"Every company is waiting with bated breath for a customer-service snafu to blow up online," says Lauren Melcher.

Melcher can help companies prepare for that dreaded day. She and her colleagues set up mock panic rooms, where they use specially designed software to simulate social-media disasters. Corporate executives sweat it out around a conference table while Melcher and her colleagues make virtual mischief.

"It requires a lot of creativity," Melcher says. "We might simulate a brand's Facebook page, its Twitter account, a Twitter search for a certain hashtag and a Facebook page for a group of protesting 'madvocates.'"

The whole thing happens offline, but it feels unsettlingly real -- which is exactly the point.

"The value clients take away," says Melcher, "is that when a real issue happens, they're able to be rational. During the drill they've decided who needs to be in the room, and how they can deal with the issue quickly."

Melcher cut her PR teeth as a student at St. Olaf College, doing internships with New Hampshire Public Radio and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. She intended to move to Washington, D.C., and work in political journalism, but instead landed at a PR firm in Northfield, Minn. Last year, she took a job as a digital strategist with the Minneapolis office of the international PR agency Weber Shandwick.

Now, Melcher says, "I wouldn't want to do anything different. I love being at a job where I get paid to learn and understand things better. I feel like we're helping everyone to move forward in this digital age where things can change quickly."

Whether she stays in public relations for the long term, moves into venture capital or does something different, Melcher is confident that she'll keep working on issues involving emerging technology. "It's this adrenaline rush," she says. "You get addicted to figuring out what the next new thing will be."


  • Age: 26
  • Title: Digital strategist
  • Employer: Weber Shandwick
  • Hire date: 2011
  • Education: B.A. in English and management studies