Andrea Aker owes a lot of her entrepreneurial success to the connections and training she received at the Cronkite School. And for the past four years, she’s funded a scholarship to make sure current students have access to those same resources.
Aker founded the Aker Ink Scholarship, which awards high achieving journalism or public relations students who have good grades and are active in their communities, which is something she took pride in as a Cronkite student.
The scholarship is named after her public relations and marketing firm Aker Ink, which she opened in 2007. The company was recently awarded its second Copper Anvil Award as the Public Relations Society of America’s Agency of the Year in Phoenix.
Aker came to Cronkite in 2005 after graduating from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. She received a Master of Mass Communication degree with a specialization in online media from the Cronkite School in 2008.
As a student, Aker maintained a 4.0 GPA and joined Kappa Tau Alpha, the honor society for journalism graduates. Now, she financially supports other Cronkite students with the scholarship she founded in 2018.
Aker believes it’s important to help future journalists and public relations professionals because she was once in their shoes, and now she hires them. By financially supporting their education, Aker can directly impact students in a positive way every year.
Q: What is a typical day like in your career as a public relations entrepreneur?
A: I haven’t had a typical day in about 20 years. If I had to pin it down, on the entrepreneurial side, it is making sure that the team is taken care of and supported, making sure that our client load matches the effort that we’re able to provide. There’s a lot of business development and acquiring new clients. I’ve also had to take a crash course over the years on the administrative side. I feel like my journalism degrees highly prepared me for the field, but learning the HR and the legal side has been a little bit of a challenge. It’s nothing I haven’t been able to meet.
From the PR side, it’s always exciting and different. And that’s one of the things I love about PR. We are definitely known for our content development and our big emphasis for writing at Aker Ink. Every PR professional is involved in writing. That could be writing byline articles, media pitches, press releases, video scripts and emails. You know, every tactic requires some form of writing. Writing is involved in the day-to-day, but also just managing accounts and seeing that needs are met. Identifying new opportunities and meetings certainly takes up a good portion, but I think the work that you do on the PR side varies from day to day and that’s what keeps it exciting.
Q: Why do you enjoy what you do?
A: I love the sense of building something. That could be building a team member. Or building a business. My core talent is writing and being able to use words to impact people, build a business, to drive a movement. It’s a pretty incredible feeling. It’s very rewarding. A lot of the clients that we work with in professional services [like] finance or law, they make a big impact on the world and it’s exciting to be a part of that and knowing that the content we’re developing, the media outreach that we’re securing, it’s helping to move initiatives forward in the world. We help build businesses so that people are employed. We help people get the products and services that they need, and it is a big responsibility. It’s rewarding, and we take it really seriously.
Q: Did your connections and training at Cronkite prepare you well for this career?
A: Absolutely! During my master’s with the Cronkite School is really where I perfected a lot of my writing. And I cannot underscore how important enough it is to be a solid writer, understand your audience, how to tell an effective story, how to adapt your writing for different mediums. That’s the skill that helped me build the business. Also, just meeting different people from other aspects of the journalism/PR field, then learning with them.
I was in graduate school at a pivotal time in journalism where online media was really at the precipice of hitting it big. In the mid-2000s, we weren’t at the place when every business had a website. I actually learned coding and developed my skills far beyond what a typical PR practitioner or journalist would have with just an undergrad degree. So I was really grateful for the experience.
Q: How have you grown as a professional since graduating?
A: Think of the evolution of what has happened in media. Not only did the online world take off, but we were also impacted by the Great Recession right when I was graduating. That completely altered the landscape for both journalists and PR professionals, as all of these companies cut their advertising spending and there was huge turnover of media outlets. There were fewer outlets to get coverage placed, and if you were a writer, to get content placed. I think that it helped refine the concept of newsworthiness and knowing how to compete with a very small number of outlets. Coupling that with the rise of online media, you know, what hasn’t changed?
The graduate school prepared me with the tools and the foundation I needed to ride the waves I was about to undergo with the recession and with the rise of online media. I think that one of the greatest things a young professional can do is to stay on top of ‘what are the technologies and issues that are affecting my industry?’ because it changes so quickly. And if I didn’t go to grad school, I definitely would not have been in tune with the online world as it evolved. I came from a newspaper program and I worked in broadcast TV, so I didn’t have any exposure. Grad school is really what provided that to me.
I think that one of the most important things you can do is focus on your core writing skills. Analytics and social can all be learned on the job, and each company has its different way of analyzing content, but one thing that will never change is the foundational writing skills. Understanding how to tell a story, the difference between feature writing and inverted pyramids, for example.
Q: Has staying connected with your alma mater impacted your professional journey? Why is it important?
A: I started the Aker Ink Scholarship four years ago, and that was because I was assisted by scholarships when I was in college. I felt it necessary to pay that back, and I felt that I was in a very fortunate position where I could do that. And I have such a passion for journalism. Even though I’m in a PR and marketing field, I have such a passion for young professionals, the field, its role in society. The biggest way that I stay connected now is supporting young journalists financially.
I like supporting the Cronkite school. It’s one of the best journalism schools in the country. If I could help somebody get those resources and get access to those professors, I feel like I’m doing great work in the world.
Q: What would you say to other alumni that are interested in reconnecting with ASU or the Cronkite School?
A: As alumni, we are the ones the students look up to. Alum can serve in a mentorship role and show you what’s possible. I think that we have a responsibility to bring up young professionals because we hire them. They’re the ones who are going to be the journalists, the PR pros. Especially in this market, if we want a solid foundation of young professionals, we need to put in the effort to make sure we all help get them there. It’s kind of like enlisting the tribe. It’s not just one professor’s job.
As an employer and as a former student, it’s just so important for me to help bring up the next generation of professionals. We have a very high bar that they have to meet. Not all of them meet that, but I feel like in order to get some to meet it, I have a responsibility to reach out to the school and help students in ways that I can so we can help prepare them.
To learn more about Aker’s work, visit https://akerink.com/andrea-aker/.