“So how do I get into public relations?”
This was the last question I expected to get while balancing my plate at a recent backyard barbecue, but sure enough a friend’s daughter asked me this while I was grabbing another helping of pasta salad. Of course I was happy to talk to the rising sophomore about my personal experiences, which included stints at several small agencies, but it never occurred to me how I could guide her down my same career path.
My own career in communications evolved from a love of writing and research during a time when the internet was starting to make an impact on the industry. Her experiences were undoubtedly very different from mine given the advances in how people communicate in today’s digitally connected universe. Thankfully, even as technologies that help connect to each other more efficiently emerge; the nuts and bolts about how to lay a foundation to break into the industry are still pretty much the same.
Here are some general tips for students looking for some direction as they explore a possible career in communications:
Knowing how to use technology is a clear asset in the public relations world. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have changed the way companies and organizations reach people and understanding how to use these elements effectively will help you set yourself apart from the pack. A digital skillset is often a job requirement. Employers are continually looking for new ways to tell their clients’ story through social media. It’s important to know how to leverage digital channels to engage with, listen to and learn from consumers.
Check with your school’s career center and ask about alumni resources that can help give you a sense of what it is like to work in the PR industry. Not only will these individuals be able to give you a first person perspective about the industry, they may also know about opportunities for internships which will help you acquire the experience you will need to land your first position. Also check to see if your school has a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. This organization, which currently exists on 320 colleges and universities nationwide, helps college students get an initial introduction into public relations. PRSSA helps students get started in their career by, providing scholarship opportunities, internship listings, networking events and access to publications, news and social media to stay updated on industry trends. Also check to see if there is a PRSA chapter in your area. PRSA is PRSSA’s parent organization, and offers an opportunity to network and learn from industry professionals in your area. Building relationships with PR professionals during college will create a broad network that you can leverage for job opportunities upon graduation.
Before you decide if a career in communications is right for you, it is important to look for opportunities to experience working in a PR environment. Do you want to work in for an agency? How about doing promotions for an environmental nonprofit? There are many areas of PR, such as working for an agency, government, nonprofit or consulting. Among these areas, there are also many industries, including entertainment, fashion, consumer products, international relations, sports marketing, and many more. Internships let you try on different hats while you are acquiring real-world job skills, without committing to one path. Talk to your campus career center representative to find out more details about available internships in the PR field and how you can apply.
Fortunately there are no hard and fast rules for getting into the public relations field, but there are some general guidelines that students can use to help them make the decision of whether or not it is a good fit for their interests. When in doubt, ask more questions and seek advice. Help can come from the most unlikely places, even a neighborhood barbecue.