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How to Work in Public Relations: A Quick Guide to the Basics

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Let’s start at the beginning. What is public relations?

According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relations between organizations and their publics.”

Okay… so what does that mean?

Basically it means that you’re working with the media to create and maintain a positive relationship between a business and its clients.

The keyword here is “relationship,” because it’s not about telling a customer to buy your client’s product, but instead showing them they want to buy the product because of their interest and investment in the brand.

PR professionals work to get clients featured in different articles or blurbs in newspapers, on websites, in magazines, or on television programs. This exposure is known as “earned” or “free” media coverage.

So what is a typical day like for someone working in PR?

Well, truthfully there is no “typical” day because every day is a constantly changing schedule of emails, meetings, writing press releases and pitches, communicating with the media, and monitoring coverage of clients.

There is one constant, though.

Each day is filled with constant communication. Whether by phone, email, or in person, this job requires you to have a high emotional intelligence.

Okay, so although there is no typical day, let’s break down some of the things that PR professionals do regularly.

1. Find journalists

A large part of the job is finding journalists that would be interested in writing about your clients. This means going through all sorts of publications, whether they be online or in print, finding editors and journalists, and organizing lists so that you can easily find specific writers for different clients’ niches.

Now, with the increasing popularity of blogs, this means spending a good deal of time on Google learning about the multitude of writers out there.

2. Network

One of the biggest factors for public relations professionals is their network. In order to get stories covered, they need to have relationships with journalists who will be willing to write about their clients. It’s not a profession for introverts.

You are constantly working to build your network—interacting with clients, coworkers, and multiple media professionals on a daily basis.

When talking about the skills of a PR professional, Lynette Lo Tom, previous owner of Bright Light Marketing, says, “you have to be proactive and look for opportunities.” You’re not going to get anywhere waiting for people to come to you.

But it’s of the utmost importance that you approach these interactions in an appropriate and appealing way. Badgering strangers to write about your clients can often end up with your email address blocked and your story thrown in the trash.

2. Write press releases

What is a press release? PRWeb gives a few different definitions and talks about how these definitions have changed over time. Keri Cook on the blog PRNewsPros takes a closer look at this change in her post “The Press Release Isn’t Dead: Writing for the Digital Age.”

But basically it’s a statement that is sent to the media that conveys information about a person, event, service, or product that is (hopefully) significant enough to write about.

3. Write pitches

A pitch is a shorter, less formal version of the press release. Public relations professional Robert Wynne shows us what works and what doesn’t when writing pitches in his post, “How NOT to Write a Pitch Letter,” for Forbes magazine.

4. Understand what is “newsworthy”

PR professionals have to have an understanding of what is considered “newsworthy.”

Lynette Lo Tom explains why many PR professionals have backgrounds in journalism.

“It really helped me to have worked at the assignment desk at KGMB and to have been a reporter with PBS, KGMB, and print media to understand what makes good news and when something is not newsworthy. It’s important in PR to be able to research your client and find stories that are newsworthy. The hardest job is trying to pitch a story that is not.”

Journalists are not going to want to write about a story they don’t think people will be interested in or that has already been told.

This can sometimes be difficult to explain to clients and why it is so important to be able to communicate well.

In order to be successful in Public Relations, Lynette says that you need to, “be able to write, get along with your clients, and recognize what they need” while also recognizing the needs of the media.

5. Monitor media coverage

Part of keeping a good relationship with your clients is being able to show them where and when they were featured. This means scouring the internet for any mentions of your clients in the media and organizing it to show them.

Now that you’ve seen a little bit of what goes on in the world of Public Relations let’s take a look at the pros and cons of working in this industry.

I spoke with a few people in the industry, and it sounds like for many of them, the pros overlap with the cons.

Pros:

+ Every day is different (you never have to worry about doing the same thing day after day)

+ Creative industry in which you get to tell stories (it can be amazing when you work for clients you really believe in)

+ Interact with many different people (if you’re an extrovert this can be exciting and fun)

+ Get to participate in fun events (though this does not happen as often as it may seem)

Cons:

- Every day is different (some parts of the job are more exciting than others and certain days can be spent doing the not-so-interesting stuff)

- Creative industry in which you get to tell stories (it can be difficult to always come up with “newsworthy” stories to tell)

- Interact with many different people (can be exhausting to be “on” all the time)

- Long hours (definitely goes beyond the 9 to 5)

What else do you need to know about getting a job in PR?

Every single person that I’ve spoken with recommends internships for anyone who wants to enter into this industry. Through an internship you’ll not only learn to format all of these different documents and spreadsheets (and many more), but also how the lifestyle feels and whether you have the emotional intelligence and energy required to live the life of a PR professional.

Homework time! Read some of our interviews with Public Relations professionals on the AfterCollege Blog. Begin your search for an internship and check out the opportunities on Explore. Then, work on your networking skills with these 7 secrets to networking your way to a job after college.

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