your way of thinking, it can feel like you just tackled Mt. Everest. It's a great feeling and you meet so many different people and gain a better understanding of people in general. It can feel as enlightening as traveling to a new country to gain that perspective and see the world differently.

What advice would you have for a student who is just starting out in this major?

Meet everyone, talk to everyone, try to gain understanding in everything. Don't get stuck in a specific style of writing or designing. You could be tasked with a project that needs to compel an audience that looks, thinks, and lives in a completely opposite way. The more you meet and engage with others, talk to them and understand their backgrounds, goals and needs, the more equipped you are to do your job effectively. Also, I highly recommend utilizing all of the new technology and social advances we have to explore different markets and market research. Reading 30-page market research documents can be boring. Listen to marketing podcasts, talk radio, YouTube videos, and scour the internet for similar websites to understand your competition and what is most engaging for them. There are so many different ways to learn now, and all of it is useful in different ways. If I'm endlessly scrolling on my phone now, it's endlessly scrolling other school websites, other event promotions, other community service media posts. I suggest you always be looking for compelling ideas and keeping those in the back of your mind for later, when you inevitably will be asked to create a campaign of your own and aren't sure where to start.