Life in PR: expectation vs. reality
Most of what our friends and family know about public relations probably comes from the movie Jerry Maguire. Sure, he’s a sports agent, but definitely a PR professional as well. Family and friends think PR pros enjoy the same fancy offices, the private planes, expensive meals and high profile clients as Mr. Maguire.
Realistically, this line from the movie probably sums it up more accurately than all of the excess. Jerry Maguire tells one of his clients, “I am out here for you. You don't know what it's like to be me out here for you. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok? Help me. Help me help you.”
Here are some common myths about the PR world and the truth about what life is really like in this exciting profession.
Expectation: You’re going to be known for your fantastic writing, just like at the college newspaper or community blog you used to write for.
Reality: All of your writing will be published under someone else’s name.
Who You Gonna Call? Not Ghostbusters, but ghostwriters. You will spend hours carefully crafting a message that strikes a professional and a caring tone, uses illustrative examples and is grammatically perfect.
You were able to turn a client’s building being shut down because of a mold infestation into an educational moment for the community thanks to your well-written statement. Congratulations, your crisis just became a huge opportunity. A local outlet pulls a line from your shareholder’s letter and it is then picked up nationally. In turn, your client gets their highest web traffic in company history.
Congrats, but guess what? It will be publicized under someone else’s name. The CEO might use it as her public statement or an in house Communications Director might release it to the press with her contact info, and only you will know whose hand was holding the pen.
Expectation: You’re in an office working 9 to 5.
Reality: You’re always available for you clients or the C-Suite. Even on the weekends. At midnight.
During orientation you may have been told the office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour for lunch. Sure, that sounds familiar; reasonable, even. But you’ve never taken a full hour for lunch because you’re busy returning reporter phone calls before their 1 p.m. deadline and you’ve got to get that blog post written and scheduled because you know traffic to the site is highest before 3 p.m. Sayonara, lunch break.
And the weekend work? It’s okay because you’ll be attending fabulous parties and having engaging conversations with journalists and bloggers, right?
More likely than not, you’ll be prepping the client in the kitchen of the venue about her upcoming remarks while you stuff media packets with the latest draft of the press release. And you’ll be talking to the caterer about why there isn’t any scotch, when you told her specifically your new client’s CEO is a scotch fan. And where is the vegetarian option for the CFO’s wife?
Sure, you’ll have time for dinner and a drink, after the event is over. But you’ll be on such a natural high from pulling off a successful event that it won’t matter.
Expectation: Everyone is in the PR world is so professional and polite!
Reality: You’re going to need a really thick skin.
An important life lesson: just because you are a professional does not mean that everyone will act professionally towards you.
Journalists may gruffly reject your pitches out of hand. People who comment online may make personal swipes at you and your work. Your supervisor may harshly reject a new idea. Clients may hang up on you.
Thanks to your crisis communications skills, you are able to stay cool under pressure. You know to refer back to your strategic planning documents and follow the steps outlined therein. Many PR professionals get almost zen-like in an emergency. But your clients and supervisors will not react the same way. Being well prepared with a plan is critical in these moments.
Expectation: You got your degree in Communications, so you are done learning.
Reality: The learning never stops. You’re now a Jack or Jill of all trades.
Thanks to serving clients as varied as a local non-profit food bank and an international manufacturer, you necessarily become conversant in lots of fields.
You will constantly be on the lookout for national stories that you could tie to a local client and you’ll find yourself reading trade journals about all sorts of fields. Hate going to the dentist? Too bad – you may serve the National Dental Association one day and need to know all about their latest technology. Not a sports fan? Maybe the local AAA baseball team is rebranding, so you’ll need to learn all about ERAs and RBIs.
Of course, you’ll need to stay abreast of new tactics and tools. What changes did Facebook just make on the Insights dashboard? Is Google Analytics still the best way to go for visitor stats and demographics? The learning never stops.
Expectation: You’re going to like working in PR.
Reality: If you’re prepared and find the right team, you’ll LOVE it.
You look at the world a bit differently. You won’t just read the news. Now you’ll wonder “Was that athlete’s announcement written by an agency or self-created?” Or when you see that the local grocery store’s new logo is modernized but still true to the brand, you’ll think “I wonder who their graphic designer is?” Or when you’re at a party and you hear one of your talking points about the area university’s new president repeated back to you, you’ll think to yourself, “This is anecdotal evidence. I should make note of it and check our other metrics to see if they also favored that talking point. Maybe I’ll move that up to the lead of the next blog post.”
Public relations is an exciting field since no two days are alike and your mind is constantly in motion. If the idea of never knowing what your day will have in store excites you, you’re going to love it – no matter what the reality has in store for you.