Feature A

PR at Busch Gardens can be a Rollercoaster Ride

USF graduate Kelly Heckinger shares what it is like to be a publicist for Busch Gardens.

By Kirsty Churchill

Kelly Heckinger, Publicist for Busch Gardens, works on her computer in her Tampa office.

TAMPA– Kelly Heckinger, the publicist for Busch Gardens and Adventure Island in Tampa, Fl, landed her dream job after graduating from the University of South Florida in Dec. 2007 and now works to promote the parks around the Tampa Bay area.

While attending USF, Heckinger got a paid internship at Busch Gardens where she helped assist the media relations team. After receiving her mass communications degree with a specialization in public relations, the park hired Heckinger to work on the team permanently.

As the publicist for these Tampa parks, Heckinger works with her manager to get news about the parks out to the public so everyone is aware of upcoming events.

“Anything that you see in the newspaper talking about Busch Gardens or if you hear us on the radio or see us on television, all of those types of placements come from one of the two of us,” said Heckinger.

For the most part, Heckinger works a typical nine to five workday in her office, but she enjoys working for a company where she can occasionally leave her desk and spend a day in the amusement park.

Heckinger said: “I do spend a lot of time in my office either writing or going through the newspaper and all that everyday planning, but anytime there’s a shoot we are usually in the park. It’s a nice mix. It’s not boring.”

Like any person in the public relations industry, Heckinger has dealt with her share of  crises already in her short career. When an orangutan escaped its enclosure at Busch Gardens in May 2008, Heckinger was on the team that dealt with the incident.

Heckinger was in Orlando in Feb. 2010 when a trainer was killed at Sea World by a killer whale during a performance and was put on that team as well to help handle the situation. Her role mainly consisted of monitoring the company’s page on Facebook and using it as a way of communicating factual information with the public and eliminating rumors. Heckinger said that being able to handle situations such as these is an important aspect of public relations.

Heckinger highly recommends internships for students trying to get a job in the public relations industry. Paid internship opportunities for the team at Busch Gardens are posted at buschjobs.com. There you can apply and submit your resume. Usually about six interns are hired each semester after having a panel-style interview with each applicant.

Interns are considered the outreach team for Busch Gardens and play a vital role in helping promote events at the park. Heckinger described the interns as being the “ground-level face of the company” because they are the ones going to the beaches during spring break to pass out Busch Gardens Frisbees or at Latin nights at Tampa bars promoting the upcoming Viva La Musica event.

“Being able to have an internship teaches you so much that you don’t get in the classroom,” said Heckinger. “It’s really just a fantastic opportunity. Anywhere you can get an internship, go ahead and do that.”

Follow this link to listen to Kelly Heckinger talk about a Media Day at Busch Gardens:

Kelly Heckinger: Busch Gardens Publicist

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