Few college majors seem as sexy as public relations.
Although PR can produce a meaningful, worthwhile career—especially for those cut from creative cloth—few students understand what PR is before diving into the coursework.
Many PR students, upon enrolling in their university’s PR program, envision themselves rubbing elbows with the rich and famous at elegant cocktail parties. If you’re a reputation-management and brand-building veteran, you’re already rolling your eyes.
PR is incredibly important in today’s digital age of communications, and recent graduates enter the field with plenty of enthusiasm. However, the reality of the ever-changing world of PR can be shocking and hard to swallow.
Once grades have been recorded and the mortarboard’s been tossed in the air, here are three things for recent PR graduates to expect:
1. The innate difficulties of agency life
Internships can make or break the initial gig, but odds are you’ll end up working at an agency to get things started. Nearly all top-tier PR jobs require at least three to five years of “agency experience” before a candidate is even considered.
Cherish these years. They’ll teach you more about PR than any classroom ever could, and will push you to your emotional breaking point. Agency life can be brutal. Starting out with a fancy-sounding job title doesn’t mean that you’re ready for what’s coming.
Right from the start, you’ll feel overwhelmed by what’s not only expected, but demanded of you. Clients—some of whom won’t be easy to work with—pay top dollar for PR services and couldn’t care less that you recently graduated with honors. The only thing they want is coverage—lots of coverage.
After your computer is set up and your name is on a desk, the media lists will come pouring in. Pressure from senior directors and executives mount as they meet with customers to report on what you’ve been doing all day. When things go well, credit might be tossed your way. When things don’t go well, credit will most assuredly find you.
It’s important to relax. As tears begin to well up in your eyes, take a deep breath and remember that this is all part of the teeth-sharpening process. As time passes, confidence will trounce the new and unknown.
2. Networking from the bottom up
Do you remember applying for your first PR internship, and the interview that followed? You met with your internship coordinator to verbally prove why you were the person for the position.
What’s funny about internship interviews is that candidates must sell themselves on something with which they have little or no experience. It’s a difficult sell.
In a similar fashion, wide-eyed PR newbies must gain media coverage for clients with a network that doesn’t extend far beyond the walls of their new cubicles. You’ve never been here or had to do this before. The delay in publication efficiency is understandable.
Ed Zitron, founder of EZPR, wrote the following in his latest book, “This is How You Pitch”:
The most important takeaway is that networking is a continuous process that can take months, or even years, to produce something of value for your work. Do not expect immediate results. In fact, your best contacts will probably not provide you with anything tangible for a long time.
Work tirelessly to build a robust, personalized media list; in time, the results will pour in.
3. PR‘ s turnover dilemma
PR has a big turnover problem. Whether it’s an emphasis on external recruitment, a lack of training or the stress of pleasing the masses, PR has struggled to keep people in place for more than a few months.
In June 2014, Anna Ruth Williams wrote in a PR Daily article that the PR industry was “ripe for disruption.” According to Williams, Nobscot Corp. estimated that in just over a year, PR reached a turnover rate of roughly 55 percent, due to both voluntary and involuntary means.
However, there are two sides to every coin. The nation’s top PR executives need driven employees to help them. When you bring talent and perform well—the exact thing that you’ve planned to do—a shift in power, though slight, takes place. You become a necessity and a valuable team member to any PR department.
Working in PR can be extremely difficult, yet the reward is always worth the effort. There’s no better career outlet. Now that you’ve made it this far, it’s time for the real learning to begin.