Public relations is a $13 billion industry employing 100,000 people in the US. And, the need for qualified PR people has never been greater. The country has seen record growth in entrepreneurism according to a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, with 27 million businesspeople vying for a presence. And that’s only counting start-ups – established businesses, big brands, political movements, personalities, not-for-profits – everyone needs good PR.
But a career in public relations isn’t for the faint of heart. Every day is challenging, full of deadlines, demanding critical thinking and strategic decisions with real impact. Think you’re up to the challenge? Here are five tips to consider if a PR career is in your sights.
Gain crack research skills
Data is power in more ways than one. It’s not enough to research the agency you’re applying to – that’s your baseline. Serious candidates research the industry, clients, client competitors and any other intel that will give them an edge. We were most impressed when a candidate tracked down press releases for competitors to a client and created a simple SWOT analysis that aided in our pitching. Once in the agency environment, those with terrific research acumen can help their firms win client business, craft more targeted story pitches for existing clients and even futurecast for possible industries an agency might want to target. Beyond Google, there are sites like American Fact Finder, a resource for searching U.S. census data; Nielsen’s MyBestSegments, which provides demographic information and lifestyle habits; and one of our personal favorites, the the Pew Research Center website, which offers free research on everything from finance and political attitudes to media and tech.
“Scrupulous” means two things: honest, and attentive to detail. Both are very important for PR people. From the minute you polish your resume, through the interview process and on to the front lines of account work, PR is a business that demands accountability. We owe our business partners an honest assessment of new products and advice that helps manage expectations and navigate tricky reputation situations. When developing materials, we attend to every aspect of the narrative and its main messages, and when working with reporters on stories, every detail is important. For both our clients and ourselves, we must spot and respond to, correct, or mitigate anything erroneous being said by the traditional media or those on social media. This has always been a key part of a PR person’s job, but it’s particularly important in the era of “fake news.”
Master all types of writing
In my first PR job, I was told that if I didn’t love to write, I was in the wrong business. And this is still true today. But it’s not as easy as crafting a compelling press release; successful PR people need to be able to write from their left and right brains. And, one of the best ways to improve writing is by reading — following a varied diet of great journalistic and creative content. For news organizations and journalists, we typically craft short, detailed pitch emails to get attention, and with bigger news, press releases. The pitch might be the hardest, given that brevity is a must, but the writing of a terrific press release also takes skill and artfulness. For thought leadership campaigns, PR teams put together interesting content like blogs, white papers or bylined articles for clients on subjects as varied as clean energy and construction. But in all agencies, the importance of business communication can’t be underestimated. This writing includes presentations, memos, proposals, job descriptions, performance reviews, RFP responses, training materials, promotional copy and a wide range of other materials. It’s important in business writing to be as professional, concise and jargon-free as you can. The good news is most agencies have a healthy supply of preferred templates to help new recruits learn the business-writing ropes.
Be tech-savvy – and then some
PR is about more than great writing and strategic skills. Today’s successful PR pro should know their way around a variety of tech, including presentation software. Prezi and Haiku Deck are easy to use platforms for beautiful, custom presentations and there are several more that are worth checking out. Our office has adopted HipChat for quick group chats and we find it a great timesaver. Being tech-savvy also includes using WordPress for website hosting and blog posting as well as the basics behind all the social media platforms. Many PR firms do their own media training, and it’s important to be able to use a video camera (or your phone) to capture training sessions to help clients master communication skills. It’s estimated that 65% of all people are visual learners, and great video content is becoming standard as part of a successful online PR campaign. With an increase in content comes a need for greater sophistication and production value in video creation. It pays to get to know some of the free tools which can splice clips, add transitions and special effects and apply video and audio effects to really up your video game. Check out Lightworks and ShotCut for starts. The more tech-savvy you are, the better positioned you are to be a real PR team asset.
Be a good communicator
Yes, it’s a very general term, but it’s the foundation of what we do. The most successful PR campaigns are the result of a brilliant collaboration, both within the PR team and between the agency and its clients. There are many situations where an in-house team will face a pressure-cooker situation and need to pull together to make an event or announcement come off perfectly. In those situations it’s advantageous to have (or be) a leader who’s clear in making specific assignments with deadlines and accountability. And when you’re not in the trenches, inspired communication is an effective way of motivating a team and reminding them of their original goals. Every leader has a style, and some prefer written communication over verbal. But the best PR people are able to craft both the perfect memo to rouse the troops and the right note in wrapping up a staff meeting or client pitch. Even the most creative presentation doesn’t rest on the powerpoint deck; it’s about the people who are speaking.
Public relations is a fast-paced, ever-evolving field with new client and industry opportunities every day. The one promise PR pros can make to someone joining the ranks? They will constantly be challenged and never be bored.