Public relations instructors work hard to educate their students, who in turn work hard to complete their assignments. Then comes graduation, employment applications, interviews, and finally … that first real day as a PR specialist.
Thoughtful instruction and completed assignments are important for students fitting into professional public relations roles, there is more that can aid that process. Following are some steps to help tomorrow’s PR champions get started on firmer ground.
The Best Route to Your Public Relations Career Ambitions
1. Ask Yourself, “Who am I?”
Philosophy students may be familiar with the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself.” Public relations students would do well to consider the wisdom of the philosopher for themselves.
PR work takes many forms. There’s a difference between directing PR for a rock band and punching the clock at an insurance company. Determine what you like best and what you want to accomplish.
What are the primary benefits you want from your job? Is the number on your paycheck most important, or are you more interested in the social impact of your work? Do you prefer working in a formal, structured environment, or are casual dress and fun Fridays more to your liking? You can find both in a public relations career, but don’t make the mistake of accepting a PR position for a firm that values professionalism and then complain that the atmosphere isn’t as casual as you would like. Know thyself, then aim in the direction you’ve envisioned.
2. Do Your Homework!
Once you’ve identified where you’re going, do the work of identifying the companies and positions that fit your career ambitions.
If your salary is your main incentive, research which sectors of business pay their PR staff generously. Next, identify the specific companies within that category that offer the other benefits you want or need. There will be compromises, but those should be at the bottom of your list, not at the top.
If social currency is your objective, identify companies that share your values and do the type of work you want to do. Don’t settle for a mediocre workplace, either. The marketplace isn’t your boss, not even your “boss” is your boss. It’s your life. Make decisions that feed your fire and let you love where you work.
3. Don’t Dread the Backroads
Here’s something to remember: there’s beauty on the backroads. You’ll pass through small towns, meet interesting people, and get to see hidden parts of the country. Don’t get so caught up in where you’re headed that you forget to enjoy the roads that get you there. Maintain a tourist’s mind and be ready to say, “That’s interesting!” The journey will add to your experience and make you more interesting and better informed.
One other thing: you never know when the people you meet on the backroads will end up being instrumental in your travels. In business circles, that’s called networking. Don’t hesitate to share your dreams with others and to ask them about their own.
4. Know People
You don’t need to know people in high places to move forward in your PR career. However, there are two items to consider with this piece of advice.
- Understand your audience. As a PR professional, you must be well-informed, a master communicator, and a mind reader (okay, not quite a mind reader). You need to know your audience well enough to know what matters most to them and how to tailor your message to their wants and needs.
- Networking can help you progress in your career in public relations. Finding ways to learn from the influences around you, both good and bad, is critical to your growth. Additionally, developing the ability to collaborate with colleagues can prove invaluable for the future.
5. Never stop learning
As a student, you may think that you’re an expert in your field once you’ve finished your education. However, once you get your first job, you will learn that there is so much that you have yet to master.
You may learn the fundamentals of public relations, but you need to practice them to become a pro. Starting your career at a PR firm may offer you the mentoring and experience you need to work in-house for a company.
You can move beyond doing work that’s simply “okay” to getting recognized for work that’s excellent by applying one simple rule: work a little harder than the average person.
Much of that work takes place outside of the classroom or office. It will occur while you are reading books or articles related to your profession, while taking extra professional development courses, or going to conferences. Gain knowledge and learn new skills. Study and execute those skills until they become second nature.
Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden began every season by showing his players how to tie their shoes. Wooden understood the value of fundamentals, and a basketball player with a blister is an unnecessary obstacle. Wooden’s focus on the basics of the game propelled his teams to win a record-breaking 88 consecutive games and seven NCAA championships in a row. Your success in public relations will depend, in part, on your realization that everything you’re learning now — and everything you will learn — builds the base of your success.
Setting Goals and Knowing Your Direction
Much is said about goal setting, and rightfully so. Goals are important. Goals can help keep you growing toward your dreams. Set your goals. Set SMART goals, but don’t let your goals get in the way of your vision.
Goals aren’t an end in themselves — they are a means to the end. You may need to take an alternate route or even trade your Volvo for a Volkswagen, but none of that will stop you.
When you know where you’re headed a few rainstorms or backups won’t stop you from getting to where you want to go. Nothing can discourage a person who knows the rain eventually ceases and the path ahead will soon clear.
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