If you’re thinking about entering the public relations field—either as a first job out of college or as a career switch—consider doing some research before making the leap.
The PR industry is moving and changing fast—though many traditional values still apply—and it’s hard for even PR veterans to keep up. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices have contributed to the rapid changes, but it’s not simply technology that makes it a tough job. There are also more competitors, as well as savvy clients who demand more for less.
All of us like to think we’re the best at what we do, but beware. As a PR professional, you’re never finished learning, growing, and listening. I have learned more in the last two years of my career than I did in the first 10.
So, if you think you are cut out for this business, here’s what you need to do:
Be tough: You can’t win for your clients if you don’t know how to advocate and fight the good fight. If you don’t know what that means, you will find out quickly.
Dedicate yourself to learning: Those who go the extra mile to learn on their own will make it further. Firms are working with limited resources and don’t have time to spoon-feed newbies. If you learned how to do a research paper in college, apply those techniques on the job.
Read the paper every day: You wouldn’t believe how many of my employees didn’t think reading the news was a priority. They don’t work for me anymore.
Learn a client’s industry and their business: How can you add value if you don’t know how your clients make money? Get in the trenches. Study your clients and their competition.
Gain social media savvy: You can’t expect to move up if you aren’t on social media, unless, of course, you work for a monster PR firm and someone else is doing all the work. Even then, it’s important that any PR professional know his or her way around the social Web. It’s easier than ever before to have access to reporters, bloggers, and influential people online. Follow them, watch them, and engage.
Network: The future belongs to those who can do the work and sell the work. Build relationships in the business community. Get involved in civic and charitable organizations, and don’t expect your company to pay for it all. You must invest in yourself.
Develop your oral and written communication skills: If you don’t know how to research a company and write a press release, you won’t make it in this field.
Watch business trends and analyze their impact on clients: In time, this trait will come to those who are naturally curious. I love curiosity, because it breeds creativity and ingenuity. Employers, seek employees who are naturally curious.
Put in extra time: Think your job should be 9 to 5? When you have billed and collected three times what you are paid and have mastered managing client accounts, then it’s OK. If you do the math, you’ll find out that new PR candidates are not typically productive in their first few years. It takes time to cultivate a career; the extra time you put in will help you achieve it faster.
Think career, not job: I can tell the difference between those who want a career in PR and those who want a job. Big difference. If you just want a job, accept that you may not advance. Someone else in your firm will seize the opportunity and pass you. If you are on a career path, show it—accomplish tasks and projects that add value (read: are billable to clients).
Realize the importance of teamwork: Be part of the bigger picture. Help your teammates, and pick up the ball if a team member drops it.
Understand the math: Professional service firms (lawyers, certified public accounts, etc.) use the formula that each employee must bill (and collect) three times what he or she makes to be considered “worth it.” Firms have overhead, accounting fees, legal fees, payroll, rent, insurance, and so. There is no money tree; the producers go out and get the work.
Identify new clients and opportunities: Bring in the work, and you will be twice as valuable.
Communicate proactively with clients: This is one of the most important things young people must do. Pick up the phone. Emails don’t count as a blanket form of communication. Get in front of the client. Have a report to send? Take it to the client.
In the end, it is still about relationships. If the PR firm/client relationship is good, chances are the client will be forgiving if mistakes are made. The key is in avoiding costly mistakes and understanding the characteristics that will make you invaluable at a firm.
It first ran on PR Daily in January 2012.