We all learn on the job. That’s just a fact of life. While college courses in communications help prepare budding PR pros, they learn the arts of juggling tasks and deadlines, of client service, and of navigating office culture…well, at the office. This is where they hone their craft.
When I started in PR, fresh from college, I had to learn on the job, too. It was time to sink or swim. Looking back, I wish someone would have handed me a list of things I should know on the first day of my career. Therefore, while the industry has changed IMMENSELY from that day in the late 90s, I now offer PR pros-in-training a list of five tips to help them swim and start honing their craft.
- READ. Junior PR staff are often responsible for media monitoring. They may plug keywords into a monitoring service or search engine, skim articles, or compile and distribute coverage reports. Go beyond that—read to develop situational awareness so you can add value. Understand conceptually what’s going on with your clients, their competitors, and their industry at-large. Know which journalists and outlets are covering those issues and the emerging trends they are reporting. Use this intel to update the media list continually. This reading will make you a much better counselor to your clients and help you generate new ideas.
- Get over your fear of pitching. If you’ve read (see point #1 above), you’re on your way to becoming a pitcher. You know who the right contacts are and what they are covering. Reporters are busy (perhaps even more so than when I started my career) and you might get two minutes at most on the phone. Write out a few bullet points of what you want to convey and what you need to get out of that very short conversation. See it from the reporter’s point of view. Base your points on what the reporter is covering and the publication’s audience, and make sure that one of those points answers the question, “Why should I care?”. Will you be a star pitcher overnight? Probably not – it takes practice – but the preparation will build your confidence and will likely improve results.
- Be prepared to multitask. One of the most challenging questions I get from friends and family who aren’t in this industry is, “What’s a typical day like?” For me and countless others in PR, there is no typical day. You may be prepared to work on a press release or media list in the morning, but instead find yourself issuing a pitch or media alert offering a client spokesperson for comment on relevant breaking industry news, with the afternoon dedicated to conducting research for a suddenly time sensitive new business proposal. Breathe, and be flexible. You will become a master juggler, but always ask for deadlines to determine how to prioritize.
- Find a mentor. If you’re as fortunate as I was, you will identify a few colleagues who notice your potential and want to nurture it. If they want to help, let them. Soak up their advice like a sponge. This will help you learn and grow more rapidly, and you will be likely to impart similar guidance someday. Along the same lines, if you’re offered in-house or outside professional development classes, take them. Not only will you learn various tools and techniques, you will also likely make valuable contacts.
- Propose answers before questions. My first boss counseled me to approach her with answers, not questions. It was good advice. As an entry level PR person, it’s understandable that you don’t have all the answers and there may be times you’re stuck and need some guidance. However, if you think through the dilemma you’re facing and approach your boss with, “Here’s the issue and here’s how I think we can address it,” you will enhance your strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities. As a bonus, your supervisor will also likely appreciate your initiative.
So, there are my top five words of wisdom. What do you have to add? Senior leaders, what’s the best piece of advice you received when starting out? PR newcomers, what do you want to learn about the field?