What You Need to Get a Job in Public Relations After College

Val and her team at the Leica Store LA opening event

Val and her team at the Leica Store LA opening event

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It’s 6:30pm and you’ve barely left your desk all day. Your lunch break consisted of a granola bar hastily shoved into your mouth and washed down with a glass of water just in time to make yet another phone call. Now, as the day comes to an end, you’re ready to go home. But just when you think the day is over, your boss pings you to let you know that you’ll need to call Client X to explain the details of the latest project.

You take a breath, respond to your boss with a “Got it. No prob!” and then gather all the necessary info on Client X. This morning you were fast-talking and aggressive pitching Client X’s story to Reporter A but now you switch to the enthusiastic and patient demeanor that Client X responds to best.

This job may not require you to have an IQ score of 180 or the technical skills necessary to build a website, but there’s no doubt about the amount of emotional intelligence that it is imperative to have in the field of Public Relations.

Valerie Shaindlin understands the importance of emotional intelligence—being able to interact with multiple people and personality types every day. As an Account Executive at EVINS, she works with a variety of different clients, media executives, and coworkers on a daily basis. “PR is not a place for introverts,” Valerie advises.

Education:

Valerie attended Skidmore College and graduated with a degree in Management and Business in May 2012. When thinking about how her major relates to her work she humorously mentions her lack of involvement with any sort of public relations courses.

“My college offered PR and promotions classes in the business department, but I actually never took any of them!”

While studying in the business department, Valerie did take a marketing class, but she is quick to point out the differences between marketing and public relations. Though the two do intersect, marketing deals more with advertising whereas PR is the business of trying to get clients coverage and buzz for free. Valerie gives us an example: a public relations firm will try to get a client featured in an article rather than paying for them to be featured in an ad that is next to the article.

“It seems more organic to the reader,” Valerie mentions, “and it’s easier to capture more readers’ attention and for longer.”

How did her Management and Business major help her with her job?

At the end of the day, clients care about the bottom line. Her business degree helps her to be conscious of this and gives her the ability to contribute ideas that relate to the clients’ businesses outside of PR. But, she warns, it’s not always good to jump in and give your advice. She’s had to learn when it’s appropriate to give advice and when it’s better to keep it to herself.

Discovering PR:

Like many students, Valerie was unsure about her future career. Ending up in public relations was not something that was planned. While in college, she used her connections as a guide and put feelers out for any internships that might be available and (at least somewhat) related to her major. She ended up finding one in PR and liked it so much that she was willing to come back when they offered her a job after she graduated.

“The one thing that really drew me in when I applied to the internship was crisis communications or how to respond to a situation that is negative or out of control for a brand.”

Although “crisis situations” are not a regular part of her job, Valerie found the challenge of taking a negative situation and working with it to produce a positive outcome enticing.

She was hooked.

Valerie’s Typical Day:

7:30am – wake up, eat breakfast, shower/get ready

8:15am – out the door for work

8:45am – get to the office, check emails, maybe catch up on some personal emails/items as well

9:00am – work day begins… it’s a constantly changing schedule of meetings, answering emails, writing press releases and pitches, corresponding with media and clients, and monitoring media coverage.

Every single day she’s communicating with upwards of 20 different people via phone and email. (You get a lot of writing practice, an essential life skill, while also learning to format Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. This may not sound glamorous but it actually comes in quite handy.)

6:30 or 7:00pm – leave the office, have a couple hours of free time to get dinner and work out or do something fun or relaxing before an early bedtime

Her Favorite Part of the Job:

Valerie loves how diverse the work is. She also appreciates how well it is preparing her for any other career she might wish to pursue in the future. No two days are ever exactly the same. Her daily duties consist of everything from small administrative tasks to facilitating partnerships between high-profile companies.

“One day I’m meeting A-list celebrities and the next, I’m reformatting a memo for the fifth time. There are a lot of highs and lows. I think that’s how many PR jobs are.”

It keeps you humble while also pushing you to be better and more mature every day. You’re constantly being asked to learn new things and some of those things may be tedious, but it’s also what’s great about the job because you’re constantly growing and developing skills that will be useful in the future.

The Biggest Challenges of the Industry:

“The biggest positives can also be the biggest negatives,” Valerie says.

Since you never know what to expect day-to-day, it can be extremely draining. She finds that it can be difficult to maintain the level of energy that the job requires for the full nine-hour work day (it’s almost always too busy to take a break or lunch). Then, sometimes, there are client events to attend and help run when her normal hours are over.

“Even if I don’t have a client event after work,” she admits, “sometimes I’m too tired to do anything else productive or even fun for the day. I need to just go home, eat whatever’s in the fridge, and watch Netflix. It’s definitely an industry for people with a ton of energy.”

Another challenge that you will face in the PR industry?

Being able to maintain relationships with everyone that you work with.

The work itself may not be as intellectually challenging as it would be in, say, scientific, financial, or academic industries, but it’s emotionally challenging. This is probably why it is dominated by females, who tend to have more emotional intelligence.

Your days consist of interactions with your boss/es, the people you supervise, your client (usually multiple clients, all with different agendas and personalities), and members of the media who can be very nice but at other times a bit pushy. All while keeping your own sanity!

It may not involve complex equations or code, but it’s still challenging.

Valerie’s Examples of “Good” and “Not So Good” PR:

Not So Good: SeaWorld

What Happened: SeaWorld preemptively sent a critique of the soon-to-be-released documentary Blackfish, (which negatively portrays the water park) to a group of critics who were about to review it.

Why it was the wrong move: SeaWorld was right to be paying attention, but they should have waited to see what type of press coverage the film received. A lot of the time documentaries are not popular when compared to other films. Acting like they had something to defend made SeaWorld look guilty and probably brought more publicity to the film.

Good: The WestJet “Christmas Miracle

What Happened: Surprised customers and created a video that people really wanted to share and talk about.

Why it was the right move: That’s what PR is all about—experiential, emotional, and shareable content having to do with a brand. After this video went up, most people who shared it were commenting that they’d never even heard of WestJet before. Suddenly they were brand ambassadors.

Advice Valerie Has for College Students Interested in Pursuing PR:

Helpful Skills

In terms of personal attributes: attention to detail; driven; organized; motivated and self-motivated; energetic; personable; composed and presentable (PR is all about the message you send!); comfortable in unfamiliar situations and meeting new people.

Technical skills that would be useful: writing; verbal communication; public speaking; Microsoft Office; Outlook; Nexis, Cision, and/or other media monitoring and list-building software/services.

Education

Experiment with a well-rounded approach to your education. Although Valerie knows many people in the industry that do have degrees in Communications and/or PR, she recommends majoring in business or economics to get to know that side of things. Better yet, she suggests students minor in PR and major in whatever industry they want to do PR for (e.g. music, fashion, photography, hospitality, art, etc.) That way they’ll have specific knowledge and skills for the job. Majoring in English (or at least taking some classes) is also helpful since public relations involves so much writing.

Experience

Internships!

“I learned more during my PR internship than I ever did in a classroom,” Valerie says, “I cannot stress enough how important internships are.”

Completing an internship in PR will allow you to test-drive the lifestyle and see if you have the energy and emotional fortitude to survive. But it’s not enough to just do an internship. Valerie makes it a point to mention that while at your internship, you have to give it your all. Even if you’re working for nothing, you still have to try your hardest to do the best work possible.

“If you’re not trying your best as an intern you’re wasting your time,” Valerie says

Not only are you cheating yourself out of learning more about the industry, but you’re also tarnishing your relationship with professionals in the field.

Homework time! Interested in working in public relations? Valerie mentions the importance of emotional intelligence when it comes to this field. Start practicing your communication skills by getting involved with some activities on campus. Join a club, attend a networking event, take an improv class! Anything that will help you perfect your communication skills.

Valerie also suggests that instead of majoring in PR / Communications, you major in whatever field you’re interested in doing PR for and minor in a PR related field. Mari Kam was interested in food and got her Master’s in hospitality before becoming the Strategic Marketing Manager for the Halekulani Corporation. Start thinking about what interests you. Learn as much as possible so that when the time comes when you’re asked “Why should we hire you?” you’ll know exactly what to say.

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5 Responses to “What You Need to Get a Job in Public Relations After College”

  1. Rachel

    I think this is a good article – but I wanted to highlight a few things as it differs a lot from my experience. Of course, PR covers such a huge spectrum of job roles, you could never possibly represent them all within one post.

    I do think it’s unhelpful to say PR isn’t for introverts, some of the most successful people in the industry will identify as introverted. Perhaps shy is the word you’re looking for, but even then, you can make a success in this career if you have the right skills.

    The other area of PR for prospective students to be aware of is internal PR, often called corporate communications. This is a vastly different role to those in PR agencies and almost requires a completely different set of skills.

    The best part of the article was persuading people to intern. While you can, get as much experience as possible. You never know what you may find yourself enjoying doing!

    Reply
    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Rachel, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! We’re glad to hear that in your experience introverts can be successful in this field. We’d love to learn more about internal PR/corporate communications. If you have experience in this field and you’d like to share it with our readers, let us know. Maybe you’d be interested in writing a guest post for us? If so, drop us a line at blog AT aftercollege DOT com. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. JUANITA

    HI RACHAEL, WOW FANTASTIC INFORMATION LOVE IT. I AM A PEOPLE PERSONS WITH GREAT SALES SKILLS, I LOVE LOVE SALES. YOUR STORY WAS VERY EDUCATIONAL AND GREAT TIPS AND VERY WELL EXPLAINED. I LOVE FASHION AND ADMIRE WOMEN AND MEN IN GREAT LOOKING CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES. THANKS FOR SHARING.

    Reply

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