On occasion, I’m asked to speak with public relations students on a variety of topics. These typically fall into standard categories: What to expect after graduation, what it is like is to work at an agency and – without fail – how to succeed in PR.
My experience with the latter question usually goes like this:
The stares. Oh my, the stares. Standing in front of a class full of eager PR students, inevitably I get them. The “teach us” stares. Then comes the question.
“How can I be successful in public relations?”
OK, so after getting asked this question over and over again, I sat down with my StrategicAmpersand colleagues and we came up with five PR career tips you won’t learn in school.
Now before I start, don’t get me wrong: Public relations courses and professors are terrific. I graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber and numerous colleagues of mine went to Humber for public relations. Your school, rightly, is focused on making you a great writer. But let’s take a look at what you won’t learn in school.
1. Understand your job and do it well
Before I go any further, let me be clear. Understanding your job is not the same as understanding your profession. Your chosen profession – you excellent, brilliant person – is public relations. Your job is the position you hold and the responsibilities that come with it.
Understanding your job means grasping the ‘why’ of what you are doing: why this reporter, why that pitch, why that day for the announcement. It also means understanding why you begin your career crafting media lists, interview notes and compiling press clippings.
And if you aren’t sure of what the why is, this is how I break it down: media lists, interview notes and press clippings are some of the building blocks of public relations. It’s important to take your time perfecting how you execute them, and others, in order to continue growing in your career.
2. Have a positive attitude
Yes, all your life you’ve been told that a positive attitude is important. But a positive attitude is more than a smile. It’s also about being humble and open to change, ideas and criticism. The golden rule applies to public relations, as it does in life: be respectful of other’s opinions, suggestions and treat people the way you want to be treated. There’s a lot to learn as you start your career.
3. Know what’s going on in the world
The PR industry revolves around the news cycle, much as Earth revolves around the Sun. Your news announcement will rise and/or fall based on what else happens that day. Know what is going on in the world so you can avoid high-profile events or competitor news. Read the news, understand your clients’ industries and keep an eye on competitors.
Don’t be afraid to show your boss what you can do. Share ideas. Ask questions. Work on a project from front to back and take ownership of your part. Look at how each person contributes to a project and see where your piece fits in, and how what you do impacts the overall success of the campaign.
5. Keep learning
PR is an evolving industry. Social media and citizen journalism are just two of the trends that have drastically impacted public relations since I started my career, and they won’t be the last. Be flexible and accept that every role is different in PR, and that you need to keep learning to evolve with the industry. And I also suggest that you do what I did: find a good mentor to help you along the way.
Do you have any tips for PR students that you weren’t taught in school? Please share them below.