What I wish I’d known starting out in PR
It’s graduation season: that time of year when many new PR pros are entering the world of work.
When you’re new to public relations, you have a lot to learn.
Here are some lessons that may not be taught in class but will help you as you navigate through your career.
1. Work hard to stand out. Did you know that the number of PR practitioners is now more than four times greater than that of journalists? A recent story stated there are now 4.8 PR pros to every reporter. I don’t know about you, but I found this to be an eye-opening statistic. What it means for those new to the profession is—you need to rock it. Build a solid foundation by honing your writing and storytelling skills, which will be important whatever your ultimate PR career goal may be. And, check your attitude at the door. Go the extra mile without being asked, and you’ll get further faster.
2. Write! We all know how vital this is—it’s one of those skills that will always matter to PR practitioners. What’s the best way to become a better writer? Write. If you don’t have a lot of writing experience, find ways to write more—ask for opportunities at work or even write your own blog. Even if no one else reads it, the experience you gain is well worth it.
3. Join—and get involved in—a professional organization. The benefits of this are many. Probably the most important benefit is growing your network. You can also volunteer to gain new skills or grow existing ones. In addition, volunteering is a great way to get to know others. Another tip: When you’re just out of school, some organizations offer a deeply discounted membership (such as the American Marketing Association, which offers a “young professional membership”), so even if your employer won’t cover it, you can most likely afford the cost. Look at as an investment in your future.
4. With media relations, the story doesn’t always appear—and that’s not our fault. Even after you’ve pitched a story and scored an interview, the story may not appear. This is out of our control, unfortunately. Sometimes, it’s just delayed. Other times, the story is killed altogether. And, we may not always learn why. This ISN’T the fault of PR. It’s part of the news business. You do your best, but sometimes, you have no control over when—or if—the story appears. Does the client always understand this? No. But it’s a reality of the biz. Don’t waste time feeling too badly. Just move on.
5. Pitches can fail. Yes, media pitches can fail. It’s part of media relations. But that doesn’t always mean giving up. If you don’t get a response to your pitch, there are other alternatives. You can try sending it again. You can try reaching out via social media. You can rewrite the pitch. You can even try self-publishing via a platform such as LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. Get creative and don’t give up too quickly.
6. The client doesn’t always understand PR. While you have an understanding of what PR is—and what it isn’t—the client may not. Whether you work in-house or at an agency, there are situations when education is in order. PR isn’t advertising. And, it isn’t a “one and done” type of activity. You may also want to explain that while PR can open doors for them, they need to be an active participant in the process for it to be successful.
7. Editors will sometimes change your work—and you have to be OK with that. There are times when your editor (or your boss or client) will make changes to your work that you don’t agree with. You need to learn when it pays to pursue your point, and when it’s better to let it go. I once had a manager who disagreed with me over a term I used in a contributed article that I knew was right—he said no. At the end of the day, he was the boss, so I had little choice after I voiced my side than to let it ride his way. Yes, it was difficult. Eventually, he admitted he was wrong and apologized. But, had I pushed too hard, it may have caused a rift that didn’t need to happen. Pick your battles. You have to know when to fight—and when to suck it up.
8. Your career path may not always lead straight up the ladder. As you begin your journey, know there may be twists and turns along the way—and that’s perfectly OK. You may start out in one area only to find you prefer focusing on another element of the work. And, it’s great to gain experience in a variety of companies and work environments so you know what you like best. There are things to be learned from working in agencies, startups, small businesses, corporations and nonprofits. You may love being a big fish in a small pond, or the opposite. One note: Whatever path you choose, agency experience can be valuable. If you have an opportunity to work at one for even a year, you’ll gain a sense of how accounts are set up and get a taste of the roles. And, learning how to handle client service will benefit you no matter what path you ultimately pursue.
Have other tips for new grads entering the PR world? Share with us on Twitter.
Michelle Messenger Garrett is a public relations consultant, speaker and award-winning writer with more than 20 years of agency, corporate, startup and Silicon Valley experience. She works with clients ranging from small businesses to enterprises such as Adobe and HP, assisting them in crafting and carrying out a PR strategy to help them get the word out, get noticed and increase visibility, prospects and sales.
Photo: Graduation caps via Shutterstock