Public Relations from a non-PR Major

My educational background was not in public relations, so when I began my PR courses I felt a bit out of my league. Now, I’m nearing my final semester of grad school, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I’m about to be a full-fledged adult free of homework and APA citations.

This past year has flown by, and as graduation draws nearer so does the inevitable question of was grad school really worth it? It may be a semester premature, but in short: Yes. The concept of PR I began with seems embarrassingly inaccurate compared to what I’ve walked away with in less than a year. So for those new and old to the PR world: If I were to sum up my most important thought babies from this past year, the points I would stress are…

1) Lead with goals, not tactics.

Just as you would never jump in the car for a road trip without looking at a map first, you can’t implement a communications plan without, well, planning. It amazes me when companies tell their PR professionals, “We need a press release.” Well, for what? What are you hoping to get from this press release? What long-term goal will this press release help accomplish? Who are the primary stakeholders you want reading this press release? Often, the response to those questions is, “Uhhhhh…what?”

One of the greatest skills I’ve acquired from grad school is the art of the strategic planning process. When we discuss it in class it seems embarrassingly simple, but applying it to a business model is no piece of cake. It takes forward, creative, big-picture thinking. A company can’t just tell an intern to make them a Facebook page. There is a strategy that goes along with getting your return on investment from Social Media. That strategy should tie to your business’ objectives, and ultimately the long-term goal of your company.

For example: Do you want to be the #1 retailer for puppy tutus? 

More power to you! If that’s your goal, then your objective might be to increase public awareness of your brand by 10 percent in three months. To achieve this, your strategy could be to reach out to key bloggers in the pet community in order to build friendly relationships and possibly get a few shout-outs. Then, after all of this planning, you can set up your Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger accounts. Now you know who you’re trying to connect with, and you can use these tools to do so.

2) Social Media isn’t just a social tool – it’s a business tool.

This was a big revelation for me this past year. In the beginning, I didn’t get Twitter. My friends weren’t on it, so every time I tweeted I’d ask myself, “Who cares?” But over this past year I’ve learned that Social Media is just as much, if not more, about listening than it is about talking.
In terms of public relations, Twitter is a great tool for sentiment analysis when evaluating how the world perceives a person, brand, corporation, etc. Also, with its ubiquitous nature, Social Media has become a great avenue for professional networking. When I got a reply on Twitter from the author of the book I was reading, I have to admit I was a bit star struck. Which leads me to my next bit of advice…

3) Don’t get star stuck – get connected. 

One of the girls in my Strategic PR class reached out to Peter Shankman on a whim in order to get an interview. We were all a bit shocked when he actually agreed, and I even felt nervous for her. But the public relations industry is very special in the sense that no one is too important to be accessed. Some may think they are, but I think those people are few and far between.

I’ve been so lucky to have had the chance to talk to so many great PR and media professionals this semester. Steve Lee of Quicksilver Interactive Group told us about partying with Lady Gaga, NBC-5 news reporter Omar Villafranca shared stories about people sending in “fake hail” pictures following major storms (wait…is that hail perfectly cubed?!), and the man behind the Denton Police Department Twitter account, Officer Ryan Grelle, taught us about using Twitter responsibly when legal and ethical caution are paramount.

The point here is: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the big cheeses. They’re human – just like you and me.

4) Relationships are everything in this business

Social Media is great for facilitating professional networking and getting your name out there. Having an online portfolio and resume is also great, because you never know who may be out there clicking on your links.

In this business, more so than most industries, relationship building is essential. Make friends with your classmates, because one day they might vouch for you in a new job. Get to know your professors as more than those people who take away my free time and give me red-inked criticism on my papers. They want to see you succeed, and they can really be your greatest advocates come job application time – but only if you make the effort to reach out to them. And even if you had a horrible internship or job experience, don’t burn bridges. I wasn’t crazy about one internship of mine, but it was there that I met a colleague who has been a tremendous help school-wise and a great friend overall.

5) Your dream job is out there. Don’t settle just because of a paycheck.

I get it. The economy is tough right now. Just a few months ago, I was a college graduate waiting tables and slinging cocktails, so I know how it is. I have a friend with a communications degree working in retail sales and another with a biology degree teaching in Spain. In times like these, people often feel they need to just take what they can get.

But one of the main reasons I returned to school was to become more specialized in this field, build relationships with key people in the industry, and hopefully ride out the wave of this poor economy before seeking full-time employment. One of the great things about being in grad school is that I’m surrounded by like-minded people who also have this hunger for the bigger and better.

I’m not saying you have to go to grad school to do this, but I do think you need to surround yourself with people who inspire and encourage you to be your best. I understand that bills need to be paid, but don’t lose sight of your career goals along the way.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Public Relations from a non-PR Major”
  1. Absolutely love this, Katy. You’re making me jealous; I wish I would have developed my blog a little more. This is absolutely perfect though, sums up so much. And yes, the Peter Shankman thing still shocks me. I’m now a total Twitter cheerleader! Cheers to the end (before another beginning) my friend!

  2. Thanks Amanda! I can’t wait to hear about your interview with The Shank next week. I’m looking forward to spending our final class with a much-needed glass of wine surgically attached to my person.

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