There’s nothing quite like talking to aspiring PR professionals-in-the-making that gets my juices flowing to churn out bits of wisdom not found on Google that have been gained through decades of honing my craft. In other words … access to my hindsight that today is 20/20.
Recently, I pulled together 10 such nuggets and shared them with the Otterbein PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America). And whether you’ll be in the agency world soon or you’ve newly landed in your post-college cubicle, I hope these tips will inspire you:
- Have 3 ways to make money. Your PR day job, a hobby you can monetize and a special skill/talent you’ve honed. We are all “ands”. If your career and hustles can interrelate – so that by doing one you are becoming better at the others – you’ve scored the trifecta.
- Become a phenomenal writer. Your key to success as a PR practitioner lies in your ability to tell your clients’ stories. To make reporters care about those stories. To make their readers/viewers – who happen to be customers – care. Always work to polish your writing craft so your words are compelling. And it goes beyond your PR curriculum … maybe it will involve taking a script writing class or storytelling workshop or a creative writing course.
- Voraciously study the “brand stand” climate. From Victoria’s Secret, to Nike, to most recently Gillette, brands are either thrust in the arena or jump in willingly to stand on one side or the other of cultural hot button issues. It’s risky. It’s polarizing. They take backlash. They win praise. Real money is made or lost. The speed and intensity of these “brand stands” is a relatively new phenomenon thanks to an activist renaissance coupled with the growth of social media. Brands are figuring it reactively. So are today’s PR pros. It will be more commonplace when you’re in the field. And you will need to face these situations proactively to guide your clients through them.
- Develop exceptional presentation skills. Command attention when you address an audience – even if it’s an audience of one. You are being judged – more critically and more quickly – by how you say what you say (and what you don’t say) now more than ever before. Get professionally trained to present. The ideal training will cover audience analysis, presentation structure and visual, vocal and verbal techniques. And practice EVERY presentation you give. Even new client pitch meetings.
- Communicate clearly – when you speak, when you email, and when you text. Sentence structure matters to helping the reader unmistakably understand the content and context of your message. And think through whether or not you’ve answered the natural questions related to your message. Writing comprehensively and clearly saves you from 15 clarifying messages that inevitably follow every poorly crafted one.
- Have a well-defined, solid moral compass. Doing the right thing matters. Telling the truth matters. PR people are not spin-doctors. Spin implies fabrication. We help manage the reputations of our clients with their constituents. Which means building trust. Which begins and ends with truthful interactions. Sometimes when clients forget where the line is, they cross over it and get caught. It’s your job to be the voice of reason that helps steer them back on track, not simply to craft a nicely worded apology that justifies what they did and why.
- No matter what anyone says … the press release is not dead and will not die over the course of your career. You may not send a press release on every story. Sometimes, you may just send a pitch. But for every story, the press release gathers the facts in a cogent manner so everyone is on the same page with it. For cohesive brand messaging. In addition, know that oftentimes the release is the fact base for all the other marketing efforts. It’s important. And moreover, it serves to wrap critical thinking around a particular story.
- Work both in-house and agency-side. Preferably in-house first. It will make you a better communicator. So many times, the agency marketing team will develop a plan with brilliant ideas that cannot be implemented because they don’t understand how things work inside client companies. Working in-house lets you see how initiatives take shape and launch in the corporate world. When you understand this, you can create marketing communications plans with realistic ideas that actually get implemented and work to accomplish the objectives.
- Keep learning. Your college degree is what you need to know to get your first entry-level, career track job. How PR is practiced will change so much over the course of your career. Always keep ahead of technology, hone your technical execution and study the art of marketing communication. Just think … 25 years ago press releases were mailed.
- Think of every “story” as a piece of content. And every piece of content as a way to have a conversation with an audience. How do you best package a particular piece of content? How do you best disseminate it? Think through optimal content delivery for each audience group. For some, it may be a news story you try to get placed in traditional media; for others, a blog on your website; for others, a post to your social media; for others, a speech at a community gathering. And know today, getting the story out is more than media relations … it’s the PESO model – paid, earned, shared and owned content distribution.
So, that’s nearly three decades in a nutshell. Though the practice of PR has changed so much over this time, the basics are the same. And, that’s why I love this discipline. It’s the chance every day to shape thought … and, at least through the clients I’ve served, in a positive way.