So you want to be in PR…

People often ask me how to get into public relations. Here’s a summary of what I tell them:

Get an education. Being good with people or enjoying events isn’t enough. There are a lot of ways to get PR training, and I don’t want to promote one over the other. I’ve hired people with creative writing degrees, communication degrees, English Lit degrees, and PR certificates. Once you’re done, don’t stop. Lifelong learning is a requirement, and should be a passion, for PR professionals. Take courses – almost anything is relevant – as often as you can.

Polish your writing skills. Write, write, write and then write some more. Know the basics: style, structure and grammar; become a grammar nut; learn CP Style; and practice creative writing so you can create cheeky headlines and write compelling copy for websites and other marketing materials.

Read. Read the news, search the web, check out blogs. Know about local issues, national issues, what bestsellers are out and what makes compelling reading. If you don’t read, you can’t write.

Stay on top of current events and be a trend watcher. You’ve got to know what’s news to help people make the news.

Be a sponge. Learn everything about anything. Do you know a construction worker? Ask her or him about trends in the workforce, the different jobs on a site and absorb the terminology. A huge part of my job is learning about industries and issues so that I can help my clients communicate more effectively. The more you know, the more you have to draw on when you’re standing in front of the media or a boardroom.

Keep your skill set wide open. PR requires a diverse set of skills. Yesterday, I made a presentation to clients (public speaking), finalized a communication plan (strategizing), proofread marketing materials (editing), brainstormed slogans with my team (creativity) and reviewed the logistics of an event (detail-oriented). To be a good practitioner, you need to keep yourself well rounded. Don’t get caught up in having a specialty.

Volunteer. There are a lot of great organizations looking for communications help. Gain experience by volunteering for them, then put it on your resume.

Maintain a portfolio. Keep all those essays you stayed up all night writing. Lay out your best writing samples in a professional and creative way. Interviewers don’t want to just hear you say you’re a good writer. They want to see that you are.

Promote yourself. Your first job is to do your own PR. What are your potential employers looking for?  How can you make yourself standout?

Network. Get out there and meet people. Keep in touch with classmates and past colleagues. You never know who will lead you to your dream job.

Find a mentor. Make friends with someone who has been in the industry for a while.  They’ll be able to offer you advice, can be a reference for you and might even give you some good job leads.

Join a professional association. The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) or Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in the US are wonderful resources for networking, job leads, professional development, mentorship and more. If you are enrolled in a PR program, you can join for a student rate that more than pays for itself.

Please post your questions, and I’d be happy to answer them. And good luck!


7 Responses to “So you want to be in PR…”

  1. 1 Bob West November 12, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I guess I am way too old to start doing PR then huh, Maggie?? hahaha

  2. 2 Maggie Kerr-Southin November 13, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    You are never too old to change careers. The question is, do you want to?

  3. 3 Greg Smith November 18, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    An excellent list and one that should be compulsory reading for students. The trick is to get them to read.

  4. 4 maggieks November 23, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Thanks Greg. I’ve been getting 4 or 5 calls a week for informational interviews…I direct the students here. Feel free to do the same!

  5. 5 Dave Traynor December 4, 2008 at 10:46 am

    A great list, Maggie. I’m onboard with the importance of reading and writing as critical to good PR. Keep the advice coming…

  6. 6 Marco Bardus December 5, 2008 at 2:12 am

    Hi Maggie,

    nice to “meet” you! I am the Italian exPR student (now PhD student in Health Communication in Switzerland) who quoted you in our association’s blog and in the presentation I made two weeks ago in Gorizia.

    I found your insightful post thanks to Richard Bailey (here is his post).

    Not only do I completely agree with you, but also I think that the negotiation techniques are amongst the most important charactersistics a good PR practitioner (and academic) should have.

    IMHO also professional associations like CPRS and PRSA (in Italy we have FERPI, of which I am member) have an extremely important role in defining who we are and what we can do for improving our society.

    Thank you very much for inspiring me in what I am doing now and going to do in my PhD studies.

  1. 1 Professione RP. (l’essere), il fare, il sapere, il saper fare « UNIFERPI Trackback on December 4, 2008 at 3:57 pm

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