Ranked as one of the world’s most stressful jobs for good reasons, public relations is not for everyone. I often think back to college, wishing someone had explained that because of my strengths and weaknesses, a career in “blank” would be perfect for me. Didn’t happen. Here are some tips to figure out if public relations is for you.
You’ll find success and enjoyment in public relations if:
1. You’re Type A. If you’re that student who always takes the lead in group projects because you don’t trust anyone else to get the job done, PR is for you. If you put all those type A students from high school or college into an auditorium together, you’d be looking at the next generation of PR professionals. (And a really bossy crowd.)
2. You like to write and have a way with words. If you like writing ad jingles in your head or always have to revise college essays because you wrote too much, PR might be for you. Although much PR writing is formal—press releases, media alerts, proposals, presentations—much is more creative: social media, email pitches to reporters, strategy for a fun PR campaign or stunt. If writing assignments make you cringe, steer clear.
3. News fascinates you. If reading about what’s going on in the world is your cup of tea, take a seat at the PR roundtable. PR professionals exult in the thrill of the next news story, viral video, or must-have brand stunt, and how they can get their client in the spotlight.
4. You can talk to anyone. And everyone. Successful public relations professionals easily strike up conversation with strangers. The shy need not apply. So much of the industry, whether it’s working with your peers or convincing a new company’s leadership team to hire your firm, is about chemistry. If you can’t connect with people through communication, this isn’t the career path for you. A good PR professional knows that the next new business lead just might come from the person sitting next to her on the train.
5. You’re relentless. Public relations demands professionals committed to success. Whether it’s determination to get an A in class, land a new job, get your client on CNN or win a new client’s business, you relish the thrill of the chase and the gratification of a win. If you’re the type who sits back and says, “Hey, we’ll just have to see who wins,” seek another career. In PR, it’s sink or swim.
6. You’re organized and detail-oriented. If you write to-do lists and plan, if you read and re-read directions on a class assignment to make sure you’re not missing any steps, you’ll do well in PR.
7. You’re interested in business. Public relations is business. Everything we do improves awareness of our clients’ service or product so their businesses succeed. If you place your client’s footwear in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, you help them sell more shoes. If your startup client is quoted in a Tech Crunch article, it may help them be seen by investors. If you get a celebrity to wear your client’s jewelry, it sells out the next day. Yes, we are media professionals, but we’re actually businessmen and women.
8. You have thick skin. We all make mistakes. When a public relations professional makes one mistake, his or her job could be on the line. If the mistake is bad enough (an inappropriate tweet, accidentally copying a journalist on a confidential client email, etc.), the agency looks bad. This atmosphere creates high-stress; everyone double- and triple-checks the work. It may lead to an upset manager scolding you or showing you the door. If you have understanding managers or can grin and bear it, and learn from your mistakes, you’ll be fine.
9. You’re a team player. If you’re proud when your team members succeed, you’re a good PR candidate. Public relations is riddled with teams-in-house PR teams at companies and teams within PR agencies. If you think there’s an “I” in team, look for another job.
10. You don’t like doing the same thing every day. Like an emergency room doctor, you never know what to expect. You will never, and I repeat never, have one workday identical to the last. PR isn’t for you if you like repetition or dislike change.
How can you learn more? While college PR courses can occasionally be helpful, I highly recommend getting hands-on experience in a PR internship or joining your college’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. In the meantime, here’s a fun quiz to help determine if you’d like PR and if the industry would like you.
Ready for the challenge?
Brooks Wallace is a senior account executive with Hollywood Public Relations.