What Seasoned PR Professionals Want You To Know When Starting Your PR Career

We are faced with a multitude of choices in our career journeys. If you’re anything like me, you were relieved and excited when the pieces fell into place and you decided what your dream career would be. But that relief was short-lived when you graduated college and realized that getting a first job that’s related to your career goals is not as easy as you thought it would be.

Things seem so simple when you are inside the structured environment of your university, but once you leave that, you must figure out the answer to the dreaded question: “What’s next?” Trying to break into a career on your own is intimidating, and it’s difficult to know what steps you need to be taking to make progress. But the good news is, there are plenty of things that you can be doing now to make yourself a valuable candidate for your dream job in public relations.

I interviewed 5 seasoned PR professionals who are members of PRSA’s College of Fellows to see what their advice is to those of us who are just starting our PR career journey. They provided wonderful insights that were so helpful and encouraging.

Here are the 6 tips to be successful at the start of your PR career:

1. Be Curious

The most common theme that came up in the interviews was the idea that you must be curious to be successful in the public relations industry. The concept of curiosity comes into play with public relations for several reasons. PR is a job that requires the ability to be dynamic and flexible in your approach. According to the seasoned professionals I interviewed, one important aspect of this is being a life-long
learner.

Katrina Schwarz explained, “You must be willing to put yourself out there and learn, even if it means putting in extra time and effort to get done what needs to get done.”

Dr. Joe Trahan said, “You must have a drive to be the very best, be open to challenges and to take on responsibilities, even if they are not in your specific area.”

Dianne Danowski Smith articulated how important it is to continue your development. She explained, “Your development doesn’t have to necessarily mean getting another degree. It could also be placing a value on growing your skillset. Show an interest in bettering yourself, and you show a willingness to learn.”

Gerry Corbett said, “Have big ears, listen well! This is the key to building knowledge and ability.”

2. Read

A recurring piece of advice from the pros was to be an active reader. I thought this was especially interesting because it’s not something that is commonly associated with professional development, but hearing the interviewees discuss it made me think that it should be! Reading does wonders for training up your mind and keeping you sharp.

Gerry explained, “The more you read, the better you write. Reading trains your brain to be able to write well, simply and quickly; and being able to write is your first key to success in your first PR job.” We all know how crucial it is to be an excellent writer if you want to be successful in public relations, and reading is an amazing way to maintain and grow your creativity and writing abilities.

In addition to this benefit, reading also provides valuable insight that you can use to stay up to date in your industry. Gerry said, “Think about what industry you want to work in and read as much as you can about that. Become a jack of all trades based on what your interests are. Explore blogs on what you want to do, and search PR blogs made by people who are doing what you want to be doing.”

3. Be a Self-Starter

The advice to be a self-starter seems to be everywhere, but what does it mean? A self-starter, according to the pros I interviewed, is all about taking initiative and finding creative ways to find solutions.

Have you been told that you don’t have enough experience to get that job you applied for? Don’t let frustration get the best of you. Be creative and find a way to get that experience. Dr. Joe advised that students can gain experience by reaching out to nonprofits. You can volunteer to write for them and end up with some stellar writing samples and valuable experience to talk about in your next interview.

Are you unhappy with your current job? Make the most out of what you have. Dianne said, “Remember that you may not love your first job, and that’s okay. Your first job is what you make it. If it’s not the perfect job, do what you can to make it the perfect job for now, and try to stay there for two years. You may have to work in opportunities you don’t love, but you can still be an asset to them and grow in the process.”

Being a self-starter is an attitude that employers can sense from you. When asked what she looks for in job candidates, Dianne said, “I assume they have training in writing/communication. I hire for attitude; you can’t teach that. You must always be curious, always interested in what’s going on beyond the surface level. You must show a company what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.”

4. Love Your Client

Kathy Hubbell said that her first mentor taught her the importance of loving your client. Working in public relations means you are constantly absorbing the values and stories of other people and companies. You must absorb them and resonate with them in order to successfully share their story with their audience in a meaningful way. Therefore, you must be passionate about the stories that you are telling. Otherwise, you will not compel any audience.

Kathy advised that new pros be careful when choosing who to work for. She said, “It is important to choose your company as carefully as they choose you. In PR, we promote a company’s values and ethics. If they don’t match yours, you’ll do a terrible job and you’ll be miserable.”

Dianne explained that she had learned something similar in her job. “When you work to make me look good, and I work to make you look good, it benefits everyone!”

5. Be Active

Every single pro who was interviewed discussed the importance of being active in professional organizations and in networking — especially new pros.

When asked what people can do to prepare themselves for success in getting their first PR job, Kathy noted, “Have broad contacts and make yourself available to other people. You can do this in PRSA by attending webinars, online chats — the more the better! PRSA is a non-competitive organization, which means you can search the directory and find someone to ask for advice. As long as it’s not a conflict of interest, they’ll help.”

When asked if there was something that she wished she’d known when starting her career in PR, Katrina said, “I was a late bloomer in taking advantage of networking groups. Get out there and network as soon as possible. Building relationships is something you should start early on.”

Gerry emphasized his belief that having a board of mentors is crucial to your professional development. He said, “it’s good to have a mentor, but it’s better to have a board of them. Find people who are doing what you want to do, get to know them, strike up a conversation with them. Don’t limit yourself to one person, different people can bring different perspectives.”

6. Know Your Value and Be Able to Communicate It

I think Gerry said it best: “KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.” We’ve heard this phrase in relation to preparation for interviews, and I think it is especially applicable for landing a position in public relations. You must show that you can communicate your value to your employer, because if you can’t market yourself, how would you be able to market the company?

When asked what he looks for in candidates, Gerry said, “I look for someone who can communicate very succinctly on what values they could bring to an employer. This translates to knowing your value so you can communicate it to them. A candidate is memorable when they can do this. Your resume must also communicate your value.” He added that taking the time to create and practice your 30-second elevator speech is a key to communicating your value to an employer.

Breaking into a new career is not always easy, but is definitely possible. The main takeaway that I got from hearing the advice from these seasoned pros is that we have more control over our career than we may think. It is easy to feel like we must follow a set path to success that is built for us by an employer or professor. And while it is true that development through education and your job experiences is highly important, we can’t forget that the most crucial key to success is the attitude we have and the growth we create on our own.

Being an asset to a company is a skill that we must develop within ourselves. Developing yourself professionally and personally takes dedication, motivation, and creativity. Development is the way to make yourself stand out from everyone else, and it is the way to maximize the value you can bring to an employer — and to yourself.

A Personal Brand: The Key to How New Professionals Rise to Leadership

Having a personal brand is more than just creating a statement, it’s about your professional attitude.

This is one lesson I learned while at PRSA’s New Professionals Summit in New York City in August.

Emily Nichols-Mitchell, CEO of Accelerations Group and a certified executive coach, led an energized and interactive session titled “Create a Powerful Personal Leadership Brand to Gain Instant Credibility.”

Emily gave examples of famous personal brands, such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Oprah, explaining how they all have their own story of how they continue to achieve success.

She then asked us to consider what our brand story could be, such as a unique memory we have that inspires us to do what we love, and challenged us to think about how we can continue to edit our brand and use it in our professional careers.

Troy Thompson, who works at PRSA, thought the workshop proved very beneficial for everyone who attended.

“Emily’s branding workshop is ideal for professionals looking to strengthen their online presence,” Troy said. “Her sessions include best practices and examples that provide attendees with a clear road map for packaging themselves to achieve greater career success.”

Key Takeaways:

Improving your personal brand can benefit your job and online presence.
Brian Edmonds, Communications Specialist Associate at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, said, “Before Emily’s workshop, I never really paid close attention to what I wanted my brand to be or how it was being perceived. Afterwards, it was all I could think about. I now find myself considering how anything I do, whether work projects or updating my LinkedIn profile, will enhance or hurt my brand. I believe this attention to detail will be great for my career going forward.”

Ask friends what traits they would use to describe you.
“Your friends help build and personify your brand,” Emily said. She also offered recruiter tips for building an online brand, such as always editing your LinkedIn profile, broadening your network and strategizing your posts on outlets such as LinkedIn.

Everyone needs personal branding, no matter what career stage you are in.
“Employers are not only looking at your resume but how you portray yourself in conversation and online,” Hanna Porterfield, Chair of the PRSA New Professionals Section, said. “In a competitive job market, personal branding can help you stand out and provide the value you bring to a team. All new professionals should consider building a personal brand throughout their career just as they focus on building hard and soft skills within the industry.”

Jordan AppelJordan Appel is a member of PRSA and the PRSA New Professionals Section. He is an Associate at CommunicationsMatch, a New York-based start-up search engine. He is also a graduate of Rowan University. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

New Professional Spotlight: Shannon Nicholson

 

Name: Shannon Nicholson
Job Role: Program Director, West Virginia University Office of Graduate Admissions
Education: B.S. Journalism, ’14, M.S. Data Marketing Communications, ’17 – WVU Reed College of Media
Social Media: @shannonicholson (Twitter) and @shannonpauline (Instagram)

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?

My first job in the industry was at a small, B2B advertising agency in Morgantown, WV. I was exposed to all facets of marketing: content development, direct email, digital advertising, media relations, social media, traditional media, and website design (to name a few). What I did not know before I started my Junior Account Manager position was the importance of tying campaigns to business goals, breaking down department silos, and utilizing collected data to be relevant and timely. Enter the Data Marketing Communications, fully-online, graduate program. This program allowed me to bridge my interest in the business-side of marketing and my growing expertise in the field.

How did you find internships/jobs?

As a WVU student and alumni, I have an amazing resource at my disposal- MountaineerTrak powered by the Career Services Center. MountaineerTrak was my first line of defense. During my years as an undergrad, the Reed College of Media hired a Director of Student Careers and Opportunities, Eric Minor. Eric’s weekly “opportunity” email quickly became my go-to resource. Eric is the perfect liaison between current students looking for experience and alumni looking to provide that experience as a way to give back to their alma mater.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge I have faced in my young career has been introducing new procedures, and strategies from the ground up. In my current role, I assumed that after six months and I’ll be like a well-oiled machine and have already implemented new strategies. I soon realized that implementation would take closer to one year. The next year will be spent analyzing, and the following year will be about growth and optimization. It is hard not to get ahead of myself and want to be at year three, today! Really, the biggest challenge is not trying something new, it is pacing myself to check one step off the list at a time. Devoting 110% to each step without getting ahead of myself and potentially losing sight of details that could later derail all that the team has worked towards. Slow and steady wins the race.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?

Differing experiences, bring perspective. In my Data Marketing Communications cohort, students had varying backgrounds in data, graphic design, marketing, sales, etc. Listening to each other’s viewpoints helped the entire cohort approach problems with an open mind.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?

You won’t know unless you try.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?

There are a lot of different ways to apply your marketing/PR knowledge. Don’t limit yourself to certain industries or titles. Today, there are more opportunities than ever to be creative with your knowledge.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?

I think the biggest benefit of the New Pros section is the opportunity for engagement and networking. PRSA boasts amazing partners, and communities for growth and learning. I was particularly drawn to the #NPPRSA Twitter chats. Twitter chats have been a great outlet to informally discuss specific topics with others in the industry. I have found that those who participate want to engage and share. Even simply reading through threads has helped open my eyes to areas outside of my expertise.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?

You will never stop learning. When you think you know enough, there is always more. It is important to be vigilant about the changes within your field.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.

I have a Bengal Cat that is about 20 lbs, who acts more like a small dog than a cat.

This New Professionals spotlight is sponsored by West Virginia University. If you are a member of PRSA New Pros and interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

 

Catching Up with Past PRSA New Pros Leaders: Where they are today and their advice

PRSA’s New Professionals section is a membership organization 1,100 people strong. And with a combined social media following of more than 15,000, it’s easy to tell there’s a network of New Pros “alumni” and supporters across the country. We recently caught up with some past-Chairs of the section to see how PRSA involvement has shaped their careers and where they are now.

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Sarah Siewert, 2011 New Pros Chair
Vice President, Ketchum — Chicago, Ill.

Leah Moon, 2012 New Pros Chair
Marketing Program Manager, Esko — Dayton, Ohio

Heather Sliwinski, 2014 New Pros Chair
Senior Account Director, Gravitate PR  — San Francisco, Calif.

Nick Lucido, 2015 New Pros Chair
Vice President, Global Practice Development, Edelman — Chicago, Ill.

Brian Price, 2017 New Pros Chair
Corporate Communications Manager, Starwood Retail Partners — Chicago, Ill.


What is a piece of advice you have for today’s new professionals?

Sarah: Build your network before you need it. By its nature the PR/marketing industry relies on relationships – from your first job offer to a client referral – take time to foster and build it starting in the classroom and volunteer positions.

Leah: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Give your opinion. Stand out.

Heather: So many learnings I’d want to pass on. First, say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, especially if it scares you. The biggest risks I’ve taken in my career have turned out to be the most rewarding. Second, be proactive, take chances and make the most of every experience you get.

Nick: Read more, subscribe to, and pay for good journalism. A deep understanding of business, government, media and non-profit organizations will make you a more informed counselor to your clients.

Brian: PRSA and New Pros offer many benefits to assist in building a career. From wide-angle industry perspective, developing mentors to tips on how to succeed everywhere from strategic thought to holding productive meetings. Those who are most successful seem to integrate that into their development on top of great effort where expected from supervisors, rather than a replacement for going the extra mile with daily production.

Sarah: In addition, maintain heart and hustle. No matter the role, assignment or client new pros who stand out most show up with passion, curiosity and a never-ending sense of urgency.

Any other closing thoughts or wisdom?

Sarah: Every opportunity in my career is rooted in a PRSA connection. It’s the best investment in your career to take time to volunteer and participate – don’t just be a name on a sign-in list.

Leah: Travel as much as you can. Experience new cultures, food, life.

Heather: Ask for what you’re worth and always negotiate (especially if you’re a woman and/or person of color). It’s hard, but you have to force yourself to do it.


Porterfield,Hanna_headshot2017This Q&A was compiled by Hanna Porterfield, 2018 Chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Based in Chicago, but frequently on an airplane, she is an account manager at NYC-headquartered Development Counsellors International. Hanna is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter @citygirlhanna.

Twitter Chat Recap: Let’s Talk About PRSA and You

Twitter Chat Recap: Let’s Talk About PRSA and You
By: Emma Finkbeiner, PRSSA Immediate Past President

Last week, PRSA New Professionals co-hosted a lively Twitter chat with PRSSA, engaging both new professionals and PRSSA members in a conversation about the transition from student to professional. Check out some of the highlights from the chat below.

@PRSSANational: Let’s kick off the chat with a question for everyone. How did you discover public relations?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996556588503609345

@OFlynn_Emily: A1: My mom is a marketing manager in the healthcare industry. When I was in high school, she told me that she thought I’d thrive in the public relations field. Now I’m entering my senior year of college in a major I’m so passionate about! #HappyMothersDay #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/OFlynn_Emily/status/996557556595281921

@nicole_graney: A1 #PRSSA: I discovered PR with the help of a lovely mentor, @cmwooll, who took me under her wing as a high school student and showed me how I can use my writing to tell stories. She’s been helping me tell them ever since!
https://twitter.com/nicole_graney/status/996557803870441472

@robyn_rl: A1: Accidentally! My first job was at a bar/restaurant in my hometown & they decided they needed some marketing things designed & some outreach done to local organizations & media. So I volunteered & loved it #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/robyn_rl/status/996557337065377792

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What are some of the benefits of becoming a PRSA Associate Member and joining the PRSA New Professionals Section?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996558349746483202

@GregRokisky: It’s such an affordable rate, it’s perfect to test the waters in the #PRSA universe…and you’ll find there’s no turning back because you’ll meet just the most wonderful colleagues, friends, mentors and people who just get you // #PRSSA #NPPRSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996559086861934592

@Gemrick: My favorite benefits of joining @PRSA is access to an extensive job board, and the MyPRSA and New Pros community forums that connect you to everyone in PRSA. You can ask questions, seek advice, and get help from peers and experts! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Gemrick/status/996559444908572672

@citygirlhanna: The greatest advantage, to me, is being able to bounce ideas off my peers. While having mentors is important, it can be very helpful early in your career to chat with those at your same level about their experiences, as all companies and industries are so different. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/citygirlhanna/status/996559697112129537

@PRSSANational: Students: What are some of the challenges you’re facing or concerns you have as you prepare for the transition from student to professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996560118438400001

@bridgetmurtha_: A3: Personally, I have learned so much in all my classes as a student but I am nervous about applying what I have learned about the field when becoming a professional. Overall, practice makes perfect & in order to grow within PR, I will have to try! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/bridgetmurtha_/status/996560664926842880

@adcook22: A3: How to continue setting achievable goals at the start of your career! “Get a job”, “graduate” or “work in x area” of PR were almost automatic as undergrads, but starting your career is a path that’s much more personalized  #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/adcook22/status/996561139625615360

@Marissa_218: As I enter my senior year of undergrad, I am confident in my PR abilities but the job search/find process is very intimidating! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Marissa_218/status/996560671277043712

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: How did PRSA and the New Professionals Section help you smoothly transition from student to professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996561872718528514

@KayAnnePR: NP Answer: One of the greatest benefits of joining @PRSA for me is that I was able to continue the relationships I made in #PRSSA.
https://twitter.com/KayAnnePR/status/996562926701043713

@efink101: It provided me with a network of peers that are going through the same things as me, so we can relate, but also a network of mentors who want to lift up new professionals. It kept me engaged in the profession beyond my job. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996563796377432070

@Gemrick: I can confidently say that @PRSA and New Pros helped my transition feel seamless. During my last year of undergrad, I was heavily involved with my local PRSA chapter, and attended as many events as possible. (Come through student pricing!) #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Gemrick/status/996564005882867714

@PRSSANational: Students: How could PRSA and the New Professionals best assist you in your transition to the profession and the professional Society?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996563682208501760

@KEW_photo: Any help is needed and appreciated!  I loved @PRSAChicagoYPN event with the recruiters this was really eye opening that it is important to work with professionals who specialize in the job hunt #prssa
https://twitter.com/KEW_photo/status/996564406145204224

@nicole_tobias32: I think having a new professionals mixer hosted by your local PRSA Chapter would be a great way to connect with others who are in the same boat with you! Especially if someone has moved from out of state to work in your area! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/nicole_tobias32/status/996564589222428672

@AllisonMellor: I would love to see local #PRSA representatives at #PRSSA chapter meetings! This would be the perfect time to hear more about membership benefits and new industry trends.
https://twitter.com/AllisonMellor/status/996565848566386688

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What are the best ways to get involved when first joining a local PRSA Chapter?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996565396114300929

@KirkHazlett: Not exactly a “New” Pro, but…get involved! Volunteer to serve on a committee. Help with event promotion or at the registration table. Be there. Be seen. Become a resource. @CCPRSA @USFPRSSA @utprssa @PRSATampaBay #prssa
https://twitter.com/KirkHazlett/status/996565781885411328

@GregRokisky: Ask! I met with a few local board members I’d developed relationships with and others I didn’t yet know and, it turned out, there was a need for a chair for the @PACEAwards—our local awards! No one else wanted it, so I said yes. Even as a new pro, you have skills! #PRSSA #NPPRSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996566119103246336

@efink101: 1) See if there is a Young Professionals Network. 2) See if there are any committees or subcommittees you can join and help out with. 3) Offer to be a liaison to the #PRSA Chapter’s #PRSSA Sponsor Chapter(s).
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996566487572893701

@PRSSANational: Students: What other questions do you have about joining PRSA, the New Professionals Section or launching your career?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996567213044895748

@EmilyZekonis: If you could go back in time and take one class you missed out on to help you in your PR career what would it be? #prssa
https://twitter.com/EmilyZekonis/status/996567261447114752

@alyssamurt: As an upcoming senior, I think it is always beneficial to hear how new (and old!) pros got their first job. Any tips are much appreciated! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/alyssamurt/status/996567487281090562

@Ashleigh_K_W: What certifications or hard technical skills could students learn to gain an edge? We know writing is a must, but are there any programs we should be studying? Muckrack? Sysomos? #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Ashleigh_K_W/status/996568287390715904

@ambewelch: Some of us new grads don’t have jobs or internships lined up fresh out of college, what advice for new pros that are struggling to find employment? How should they stay motivated through their job search?  #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/ambewelch/status/996569255968690176

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What is your best post-grad tip for success during your first year as a new professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996568919434547200

@JaCeyLynn_Y: Work hard and try to make a name for yourself. If you see an opportunity, don’t hesitate to take it. Also, don’t forget your organization skills you acquired in school. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/JaCeyLynn_Y/status/996569597431156736

@sarahgdougherty: Late to the party! I’d say take things in stride and have a good attitude. Things may not come naturally at first, but bringing a positive outlook to the table and being willing to work hard and try new things will set you up for success and make you a go-to on your team #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/sarahgdougherty/status/996570480340537345

@GregRokisky: There’s a small window, even as a new pro, where you have the free time. Take advantage and say yes to as much as you can handle and figure out where you fit—the more you move up the less time for those things you have! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996569316819718144

@efink101: For me personally, be resilient and don’t take things personally is my best advice. Starting a new job and becoming a professional rather than a student is sometimes difficult, but if you work hard and show your value, you’ll be fine. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996570879080484865

Thank you to everyone who participated in this chat. The conversation doesn’t have to end here! Students, feel free to reach out to members of the PRSA New Professionals Section any time with questions about transitioning from PRSSA to PRSA. And don’t forget, when you transition from PRSSA to PRSA Associate Membership, you can join for free using code AM18.