COLA Connections Newsletter: Winter 2015

From Sportzone to Code and Theory: Kayla Zerby’s Journey Through Public Relations

Kayla Zerby graduated from RIT in 2005 after completing the Professional and Technical Communication program here in the Department of Communication in COLA. Like many of the current majors featured in the now School of Communication, it was a relatively small major that allowed for close-knit relationships between students and faculty. Zerby said that it “felt very much like family.”

Many of her favorite professors are still with the school: David Neumann, Rudy Pugliese, Pat Scanlon, Keith Jenkins, Grant Cos, and Bruce Austin are just a few that she names as sources of inspiration. Zerby said that her first meeting with Bruce Austin was part of the reason that she wanted to come to RIT; she knew that she “wanted to be a part of what he was building.”

Early on in Zerby’s time at RIT, Rudy Pugliese encouraged her to sign up to be part of the staff at Reporter magazine. She soon became Managing Editor, and said that being a part of Reporter changed her entire college experience. She said that everyone she worked with there “knew they were a part of something special.”

Writing, reporting, and editing are among Zerby’s passions, and she tried out nearly everything that RIT offered. She was Secretary of PR in Student Government, she edited COLA’s then newsletter (called Liberal Smarts), and even hosted Sportszone. Through connections she made at RIT, she met Mike Johansson from the Democrat & Chronicle, who ended up giving her a career column in a weekly they were publishing then. The column centered on Rochesterians with interesting jobs; one of her favorites included Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother Gordy Hoffman, who founded the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

Later, Zerby interned at a small TV station in her hometown, and also took a summer internship in the promotions department at Universal Records in New York. She said that the most valuable lesson she learned at RIT is that college isn’t just about classes, but about the connections you make and what you do outside class. She said that the real world cares less about classes and grades and more about what you built on your own while you were in college.

Zerby said that that advantages of RIT are numerous. The people she met here have been very important to her career. Most of all, she said that if she’d gone to a purely liberal arts school, she would have missed out on all of the engineers, developers, photographers, and designers that RIT has. Its multidisciplinary nature is key. “You just learn by osmosis there. If you’re too siloed in one discipline, you can’t know what’s possible,” she said.

Since graduating, she’s worked in a variety of positions, mainly in the public relations field. For nine years, she worked in small to mid-sized PR firms in DC, Southern California, and New York City, managing accounts ranging from major law firms to startups. About two years ago, she decided to go in-house as PR Director of a company called Code and Theory, which is one of the largest remaining independently-owned creative agencies in the U.S. The company is known for redefining the publishing industry with clients like LA Times and Vogue, creating marketing programs for brands like Dr. Pepper and Burger King, and even designing physical products like a portable satellite receiver for Outernet. Zerby says “It’s my job to make sure the ad/design/marketing industry knows our work and how we think.”

She loves her current job, and says it’s the perfect mix of communication, design & technology. “I’m always learning, and my days are never the same,” she said.

Overall, Zerby said that her time at RIT guided her towards a fulfilling career. She recommends not worrying too much about your grades or GPA, and instead to go out and build, create and do something. This enthusiastic and productive inclination is exactly what fuels that practicality that makes our Liberal Arts College unique.