I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree almost six months ago, but today I will be walking in the University of Utah commencement ceremony to make it official. Since obtaining my Bachelor’s degree and entering the professional workforce, I have learned a few things that I wish I had been told before or early on in my college career. So in the spirit of the graduation season, here are eight tips I have for students who aspire to enter the PR career field.
1. Write, write, write (and then write some more).
Public relations is a very writing intensive job. Despite what movies and TV shows portray, PR is a lot more than just talking to a bunch of reporters with microphones shoved in your face (which hardly ever happens). No, the majority of PR is writing. Whether you’re writing a press release or writing an email to pitch a journalist, you need to know how to write, and you need to know how to write well.
Start writing in a journal or blog as soon as you decide you want to work in PR. Write short stories, write about your day, write letters—just write. The more you practice, the more polished your writing will get. Bonus points if you write blog posts about your life events in press release form.
Don’t know what to write about? Check out this blog post with tips to beat writer’s block.
2. Be social media active.
The PR industry is becoming more and more social. After all, public relations is all about establishing and maintaining relationships with the public, and the public is on social media. In fact, some companies won’t even hire you if you don’t have an active Facebook, Twitter, and blog. Every business has its own social media marketing strategy, and you should develop a personal one to market yourself to employers. It’s also a good idea to follow people in the PR industry as well, they are always offering great tips and it’s an excellent opportunity to network.
3. Read the newspaper and follow PR industry blogs.
Read the newspaper to get a feel for the journalistic writing style. Pay attention to how the article is structured and how specific words are written. For example, journalists follow AP style, and AP style dictates that you always spell out the word “percent” and numbers under 10. Press releases are written in AP style, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with it.
It’s also a good idea to read PR industry blogs. These blogs offer great tips and analyze current events from a PR standpoint. One of my personal favorite blogs to read is PR Daily.
4. Seek criticism.
Every time you have a paper due in a class, ask the professor if you can submit a draft to them to read over and make suggestions for improvement. Most professors are more than willing to do this, and it only strengthens your writing. If you know somebody in the PR industry, ask them for criticism. If you don’t know a PR professional, find one through a friend, family member or on the Internet. It’s also not a bad idea to ask friends and family to critique articles you’ve written. The more eyes you get in front of your writing, the better.
5. Do as many internships as you can.
Professors will always tell you to do at least one internship, but I think you should do as many as you can. I would say do at least three, even if you don’t earn credit for all of them. Never turn down an opportunity to work with professionals and gain experience, because you never know who you’re going to meet or what the opportunity will turn into. It’s also a good idea to seek opportunities to practice your PR skills in your paying job. Your hard work will pay off in the end.
6. Get a job in retail customer service and sales.
We all have to do grunt work in college to earn money for tuition, food, and weekend fun. My suggestion would be to work in retail sales or customer service. You might think I’m crazy, but just hear me out.
Retail customer service tends to have a lot of irate customers, and it’s your job to calm them down. You learn how to speak in a delicate manner, which is perfect for crisis management in public relations.
Retail sales will teach you how to sell, which comes in handy when you have to pitch a journalist. Think about it. Instead of selling a product, you’re selling a story. They both use the same skills, and once you get the hang of selling a product, selling a free story will be a breeze.
7. Bone up on your SEO.
While search engine optimization may not be your cup of tea, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of it. SEO teams and public relations teams work hand in hand, and press releases are part of the SEO strategy. While Google’s Panda update may not make you jump for joy or punch a wall, you need to understand why your SEO counterparts are acting strange and where your role as a PR specialist plays in their strategy.
8. Minor in business.
Many public relations programs encourage students to declare a minor in order to meet the university minimum credit requirement. It also helps round out your degree. I strongly encourage students wanting to study public relations to minor in business. The lines between public relations and marketing are blurring every day, and having some general marketing knowledge under your belt can take you a long way. Getting a minor in business also introduces you to the world of finance and accounting, which can be useful when writing finance-based press releases and communicating with those on the financial side of the business.
Why should you take these tips into consideration? So you can get a job when you graduate! After all, that’s why you’re going to college, right? The current job market is tough, so the more you can do to set yourself apart from the other candidates, the better. These are just the things I have learned during my journey into the PR world, does anybody else have any tips?
About the author
In her younger years, Alyssa spent hours on MySpace and dreamt about becoming the rock-band Green Day’s publicist. Now, Alyssa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and specializes in strategic communications and social media marketing; so, it looks like all those hours spent on MySpace weren’t a complete waste of time. Alyssa discovered her knack for public relations during the golden years by organizing a blanket-making drive for her high school. She garnered a large amount of media attention around the event, and had she not been a student, the school might have gotten their hands on her as the new public relations coordinator. She continues to take initiative with the same ferocity for all our clients. When she isn’t geeking out over technology, Alyssa enjoys going to concerts, snowboarding, and reading on her Nook.