Before I began my Internship at Southwest Airlines, I had a preconceived notion that I would be fine-tuning my filing skills, perfecting my ability to make a good cup of coffee and mastering the art of ordering lunch by phone.
Boy, was I wrong.
Since the first day I stepped foot into the Public Relations Department, I’ve been involved arms and elbows in major projects such as Media Day and the Pigskin Plane Pull, and I’m currently working on my third story for Southwest Airline’s inflight magazine Spirit.
Every last drop of my creative juices has been squeezed out of me and any given time of a work day I’m working on five or more tasks--and I’m loving every minute of it. The PR Department has created the perfect learning environment that hones my current skills, challenges me to learn new skills, and gives me a chance to work independently.
Two weeks in as an Intern, Public Relations Manager Brandy King gave me the opportunity to actually create my own PR event. Talk about pressure. From an Intern’s perspective, being given the responsibility to create a corporate PR event from start to finish is a rare chance to really show what we are capable of, and I really didn’t want to disappoint those who I’ve come to think of as my mentors in fear of being stapled and Xerox-ed to death. (Disclaimer: No Interns were harmed in the designing of the event or writing of this blog.)
The goal of the event was to acknowledge one of our Customers who has a very unique hobby--he visits college campuses. Steve Lake, a Las Vegas pit boss at Caesar’s Palace and PR firm owner, began a quest in 1984 to visit 500 universities and colleges nationally and internationally. He said he started this journey because he felt he never fully experienced the “college life,” being that he went to a college in Montreal in a small building rather than a sprawling campus. Twenty four years later, he was about to finally make that goal and visit his 500th college at San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Lake University. Because Southwest Airlines has flown him to many of these colleges, we wanted to congratulate him somehow for his achievement.
I decided to throw him a graduation-themed gate party for when he arrived in San Antonio to fit in with the college motif. Luckily for me, Brandy’s wisdom and guidance was available to tap into, which I did liberally. A few weeks of planning, a couple of nights of sweating, and just a moment or two of crying later, October 11 (the date of the event) rolled around, and it was time to make it happen.
I created a “staff” made up of Internal Customer Care Intern Abby Olmscheid and Dispatch Intern Brent Bowen to help wrangle the crowd, hand out peanuts and inflatables, keep a Monster drink in my hand at all times, and slap me occasionally when I freaked out. Thankfully, the freak-outs didn’t happen often. But having a Team made entirely up of Interns made this event even more special for me. Our Supervisors were letting go of our hands to see if we could take a few steps on our own without falling over. They respected and trusted us enough to create an important memory for one of our Customers without supervision. If that’s not flattering, I don’t know what is.
We flew to San Antonio, set everything up, and waited for Steve to arrive. The actual event went without a hitch. I greeted Steve and his wife at the door of the plane and escorted him to the gate where he was greeted by a cheering crowd, hundreds of balloons, a large congratulatory banner, and a mariachi band. Southwest Airlines has a knack for going over the top, and I tried to make the event fit the Culture. He didn’t know what was in store for him.
After he got over the shock, I congratulated him on his achievement, dressed him in a graduate’s cap and gown and gave him a “Final Exam” that consisted of very simple, but funny, questions. Once he passed (the test was rigged – I didn’t want to embarrass him with difficult questions), I gave him a diploma and two Southwest Airlines tickets and let him soak in the praise and glory of those present.
In an instant, the event was over. It had lasted for about an hour, but only felt like five minutes. However, I learned a lot about the PR and airline world before and during the party – priceless experience to take with me as I begin my path into the professional world.
The next week, I received an e-mail from Steve, thanking me for the “spectacular” gate party and wishing me luck in my future. Even though I threw the event, I have my own thank-you’s to give out:
Thank you to the PR Department for welcoming me with open arms, laughs, and an awesome work ethic. Thank you to Brandy for giving me my very first PR event to stage. Thank you to my “staff,” Abby and Brent, for supporting me and helping make the event happen successfully--I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you to the Graphics team for designing the fabulous banner. Thank you to Nancy Heinz for being the glue and Jacque Mallard for being the Scotch tape of the event. And thank you to Southwest Airlines for giving me the opportunity to participate in the most amazing Internship program in the country.