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.

6 Tips For Your First PR Job

A college education in public relations is a fantastic resource, but it can’t cover everything. Here are a few tips as you begin your journey into public relations.

Pitching is everything
If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent time and effort perfecting your content creation and journalism skills. While these can make you a great asset to a team, keep in mind that the house of media relations is built upon a foundation of pitching. Identifying, writing, targeting and sending pitches are often core functions of entry-level PR jobs. Put time into developing your pitching skills— they’re often the clearest way to contribute value to your team. There are great books on the topic — I’m enjoying Ed Zitron’s “This is How You Pitch” right now.

Learn about your clients
In order to identify pitching angles, you need to understand your clients. I like to read anything I can get my hands on about the companies I work with, as this can allow me to see pitching ideas that haven’t occurred to anyone else.

Identify and track competitors
One of the most important nuances to learn about your clients is their competition. This gives you a frame of reference for the type of coverage you can seek and can alert you to journalists who might be interested in news from your clients.

Don’t be boring
Since your clients spend every day embedded deep in their verticals, they depend on you to help convey their ideas to people who may not live in their world. This means it’s crucial to find news within your clients’ larger stories. Journalists are incredibly busy and receive hundreds of emails each day. You’ll want to find a good story angle that is relevant to the writer you’re pitching and articulate your ideas clearly and succinctly.

Google News is your friend
Don’t underestimate Google News just because it’s available to everybody. Advanced monitoring and tracking tools can be great for media relations, but Google News is a great way to get a glimpse of trending topics and coverage based on simple search terms. It’s a great starting point for learning and establishing context.

Set up Google Alerts
When you’re working with clients, it’s important to keep tabs on their mentions and what’s happening in their industry. Google Alerts sends you emails when new items that match your specified keywords are added to Google’s massive index. Setting alerts for your clients’ names or keywords related to that client can help you stay informed. It’s also a good idea to set one up for your name.

Mike IncavoMike Incavo is an account manager and content creator at Houston cybersecurity firm Zintel PR. He attended Baylor University and is a member of the Houston PRSA chapter. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Three Ways to Get Involved With Your Local PRSA Chapter

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Graduation is around the corner and the job search is on! But what happens after you secure your first gig? It is important to stay involved in professional organizations like PRSA even after graduation for continued professional development and networking. Here are three ways that you can get involved in your local PRSA chapter:

  1. ALL ABOARD!

A great way to get involved with your local chapter is to join the board. This allows you to plan the best year yet for the local chapter. Whether you want to be the historian or happy hour coordinator (like me), you are in a space where you can contribute ideas on programming and network closely with like-minded individuals.

  1. Be Hands On

If you’re not ready to be a board member yet, volunteering is a great way to start getting involved. There are fundraising events, award ceremonies and networking mixers that need planning and support. Contact your local chapter to see how you can play a part.

  1. Show Up!

Beth Lamb, Chief Marketing Officer at Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth (TX) said “it can be very easy to get involved with your local chapter, and the easiest way is to simply attend chapter programming. Get to know your fellow members and leadership board through the various events. If you are ready to serve the chapter, ask. Boards always love to know who is ready and willing to fill committee chairs. If your schedule does not allow you to do more than attend programs, offer your ideas on luncheon topics or event programming.”

PRSA is a great way to enrich your professional life through networking and career development. “Plus, your involvement, no matter the level, is important to your growth and the growth of your local chapter,” said Lamb. Find your local chapter today at PRSA

By – Jade Fails

Jade Fails is a Baylor University public relations graduate. She is currently the Marketing Administrator at The Shops at Clearfork in Fort Worth, TX. 

New Year, New Job: Tips for Acing Your Job Search

As the year is winding down and a new one is just over the horizon, this is the time of year many of us spend in reflection. As you’re taking an objective look at what you’ve accomplished in your career over the last 12 months and where you’d like to take it in the next 12 or more months, you might come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on to something new. If you’re ready to search for your next adventure, keep reading for tips to make it a successful search.

  1. Have an idea of what you’re looking for in a job

Early in your career it’s easy to resort to the “see what sticks” approach when you’re looking for a job, particularly if you’re feeling desperate to get out of the job you have. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get to that point of desperation before looking for a way out.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s my argument for why applying to anything and everything is a bad idea: This early in your career, you should be focused on searching for jobs that do two things for you – strengthen your existing skills and help you learn and develop skills that you don’t have yet. Think about what you like about your current job and your strengths and keep those front of mind as you’re sorting through job descriptions and applying. If you’re spending time searching through generic “public relations” or “communications” results, opening, reading and applying to most, if not all, you’re wasting a lot of time. Focus your search on things you’re actually interested in and a potential good fit for, you’ll have more success in landing interviews and offers. Every new job you take shouldn’t feel like starting over or reinventing the wheel, but rather building on the career you’ve already begun.

  1. Scour your network

You may not feel like you have enough of a network to dip into when early on in your career. That’s common, but wrong. Think of all the things you are or have been a part of – your university, PRSSA, your sorority or fraternity, other on campus organizations, your hometown, etc. – and start there. Look at alumni of your university, Greek organization and other organizations, and members of your local PRSA chapter for professionals in your field, doing a job you’re interested in or working at an organization and reach out. You’ll find that many professionals – even if you’ve never met them – are more than willing to help young pros get their feet in the door, learn and share their experiences and wisdom. Build your network by making these connections.

  1. Build up your connections before you need them

Speaking of connections… So you’ve found some interesting people in your network and you’re writing that first email to them. “Hi, I’m looking for a job. Can you help?” is not the first email you should send to anyone. Instead, start building your network as soon as you can by cultivating relationships with others in the field. Schedule coffee or informational interviews with professionals to learn more about their organizations, their careers and to ask for advice on landing a job in your city. If you’re meeting for coffee, always, always, always pay for their coffee. It’s the least you can do.

After your meeting, send a quick thank you note or email thanking them for their time and insight. You can also ask them for a follow-up or any lingering questions you didn’t get to ask. A thank you is non-negotiable and should be done promptly for every person who takes the time to interview you or meet with you to help you along in your career. Any time someone spends time helping you develop professionally, make sure to thank them with a quick, personal email or handwritten note, including a particular mention of something specific from the conversation.

  1. Ask for help

You’ve built up relationships with professionals in your network. Now you can ask them for help in your job search, with a couple of caveats. You cannot ask them to get you a job. You can ask them to introduce you to someone in their network. You can ask them for tips on interviewing. You can ask them for some insight into a job you’re applying for at their organization. You can ask them to share jobs with you that they see shared in their networks or that may come across their desks. Whatever favor you’re asking for, you must be direct and specific. Except for asking them to get you a job.

  1. Do your research

As mentioned in #1, knowing what you’re looking for is the key to a successful job search and good, solid research is at the heart of that.  Researching possible jobs will help you to determine what you’re interested in and would be the best fit for your skills. Researching people in the jobs you’re interested in, whether in the immediate future or further down your career path, will help you to nail down the skills you need to build and the achievements you should work towards. Researching the organizations you’re interested in – by scouring their website, scheduling informational interviews and making connections within the organization – will give you insight into the culture and what makes a successful candidate for possible openings, as well as helping you ace the interview when it comes time.

  1. Keep your web presence in tip-top shape

I’m sure you’ve heard this time and time again, but it’s important to make sure your virtual self is an accurate representation of you. You should make a habit of auditing your social media and taking care to make sure you have a place on the web to showcase your work. Think of it as a Spring Cleaning for your virtual presence and do it with each season. When you’re job searching, it’s especially important to make sure everything that represents you is in perfect shape because that’s the first impression most potential employers will have of you, along with your resume.

Finding and landing a new job can be a daunting task, whether you’re a new pro or experienced. Putting your best foot forward and making sure you’re as prepared as possible will help ease the stress and make sure your first job sets your career off to a stellar start.

Image uploaded from iOSIn her third year on PRSA’s New Professionals Section’s executive committee, Robyn serves as 2018 chair-elect. She’s a native of southern New Jersey and currently resides in Washington, D.C., by way of Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Robyn currently works for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), a trade association representing North America’s airports, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a master’s degree in media arts and technology, with a focus on creative media practices, both from Duquesne University. She likes to spend her spare time cooking, reading, exploring, crocheting and spending time with her tail-less cat, Izzy. Learn more about her on her website or find her on Twitter & talk to her!

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.