What can you really expect from the living the life of a public relations professional?
I gave a speech a few weeks ago to a room full of college students who happen to be PR hopefuls. A lot of the speech covered what I want to talk about here, but the main takeaway for me was how surprised I was by the comments afterward.
“I didn’t even consider what public relations would actually be like as a job.”
“PR sounds even better than I thought.”
“It’s great to hear about what I actually need to know for this profession.”
Their comments stuck with me because I was thinking the same things (exactly) when I was a sophomore/junior in college, but my questions were typically answered in the vaguest way possible. It’s unfortunate, but the nature of this profession is that it is so diverse and complicated, that we are typically given ambiguous descriptions of what the life of PR is really like.
Even as I write this, I recognize that my journey with PR is and will be vastly different from the way others experience it. Still, that’s not an excuse for me to lend my perspective, and I can at least layer my experiences with the lessons from them that are essentially universal.
Lesson 1: Manage your expectations.
Education on PR varies, but it is still crucial for you to be aware of what your employers expect from your bachelor’s degree in public relations. When I started my first PR job, I was asked to do something I was never trained in or considered actual PR. The task was more closely related with journalism, which is usually considered a close cousin. Though I was able to adapt and perform the job well, I failed to manage my expectations for what the job description asked when I applied.
The reason these things happen is because people like to define this profession their own way based on the same outcome: publicity and image management as it relates to the bottom line. It’s just that you may know of a different way to get there.
Ask your employer questions about how they view the job before accepting. Is this is a social media manager position? Are you managing campaigns? Do they believe PR and advertising are synonymous terms? Establish an understanding between yourself and the organization before you begin your career with them.
Lesson 2: Never stop training.
Maybe this is more of a millennial thing, but the idea of constantly learning and applying new skills that are relevant to your skills is rightfully popular. If you’re lucky, your supervisors will strongly encourage and facilitate an environment where you are training yourself in worthwhile skills, such as SEO, Google AdWords, social media marketing, graphic design and other skills that require courses you may not already be well-versed in.
Lesson 3: If you don’t know what to do, ask.
This is especially important if you’re not working within a team. When working alone, it’s tempting to use those situations as a way to prove you’re worth something to your employer. This is extremely misguided, since you are diminishing the chances that you will satisfy the needs of both your supervisor and your organization.
When I was first given tasks that I didn’t know how to do, I let my pride get in the way of accomplishing them successfully. I forced myself into a “sink or swim” situation that I didn’t even need to be in. Since those days, I’ve learned that when I don’t know how to do something, it’s infinitely better to gain more information.
Ask the taskmaster what they expect out of you. Establish trust with them that they will call you out when you do something incorrectly (which is especially important when you first start the job). Be honest and let them know that you’re not entirely sure how to logistically get what they want done.
From there, they be able to lead you in the right direction. Sometimes, they know the answer, but other times you may just have to look elsewhere. Whatever you decide to do, ensure that you’re communicating with your team and moving forward with the task at hand, rather than wasting time by going it alone.
Lesson 4: Know your organization inside and out.
One of the hallmarks of a valuable PR leader is that they are able to speak on behalf of the organization clearly, correctly and efficiently. You can’t get to that point, however, until you have a full understanding of where your organization comes from, what its values are and what language it speaks.
At the company I work for now, my supervisor displayed this brilliantly by narrowing the language down three words. He said that everything our organization says needs to be “smart, inspiring and accessible.” Simple words, to be sure, but they are vital for me as a PR specialist when applying anything I want to say on behalf of the brand I represent.
Do the research necessary to know everything about who you work for. We all want to jump ahead to that point when we’re trustworthy enough to be the spokesman for whoever we represent, but we often forget that this trust needs to be earned. You need to qualify yourself.
Lesson 5: Take breaks.
Though I break this rule far too often, it is still vital. This is a stressful job that demands both precision and creativity on a level that has to be near perfect. If you’re not pacing yourself with your work, the quality suffers along with your mental health (exaggerated, but not that much of a stretch!).
The stress we take on comes from a lot of the uncertainty that can come from practicing an art that doesn’t have direct benefits to our employers. We have to prove ourselves on a daily basis, giving us absolutely zero time to waste. One thing I can encourage you with is that it gets better and easier as you go. For now, however, take a quick break.
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