How making other people’s coffee prepared me for a job in PR
Not everyone enters the chaotic world of public relations via the traditional method (if such a thing exists).
And while you may supplement your lack of classes with internships, a lot of what you learn in PR can come from other jobs and life-experiences.
One job that can be be incredibly valuable when transitioning to PR is working as a barista.
The set of skills it takes to be a barista are similar to the set of skills it takes to be a publicist.
Yes, I’m serious; no, I’m not high off too much caffeine. Let’s explore…
Organization is key
A barista is the person standing between you and your coffee.
It’s a dangerous place to be, and not for the faint of heart.
In order to stay on top of things, you’ve got to have an organizational method in place: Beans to the left, fridge with milk below you, utensils to the right -- you get the idea. The better organized you are, the better your flow will be.
The same can be said for public relations: Gather details, create media list, mail merge, upload assets into one place, and so on.
Publicists are some of the most organized people on earth, because they have to be. They need to know where their client’s correct bio is in a heartbeat to send on the go, and map out a press day without unnecessary travel and pit stops to utilize the time and fit in as many outlets as possible.
Without organization, a publicist will fail and a barista will curl into the fetal position as a crowd forms to watch.
Speed & multitasking
Have you ever been in (insert large coffee chain) at 8 a.m. and stuck in an incredibly long line that’s moving at a snail’s pace, dreaming about that first sip of caffeinated bliss?
How agitated have you become waiting for your triple-venti-half-caf-obscenely-long-drink-name?
It’s not a fun vibe to be in. Baristas move at Superman speed in a stressful environment simply to avoid the negative energy of a slowdown. They get into a rhythm and work on multiple drinks at once to get the crowd in-and-out as quickly as possible.
Being able to work quickly yet efficiently, while also multitasking on different projects, can be directly applied to public relations.
With the tight deadlines journalists face, publicists need to turn around a quote from their expert-client within hours, while simultaneously drafting a pitch for their other client’s new product that they just found out drops tomorrow. Otherwise, their clients are yesterday’s news and their customers’ drinks are wrong.
No one wants to get coffee from someone who is working in a mess.
Even if coffee grinds are a pain to keep tidy, it’s a barista’s job to stay calm and maintain a clean workspace as they hastily froth milk for your cafe au lait.
Unfortunately, all too often it’s a publicist’s job to clean-up as well. Their client went off the cuff during an interview, and is now trending on Twitter for words taken out of context. Your email is now flooded with requests for comment.
So what do we do? We stay calm, and maintain a clean workspace! We draft and redraft statements, making sure to look at our words from every possible angle, hoping people will see a beautifully frothed explanation.
We’re professionals at dating
As a barista, you learn to talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything.
Some customers just want to be handed their coffee and they’re off. Others want to tell you their life story.
And since you’re in customer service, you have to learn how to oblige them. You need to be quick on your feet with witty responses, and if they’re a regular you see everyday, you need to know how to small talk. Now do this with multiple people, multiple times a day. You become a pro at the “first date”; all of those “get to know you” questions you had when you first met your S.O.
The core of public relations is relationships; we have them with journalists, producers, bookers, editors and other publicists. Forming those relationships is like dating -- you take a reporter out to lunch and ask the same “get to know you” questions the person who handed you your morning latte asked just a few hours earlier.
And as your relationship grows, the more personal information you learn about the reporter/customer. You know when they went on vacation (got their OOO/didn’t serve them coffee for a week), you know when their birthday is (they invite you out to celebrate/they redeem their free coffee drink), and so on.
You are now in more relationships than you ever thought you’d be in, checking in on the booker who’s planning their wedding while asking your cappuccino-extra-foam-customer if their son got over the flu.
What I like to call being “bitchy-nice”
Also known as “aggressive-nice”, baristas are pros in providing upbeat customer service while simultaneously moving the stragglers at the register along. They’ll hand you your macchiato, laugh at the comment you make with a smile, and then turn around and whisper, “I have no clue what he just said.” And then eye roll in private.
Publicists have perfected the art of “bitchy-nice”.
You’re managing credentials for an event, and find a reporter has found their way to an area you don’t want them to be in. You can’t get annoyed like you may want to, because you have a relationship with them you need to maintain.
Instead, you smile, nicely (but sternly) explain they can’t be in that area, and kindly escort them back to their designated space. And then eye roll in private ;)
When it comes to being a publicist, there’s more to it than what’s written in a textbook or said in a class. So much of it comes down to gut instinct, common sense and the “real world”. As a barista, the best thing you’ll learn is to stay calm in chaos, and it will help so much as you advance in your PR career.
Never take those part-time or temporary jobs for granted; they can truly help you excel in your career goals.
Photo via Pixabay