Sylvia Weiler, general manager of advertising sales for the tourism vertical at Sojern, moved to San Francisco in the late 1990s during the dot com boom after leaving Bulgaria where acting taught her that putting on a good show is a lot like selling an ad.

Working with film studios in Washington, D.C. like Warner Bros. Pictures is where Sara Morgan, founder of Eleven Eleven PR, which has several travel clients, realized she could make any brand seem relevant. Studying broadcast news in college supported this developing philosophy of hers at the time.

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Morgan drafted press releases about movies and needed to make them seem like blockbuster hits even if that wasn’t to be their destinies.

Both Morgan and Weiler found their own inspiration to help them tell a brand’s story, and in doing learned how to better convey their passions. When students leave their college days behind, it’s up to them to continuously discover how to be their own advocate. They must make the decision each day to look at the big picture of where they want to go in a career and find the missing puzzle pieces to keep moving forward.

The Travel Alumni Spotlight is part of our State of Travel Education series, focused on showing how universities are preparing the industry’s future talent to be thought leaders and innovators.

This spotlight highlights individual stories to offer lessons on how people reached their current positions and how their education impacted their careers. It also shows the many paths professionals took to enter the industry, highlighting how success can be achieved along multiple routes.

Professionals from travel’s digital, aviation, hospitality, and tourism sectors appear in this spotlight. Here are this week’s three stories:

Sasha Kim: Catering Sales Manager at Omni Berkshire Place, New York City
School: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Degree: BS Hospitality and Tourism Management

“I graduated from college in 2013, and so far my job has been pretty much what I expected. The reason for that is that I’ve done a lot of internships, in various departments and segments of the industry, which all gave me the perfect picture of what the sales department within the hotel industry is. UMass really gives you the backbone structure of hotels because at the end of the day a hotel is a hotel, no matter what kind it is.”

“One of my biggest pieces of advice is to have a mentor for the department that you’re in. My strategy was to pick different mentors from different sectors of hotels to kind of peek into their roles to see if I was interested in their careers or not. I was really their shadow, and got to live and breath their roles.”

“I worked with someone from hotel procurement, and literally sat down with him every day and did a lot of number crunching. Mentors are great because they truly give you an unbiased position. If you’re speaking to an employer, they’ll tell you a story that they’ve been told to tell you.”

“A mentor will genuinely give you real advice, and there’s mutual interest on both sides to help. They’re nice to get a fresh point of view. Mentors were always most helpful when I didn’t have a direct work relationship with them.”

“Our industry is so fast-paced, and so intangible now more so than ever. I think everybody would agree that you have to start not just bottom-up, but you also have to be fearless and try everything that you possibly can, because it will only make you more knowledgable. For students, it’s really about getting your foot in the door, it will all enhance your opportunities.”

Sara Morgan: Founder of Eleven Eleven PR
School: University of Georgia
Degree: BA Broadcast News

“I started Eleven Eleven because I love small businesses and really wanted to help them tell a story. I work with some travel startups like Roadtrippers and have also worked with larger brands such as Intercontinental Hotel Group and U.S. Airways in the past. No matter who I’m working with, the challenge always is ‘How are you going make your clients story fresher each time?'”

“If you’re getting into PR, it’s really easy to find a client, but you really have to think ‘can i help this client and can i really help them get what they want?’ Publications can really sense when you’re not passionate about a company you’re pitching for.”

“Start in the smaller firms if you don’t have the experience. I was able to get so much experience that way. I think many times PR is taught from the books. The non-tangible part of PR that needs to be better taught in schools is how to build better relationships with reporters and editors. PR used to be all about phone calls, but I think it’s amazing how much people can learn about email etiquette. How do you break through all that noise? Stanford recently started teaching a course on email correspondence because they want to show how important good email etiquette is.”

“Here’s an example: People Magazine told me they receive 500 pitches before 9a.m. each day. They may not respond to someone until the 15th outreach attempt. You can’t give up on trying, and the magazine can really tell if you’re passionate about what you’re doing. I’m essentially a startup working with startups. My family and friends thought I was crazy working with small companies. Telling people I did PR for startups got such a different reaction two years ago when I started than what I get now. People are realizing that they can start their own companies now.”

Sylvia Weiler: General Manager of Advertising Sales, Tourism Vertical at Sojern
School: Art Institute of Seattle
Degree: AA Travel and Tourism Management

“I grew up in Bulgaria and went to college there before coming to the U.S., and one of the things I find really interesting personally is that I’ve made a lot of my career decisions by following my passions. I fell in love with theater and discovered my passion for performing arts, and decided to do a bachelors of theater in Bulgaria.”

“I attribute a lot of my success to theater. The ability to communicate a story to an audience and be brave and not afraid of anything are skills and qualities you need for working in advertising. I discovered I loved travel during last year of school in Bulgaria and that’s what led me to the states.”

“We’re a small industry even though we’re one of the biggest. Don’t be afraid to take a step back professionally and start at the bottom to take a couple steps forward in advertising. I graduated a long time ago, so I don’t have the best insight into what’s being taught to college students about advertising, but I do get to interview lots of young people. One thing I see with them is a huge value of having practical on-the-job exposure. If you haven’t been exposed to big data, you’ll have to pick up and learn that fast for an advertising career.”

“One of the biggest changes to travel advertising in the last five years is that there are so many tools and so much data to make decisions in much more ways than ever before. We now have data to build a mountain around a traveler, and the research component out of all the learning you gather through the data and understanding what you’ve done is huge now. As a marketer you have so many more data points for where and how to spend and how to measure what a traveler wants.”

Photo Credit: A college commencement ceremony. COD Newsroom / Flickr