Students attend the 2020 PRSSA D.C. Agency Tour

Editor’s note: MG Coffee, the Yarbrough-Grady Public Relations Fellow for the spring 2020 semester, attended the annual PRSSA D.C. Agency Tour with other PRSSA members.  

During the last week of January, 12 Grady students and PRSSA members, including myself traveled to Washington, D.C., for the annual PRSSA D.C. Agency Tour. The tour, led by Grady faculty members, Professor Joseph Watson, Jr. and Samantha Meyer, included visits to APCO Worldwide, Edelman, Powell Tate, National Geographic and the Office of Senator David Perdue.

Through office tours, round table discussions, company overviews and Q&A sessions with employees, this trip offered students an exclusive inside look into the agencies’ cultures. For many students, D.C. is the end goal post-graduation. This trip allowed those students to experience the city and get a feel for what day-to-day life there looks like.  

At the end of the tour, we all had the opportunity to shadow an agency or organization that interested us and aligned with our future career goals.  

“The trip gave us a holistic view of the communications industry, as we were able to visit public affairs agencies, government offices and non-profit organizations,” said student, Claire Gordon. “After experiencing each interest area, I have a better understanding of where my passions and skills are most applicable. I am so grateful to our advisers, Samantha Meyer and Joe Watson, for organizing this trip.”

On the first day, we visited APCO Worldwide where we spoke with a number of employees and specialists about the company’s mission, collaborative environment and entry level program, APCO+. Overall, the meetings educated us on the different specialties within the agency and how much work goes into each client’s case.  

Students meet with alumna, Jenni Sweat (front row, second from left), on Capitol Hill. (Photo: submitted by Joseph Watson, Jr.)

Later that day, we visited Senator David Perdue’s Office at the U.S. Senate and spoke with Grady alumna, Jenni Sweat (ABJ ’17). Currently Senator Perdue’s Deputy Press Secretary, Sweat shared with us what led her to D.C. and how she has grown professionally since graduating. Following the visit, we were led on a tour of the Capitol.  

The next day, our first visit was Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick where we watched a case study presentation and listened to a panel of past interns talk about their experience and advancement in the company. After, we attended an information session at Edelman and learned about the different sectors their D.C. office specializes in.   

That evening, we were able to network at the Grady Alumni Mixer in D.C. This special opportunity, set up by Grady College, allowed us to speak with former, now experienced Grady graduates about how they have excelled in their careers and how we can best position ourselves in D.C. 

To finish the trip, we each were assigned an agency or organization to shadow. This opportunity allowed us to expand on our previous agency visits and see a more in-depth view of what agency life entails.

“Being able to shadow at an agency was a perfect ending to the trip,” said student, Nell Warnock. “I had the opportunity to get a glimpse into the daily operations of Scott Circle Communications, a small agency founded by a former Grady Dawg, Laura Gross (ABJ ’95). After sitting in on a few client calls, I was offered great career advice from multiple staff members. I loved having the chance to see the inner workings of an agency and hope to keep those connections as I move forward with my job search.”

This year was the 11th anniversary of the tour, and we, as students, are grateful for the continued tradition and effort that goes into planning it every year.

“I’m so thankful that PRSSA offers its members so many unique opportunities to network and shadow in the field of public relations” said PRSSA president and program participant, Emma Crosby. “The D.C. agency tour was by far one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career, and I left D.C. with a renewed love for PR and communications.”

Faculty profile: Joseph Watson, Jr.

According to Joseph Watson, Jr., to understand a person, one has to understand who his heroes are and who he admires.

Watson, who spends his days teaching about public advocacy, issues management and shaping public opinion in political contexts, focuses on the ideals of individuals who have helped guide his professional path.

“Encouraging civility and civil discourse are my true motives,” Watson says, explaining not only what guides him, but what characterizes his heroes.

He is proud that his list of heroes is bipartisan, and includes Mother Teresa, William F. Buckley, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. And, then there are material nods to his other heroes, including his penchant for bow ties, a tribute to the late Democratic Sen. Pat Moynihan, and his black, horn-rimmed glasses modeled after those worn by Atticus Finch in the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”=

It was Watson’s father who planted the seed of a career related to politics at an early age.

Watson grew up in a household where his father, a union steelworker, followed Democratic politics and regularly watched shows like “Meet the Press” on television.

An ideology class in college led him to re-examine his political leanings, with a new fascination for conservatives like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and later, former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp.

It was also during this time that Watson started tutoring students in economics and realized the satisfaction that comes from teaching.

“I am most comfortable prepping others,” Watson explains. “I like working behind the scenes, and I get a natural high from working with young people to help them achieve their goals.”

Two years out of law school, Watson began working on Capitol Hill where he served as the legislative director for Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, which led to an appointment working on Internet policy in the George W. Bush Administration. A move to the private sector in 2005 brought him to Exelon, a Fortune 100 energy company, where he ultimately served as the director of public advocacy.

Three years ago, the urge to teach returned to Watson, and he left Exelon to serve as the Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications. The Public Affairs Professional Certificate program is offered in partnership with the School of Public and International Affairs and is the first of its kind in the country, offering an education that promotes a holistic combination of political science, journalism and public relations courses for undergraduates.

Joe Watson frequently brings guests into his class to talk with as a way of keeping his lessons fresh and current. (Photo: Dayne Young)

While Watson doesn’t care for the current climate of political divisiveness, he does appreciate the learning opportunities it provides.

“Whatever is going on, we are going to talk about it,” Watson says about his teaching that brings students together at watch-parties during political debates and mid-term elections.

Watson also relishes the special topics courses he teaches, including one on civil rights and his current class on the women’s rights movement taught for the centennial of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony used public affairs communications to achieve their objectives and create an environment where those laws were passed. I teach my students to use those same tools.”

Watson also directs the intensive Grady D.C. program each summer where students live in Delta Hall while working full-time internships and taking an online class.

“One of the most important lessons I can teach is how to renormalize bipartisan relationships and friendships,” Watson says. “It’s important at an early age for students to get comfortable with people they may not see eye to eye with and have meaningful conversations.”

Watson is proud to be working alongside Tieger in developing the program. Tieger is a 1969 alumna of Grady College who has prospered in a public affairs career spanning more than 40 years in Washington, D.C., and most currently in Naples, Florida.

“It’s an honor to lead the first program in the nation that prepares undergraduates in this area,” Watson said. “There are several master’s programs that focus on public affairs communications, but there is no reason that students should have to wait until graduate school for this education.”


Joe Watson appointed Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications

Watson leads first-ever Public Affairs Communications program in the nation

The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication announced the appointment of Joseph Watson, Jr. as the first Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor of Public Affairs Communications. In this role, Watson will oversee the first program in the nation to provide students with practical training in the strategy and practice of public affairs communications focused on public policy and politics.

“The Tieger Professorship is the direct result of the vision and the generosity of Carolyn Caudell Tieger who wanted to give Grady students a leg up in public affairs communications careers,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “We are beyond thrilled to have someone of Joe’s experience join us to help bring this vision to fruition. Grady students for generations to come will benefit from this unique and timely program.”

Watson brings 20 years of experience in public affairs, campaigns, and communications to Grady College. He served as an appointee in President George W. Bush’s administration as a senior advisor to former U.S. Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald from Illinois, and also managed federal government affairs for Exelon Corporation, a Fortune 100 energy company, in Washington, D.C.  Most recently, Watson, a graduate of Harvard Law School, led Exelon’s Public Advocacy group, where he managed issue advocacy campaigns.

“I am both humbled and honored to serve as the first Carolyn Caudell Tieger Professor,” said Watson. “This endowed professorship offers me the opportunity to teach and mentor the next generation of public affairs communicators at one of the nation’s leading journalism and communications schools. As someone who cares deeply about the future of our nation, I believe we need to do everything we can to encourage the best and the brightest to pursue careers in public affairs and to equip them with the skills they need to be successful.”

“I am delighted that Joe has been appointed to the professorship that bears my name,” said Tieger. “While students are more interested than ever in politics and public policy, there is no established curriculum, outside of Grady, that equips students with the ability to hit the ground running when entering jobs in these career fields.  Given Joe’s background and credentials, Grady has chosen the perfect person to lead this effort. There is no substitute for real world experience when it comes to preparing our students for jobs, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to help Grady launch this program and even more thrilled to now have Joe there to shepherd it.”

Classes from the Public Affairs Communications program, together with classes from the Applied Politics program offered by the university’s School of Public & International Affairs, create the new Public Affairs Professional certificate curriculum.

Watson can be found on Twitter @ProfJoeWatson