Photo of Samantha Balcaceres
Samantha Balcaceres has been selected for this year’s Outstanding Public Relations and Advertising Scholar Award.
Photo courtesy of S. Balcaceres.

PR master’s grad harnesses skills as advocate for representation

For Samantha Balcaceres, hospitality is the lens through which she approaches public relations. That concept of generosity and welcoming runs deep for her; she credits it to her upbringing as part of a large family with roots in Nicaragua.

“They’ve always been the model of hospitality and hard work,” she said. “There’s a warmth in our culture, and it’s just always in my nature to be hospitable, to want to give back.”

Balcaceres views her field as fundamentally about delivering important messages to people for whom they’ll make the biggest difference. Unfortunately, she has learned that enterprise gets more and more difficult in an age of information overload.

“There’s so much information out in the world,” she said. “Telling the right stories can make people more aware and move them to action.”

As she prepares to receive her master’s degree in public relations and advertising, Balcaceres looks ahead ready to channel her skills, grown through her studies and work-world seasoning, to help organizations tell better, more-inclusive stories.

“The more I get involved in the PR and advertising world, the more I realize how much work needs to be done to tell more diverse and expressive stories,” she said. “It’s something I try to advocate for in all of my projects.”

The draw of that mission and her passion for broadening representation are based partially in Balcaceres’ own history. As just the second person in her family to pursue higher education (after her older sister, also a Trojan), she was determined to get the absolute most out of her graduate studies at USC Annenberg. She sought out a series of internships to assemble as comprehensive a professional toolkit as she could.

“I wanted to experience as many different industries that piqued my interest as possible,” said Balcaceres, who was selected for this year’s Outstanding Public Relations and Advertising Scholar Award. “After all, when will I have two years of freedom to try so many different things again?”

Balcaceres has set a foundation of varied experience for her career through USC Annenberg, from nonprofit PR to film publicity, corporate internal communications to agency-based media relations.

Before arriving at USC, however, she found that navigating the college world felt more like charting fresh ground.

“There was a lot of figuring things out that I just didn’t know about,” Balcaceres said, “Sometimes I didn’t even know what questions to ask.”

She gained a lot from her undergraduate education — especially a perspective-altering year studying in Paris. However, she laments that she didn’t take part in internships earlier along.

“I didn’t discover internships until I did one during my year abroad,” she said. “Up until then they were unknown to me. It goes back to the right information reaching the right people and the notion of diverse communications representing people like me doing these things.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in international relations, Balcaceres spent two and a half years working in communications at a nonprofit. The choice to return to college was motivated by the desire to accelerate her career growth.

“I wanted to be the best at my job,” she said. “And everybody knows that USC Annenberg is the best of the best for communications.”

A sense of support and vast possibility pervaded her time as a graduate student. Coming in with a Dean’s Scholarship, she would add scholarships from the LAGRANT Foundation and the Latino Alumni Association. In addition to internships at places such as Domino’s and PR firm Weber Shandwick, she benefited greatly from both alumni mentoring and faculty encouragement.

“This is where I was supposed to be,” Balcaceres said. “I could never have imagined the number of opportunities and doors being opened over the last few years, with faculty who feel like they’re your biggest champions.”

As she weighs her options, she’s facing her first career move after graduating with confidence — and the ambition to inspire others when she can.

“I think this experience has set me up for whatever comes next,” she said. “I definitely want somebody else to see me and say, ‘Oh yeah! She did it. I can do it, too!’”