Microsoft marketing manager sheds light on PR for UW students

UW students interested in working in the public relations or marketing professions recently sat down with Brian Seitz, the senior marketing manager at Microsoft.

On Jan. 15, Seitz led a revealing discussion in the Communications building with the UW chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. The workshop focused on the ever-changing PR profession, as well as companies’ recent adaptation to various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Seitz shared hilarious and fascinating anecdotes about his time working in PR and marketing—most notably his recent work with Microsoft’s Windows Phone—answering students’ questions about how to build a social media strategy and a brand image, and how Microsoft specifically handles its social media campaign.

A native of Redmond and a graduate of Central Washington University in 1999, Seitz soon went to work for the global public relations company Hill & Knowlton as an assistant account executive. In January of 2001, he moved on to work for the Seattle-based PR firm Waggener Edstrom as an account manager, working with Microsoft. In February of 2006, Seitz began his work at Microsoft, and has been there for the past seven years.

Seitz offered job-hunting advice to the students.

“As you guys are kind of thinking about your career, and the things that would get you fired up every day, you want to think about what area you want to cover, because you’re going to be reading about it and writing about it every day,” Seitz said.

Seitz also suggested thinking critically about whether you want to work for a big company or a small company. For those interested strictly in PR, he recommended working for a smaller company at first, for various reasons.

“It’s going to give you so much flexibility, in terms of what you can work on, the people you’re going to be working with, and it also allows you to move really fast if you’re really good,” he said. “So if you’re really smart, and you’re doing good work, you can move through an agency pretty quick, and become a leader.”

Seitz cautioned that it’s extremely difficult to get into the corporate level right out of school. Companies like Microsoft don’t hire PR students straight out of school, because their business in not in PR. Rather, they can hire established professionals who have already been working in the industry for 15 or more years.

When it comes to smaller PR firms, though, Seitz explained that they are more likely to hire recent college graduates, because they are specifically in the business of public relations.

In addition to offering advice, Seitz shared his experiences and challenges he faced while working on the Zune, and more recently, the Windows Phone, which is a direct competitor to Apple’s popular iPhone.

Seitz explained that while Microsoft, in essence, invented the smart phone and did an excellent job with it in the beginning stages, when Apple released the iPhone in 2007, smart phones were no longer looked at as devices strictly made for and used by business professionals. Instead, Apple made it clear that anyone could and should operate a smart phone, and Microsoft soon fell behind in the mobile phone department.

Seitz maintains that while Apple is doing well in the mobile phone sector, Microsoft still has an enormous hold on PCs, sells millions of Xbox gaming systems, and is making large headway in the mobile phone industry with its more personal approach to the Windows Phone.

One of Seitz’s more interesting anecdotes involved his failed bid for a spot on the Redmond City Council in 2007. Seitz ran against David Carson, a software test engineer, who still holds his council position today. Despite losing by a mere 175 votes, and not having the financial or political support to defeat Carson, Seitz believed he was a more informed and knowledgeable candidate than Carson.

“When we would go to these candidate forums, I would just shred this dude, because he couldn’t think on his feet, he couldn’t talk in front of people,” Seitz said. “If he did think about what he was going to say before he went, he didn’t think about it for very long.”

He added that because his profession required him to work with the press and think on the fly, it helped him learn how to deal with tough questions.

“Even if it’s to a point where you’re like ‘I don’t know,’ that’s a perfectly reasonable answer,” Seitz said.

For Seitz, running for City Council was a good experience, but when asked if he would run again, he quickly said he wouldn’t do so anytime soon.

For the UW students who attended the workshop, the hour-long discussion wasn’t just helpful and informative, but motivating.

“If anything, Seitz’s talk made me more inspired to work in marketing or PR,” said Kristen Baker, a senior studying communications. “Hearing him talk about ‘working for the underdog’ as he reinvented the Windows phone was extremely inspiring. The idea of creating a new story for a product really made me look forward to starting a career of my own.”

Sean Fraser, current president of the UW PRSSA, also enjoyed the workshop and information Seitz provided, saying that Seitz made working at a major corporation like Microsoft more accessible.

“Every professional I talk to makes me more excited to delve deeper into the PR/marketing industry,” he said. “I’m already incredibly passionate about the field and am excited to join the profession, yet every PRSSA meeting makes me even more sure of my love for this career path.”

By LUKE SEVERN

UW News Lab