Five tips to prepare for a job in public relations

If you’re a college graduate today, congratulations! You possess valuable and futuristic skills that would crash a cloud-based server farm. You understand the digital landscape better than most, if not all, professionals age 40+.

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You communicate and know how to research via social media, text, email and other formats much faster than previous generations. In fact, many of you may be reading this on Google Glass or some other technology most of us have never heard about.

I’ve been interviewing and hiring paid interns, part-time and full-time staff for almost 20 years. Unfortunately, the trend for graduates is slowly but inexorably pointing down. This doesn’t mean they are less intelligent or care less, only that they are less prepared.

Elders have always complained about youth. Thousands of years ago, Socrates said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Attitude isn’t the problem today—most graduates are very polite and respectful. The two issues causing graduates the biggest problems today adjusting to the PR field are their short attention spans and their bad writing skills.

So if you’re looking for a career in public relations today, here are five lessons to help you get and keep that job.

Understand the business

There are two main goals and roles in a PR agency—finding new clients and keeping the current ones happy. That’s it. It you can find new clients, and keep your existing customers, you won’t go hungry. Making clients happy usually involves obtaining media coverage, but it can also include creating new messaging, writing speeches, executing and planning events, developing social media campaigns, and the like.

For in-house PR at a non-profit or a corporation, if you know how to get your boss or firm in front of journalists, you will go far. While in school, it’s a great idea to work PR in-house or get an internship at a PR agency for experience.

Understand the media

To be fair, nobody comprehends the media 100 percent—it’s changing too fast. But it’s important to know the basics. Websites, magazines, TV stations and newspapers (what’s that? ask your parents) need content. That’s how they attract an audience which pays for that information. If the content is free, the outlet makes money by selling advertising based on the size of the audience, and how long users stay on the site watching video and reading the stories.

A journalist’s job isn’t to promote your client. They are tasked with discovering and creating newsworthy or click-worthy stories. Finding the right outlet and the right reporter who covers your industry greatly increases your chance of success. Going to events where reporters speak about their needs, in your classroom at a conference, will help you understand their needs.

Learn to write

This is the biggest shortfall of graduates and the #1 complaint from my fellow PR agency owners. Graduates are so good at social media, and so adept at text and photo sharing, many have lost the ability to communicate in longer formats. Forget full press releases or bylined stories—complete sentences and paragraphs can be a challenge.

Because there aren’t many jobs that require writing emojis or posting selfies in hipster hats with tote kewl captions, it’s important to enter a career with decent writing skills. At a minimum, entry-level employees should know the difference between pitches, press releases, bylined stories and editorials, and be able to provide well-written samples for all them.

Be professional

America has become more casual. Hipster Culture demands you show up late and act cool. Suits are out, sneakers are in. I get it. But you’re not the CEO of Apple or the publicist for Kendrick Lamar. Be early and wear nice clothes to an interview and put away the cell phone while talking to employers.  I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you get the job, don’t wear jeans to a formal event.

Be current

I like to hire people who bring something unique to the firm, whether it’s knowledge about a new trend in content marketing, connections to trendy publications like Refinery29, Vice Media, Thrillist or Complex, ideas about how and where to stage new events, or ways to leverage social media for existing and potential clients.

The world of public relations and media is changing very fast, but not so fast where writing skills, long attention spans and people skills are obsolete.


Robert Wynne

Robert Wynne

Robert Wynne owns a public relations and events agency in Redondo Beach, CA. He is a contributor to Forbes and the author of “Straight Talk About Public Relations,” an Amazon bestseller now in its second printing. He can be contacted at rob@wynnepr.com or @robwynne.