Alumni Spotlight: Danielle Calhoun, MFJS '10
Danielle (English) Calhoun graduated from the University of Denver in 2010 with a graduate degree in strategic communication (the precursor to today's MA in media & public communication). Today, she serves as Vice President, Platform Strategy at Weber Shandwick.
Like many students, Calhoun started college with a very different path in mind. She attended Kansas State University and originally chose to become a clarinet major. "Then when I got to college," she remembered, "there was such an opportunity to take a lot of classes and to try a lot of different things." She took a writing course on a whim, and from there moved on to courses in journalism and strategic communication.
"Once I learned what public relations was," she said, "I looked back on the clubs and groups I was a part of in high school and realized it was one of the things I had been doing all along, like running the promotions for school plays and things. It was the natural evolution of things I already loved doing."
After graduation, Calhoun chose the University of Denver's MS in Media, Film & Journalism Studies to further develop her interest in public relations.
"The benefit of the degree from DU is that the program offered a lot of flexibility," she said. "I was able to take classes in graphic design and digital marketing as well as writing and strategic communications. It was great, because companies were just starting to use social media and were ramping up their online marketing. Because I had these extra skills, I was able to kind of create my career from the word go."
She went on to say that, while she didn't always feel like an expert in the field at the beginning of her career, "my experiences at DU made me super confident that I could learn and build wherever I was."
Now at Weber Shandwick, Calhoun still puts the skills she learned at DU to good use. As Vice President, Platform Strategy, she works with companies and executives to find and effectively connect with their online audiences. She has worked with technology companies, wine regions in Spain, consumer sportswear companies and more, consulting on communication strategies for Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Calhoun is especially passionate about students; she ran Weber Shandwick's internship program in San Francisco for five years, and she is now senior counsel for all internship programs across the West.
Like the rest of us, Calhoun is adjusting to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it's been an especially interesting time to work for a global company that already relies on virtual communication; "with all of us working from home, it's really ignited the engine to connect human-to-human even more and to really utilize the video and other tools that are now available."
One of Calhoun's main clients is a healthcare organization that works on vaccine and treatment research. "Suddenly my focus has pivoted really strongly to how to communicate out their research in a meaningful way, but also to focus on mental wellness and how to reach the right people with that information," she said.
While she believes that the public relations and marketing fields will not change too much in the long term, Calhoun acknowledged that the short term response to COVID-19 may look a little different. Internship programs, mentorships and hiring continue to shift as companies choose to be cautious. "These things will take some time," she admitted, "but out field is perhaps better able to handle a shift like this. This may be a defining moment, but out industry can weather the storm."
Calhoun's advice for students graduating in the next few years is to never be afraid to reach out for job advice. She said students should contact guest speakers from classes and people they've met through extracurricular activities to ask for informational interviews and advice, or perhaps even to share their resume.
"People love to help others," she said, "and everyone understands what a hard transition this will be for students, especially now."
She says that the one thing she wishes more college students had the opportunity to learn is how to get your foot in the door at an organization. She says, "I think DU does a great job of talking about personal branding and building a portfolio and all those tactical things you need, but I still graduated feeling that my dream job was a black box. I promised myself I would go back and tell students how to unlock that black box."