By Hannah Nelson
Read. Take notes. Pass exams. Now what?
As I finish up my last class at Elon University, it’s easy to assume that I am done with school. Done with over-priced textbooks, done with vigorous note taking in Accounting 201, done with memorizing Supreme Court cases for my media law class. Done with learning and ready to jump into the field.
But in the transition from a student-and-intern mindset to that of an agency employee, I have found that this industry has many tools, tricks and tactics that cannot be learned in a classroom and that it will very much be a lifelong process.
1. Each client’s definition of PR
In my first communications course, I was taught that public relations is simply positive relations. If it only was that simple. Working on different client accounts, my days at RLF are filled with much more than media relations. Maintaining relationships with journalists, branding through social media, researching competitors…and that’s all before my lunch break begins. Each client will have its own needs for a PR agency and will, therefore, set different goals and duties for the account team. Regardless of the textbook definition of PR, your agency was hired to further the client’s business goals.
2. A focus on small business and niche clients
Most case studies that I’ve read for class feature Fortune 500 companies and their agencies’ successful PR campaigns. But for most of us starting out, giant corporations (and their seemingly unlimited PR budgets) will not be in the job description. Despite this, I’ve learned to prefer smaller clients with niche focuses. Working for a smaller agency, I’ve already gained experience talking with clients and have seen my work directly impact the client’s success. I also enjoy becoming a mini-expert on a range of topics, including marching band history, nanotechnology developments and even swimming puns.
3. The learning curve of technology
In my classes, we skimmed various duties within the field that clients might require, and one simple word has proven to be deceivingly complex: tracking. Media tracking for each client requires multiple technological tools, Excel sheets and databases. At your internship you may have used three different platforms, all different from what you use on your first job. Hopefully, one of your skills listed on your resume is “fast learner.” Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and consult your notes. Sooner than you know it, you will be navigating Cision and crunching quarterly reports.
Remember that time you had to read 75 pages of your media ethics textbook and you approached it with the “skim-reading” method? That is how most journalists will read the pitches that you’ve spent hours writing, editing, revising and distributing. You’ve probably spent a good week becoming an expert on a pitch idea and it will be hard to understand why everyone on the media list is not as excited as you are (for me, it was a pair of gibbons. Come on, who wouldn’t want to write about apes?!). It requires time and energy to pitch, follow up, further follow up and even further re-pitch, but once you get your first hit and secured story, it will be worth it. Oh, and it will also probably be time to follow up on another pitch.
5. Thick skin
Continuing on the topic of communicating with journalists, thick skin is something you will need to build up. Sure your Introduction to PR professor might have mentioned this one day while you were day-dreaming about spring break, but now you’ve graduated and feel on top of the world. It’s hard not to feel unstoppable after accepting your diploma (and passing geology), but almost every PR professional out there has at one point been hung-up on by a reporter or opened a not-so-nice email rejecting a story pitch. Despite that, we keep going. We know the feeling that comes with reading one of your clients’ names in a national outlet, and that outweighs all the criticism.
You won’t find this information on any mid-term exam, but I would highly suggest taking notes for your career as an A+ public relations professional.
Five Things About Public Relations You Won’t Find in a Textbook
By Hannah Nelson