by Monica C. Bishop
I am a Millennial who recently graduated from college and moved to a brand new city one month after graduation. I worked for a few months as a waitress while I applied to a number of PR agencies and tried to meet new people.
In just four months, I received an unexpected opportunity to open an office in Nashville for a PR firm headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As the newest employee at Deeter Gallaher Group LLC, and the face of the company in a different state, I feel like I’ve experienced a lifetime of learning since graduation, and I love it!
Entering the workforce after graduating from Pennsylvania State University in May 2015, I thought I knew what the next chapter of my life entailed. I was ready to put my communications degree to work. Owner and CEO Anne Deeter Gallaher hired me in September 2015 and encouraged me to plunge into the deep end! I’m nine months into this career, and there are a lot of lessons that I wish I had learned or at least explored more deeply in college. Not only about public relations, but about employment after graduation, job expectations, and the economy.
If you’re in college or considering a career change, here are my 10 tips to help prepare you for life in public relations.
- There’s more to it than social media. Like many of my classmates, I believed that public relations focused primarily on the work of social media. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Periscope are all components of my weekly workload, these channels represent only a small fraction of what we do for our clients. You need a working knowledge of all aspects of PR to understand what value you bring to the clients.
- “Your network is your net worth.” As I learned from my boss’s recent book with co-author Amy D. Howell, Students in High Gear, success in the public relations industry still relies heavily on relationships and who you know. You may have the highest GPA in your class, but developing relationships with the media, business leaders, and PR professionals will take you much farther in the PR world than an impressive GPA. We don’t bring a long list of Who’s Who with us on Day One, but it’s critical to understand how to meet reporters online, how to present an idea on the phone, and how to follow through with a story pitch.
- The power of language. I knew in college that my future job would require writing, but it was not until I was working for Deeter Gallaher Group that I realized how important the power of language is for our clients. We are building their brand one word at a time and illuminating their stories. Creating an image with words is our job. And the only way to perfect the skill of writing is to write more and read more.
- Edit. Again and again! It may feel repetitive, but editing is a critical component of life in PR. One mistake in a news release or a Facebook post can cause the reader to question the truth and reliability of your client’s voice. There is no room for careless mistakes, and it is vital to read your work out loud in spite of feeling rushed to meet deadlines. I have learned to walk away for a quick break and come back to edit my content again with fresh eyes.
- Criticism is a good thing. This is your first job. You will not be the best in your company and you will mess up. Learn from it. Grow from it. Accept criticism from your colleagues and especially from your boss. There is a reason they are in leadership positions. Currently, we are the youngest generation in the workforce, which means anyone ahead of you has more experience. My boss and co-workers not only offer me valuable criticism, but they also share stories of their mistakes. They even laugh about it now. They have failed and learned from it, so let them help and guide you.
- Knowledge is power. Whether it is The Wall Street Journal or the newest non-fiction book, it is vital that you read. I have been taught that the only way to get better at writing is by writing all of the time. The only way to become a more influential writer with a creative voice is to read the voices of others and delve into the unknown. Choose books that will expand your thought process and challenge your way of thinking. Diversity includes diversity of thought–that comes from reading all types of content.
- Meet and greet. There is no better time than now to get out there and introduce yourself to someone. Forget about your nerves or being embarrassed. Introduce yourself to your University president, ask your professor out for coffee, or sit beside a new person in class and make a connection. You never know what one conversation could lead to. Be genuine, ask questions, and follow up with a handwritten thank you card. If you’re out of college and in the interview process, attend chamber events, business meetups, and Twitter chats.
- Your digital tattoo is a game changer. While attending college, it is easy to get caught up in the world you are surrounded by. Don’t be lulled into thinking that no one is watching your social media or that an employer will not be able to find something you previously deleted. Post positive content, engage with professionals, and treat your social media like your professional resume. It is great to post pictures with your friends, but make sure it is a picture you will not mind having your boss see a year later. Make sure your bios are professional. When a future employer or colleague looks at your Instagram account, what first impression will he or she have after reading your bio?
- Public relations and journalism really do mix. My professors always told us that the two industries work hand-in-hand, and it turns out they were right! Pay attention in your mandatory journalism classes. Do your own outside research on proper protocols to connect with a reporter. You are the liaison between your client and the news. If you do not make a good impression on the media outlets, it will be difficult to pitch content for your clients.
- Let’s go! This line of work is amazing, but you have to know before going in that it’s not a slow-paced, 9-5 career. You hold the keys to your client’s brand and voice. Your client’s company never turns off; you always have to be prepared for a crisis; and there is always an opportunity to engage on social media long after the office has closed. You may have to be in the newsroom at 4:30 a.m., just like you may need to take control of a social media crisis at 1:00 a.m. Your client may be a sponsor of a Thanksgiving Day parade, and you will be required to be there, be ready with media talking points, props, and be on your ‘A’ game. There may be days when you have few tasks to accomplish, but there will be far more days when you are wishing you had extra hours. I love the unpredictability of this career and the constant speedy tempo the workday presents me.
If you love telling stories, creating content, and learning something new every day, then I invite you to join us in this crazy, fast-paced world of PR!