It’s graduation season, when advice is plentiful, but jobs are scarce.
Firms like mine are blitzed with resumes from freshly degreed communications grads eager to make their mark in PR. A tough economy isn’t the only obstacle. Those entering the workforce now are tagged as Millennials and stereotyped as indulged, overpraised, and entitled.
Here’s my contribution to the advice flurry, based on my own experience as an employer, and some field research among entry-level agency staff. I’ve read some advice for millennials looking to break into PR. For the record, I couldn’t care less about thank you notes, and most people in my position don’t expect most new hires to stay five years. In my view, agency life is not “supposed to suck.” But, it does help if you know what you’re getting into.
First, learn to write. (I know, I know.) Long-form journalism may be dying, but writing still matters. It’s how most prospective employers will first meet you. Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But please be brief.
Get real. Experience, that is. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course at NYU, I was struck by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory and cognition. But, very few could write a solid client recommendation memo with a budget, let alone a PR program. If your school doesn’t require an internship, get it on your own. It’s at the top of employers’ lists, and it will give you a taste of the basic agency or corporate PR functions.
Become an expert. On something. The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. One way is to develop a special interest or expertise in a relevant area, like location-based social media, marketing to moms, or making technology attributes accessible. An informed POV will impress a prospective boss.
Have a mind of your own. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on Cool Client Brand team, you have ideas or opinions about Client Brand or a competitor. If an employer asks you what you think of her agency’s website, blog, philosophy, or culture, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.
Package yourself. Have the elevator speech ready. Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and play up what works. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter said to me as I walked in the room, “Tell us about Dorothy Crenshaw.” Overwhelmed, I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest. Have your brand identity and key messages in your mind.
Use the media. When the going is tough, the tough get on YouTube. And Facebook. Use that Millennial creativity and connectedness. Make us laugh, or at least smile. Look at Eric Romer, who late last year launched a one-man Facebook, Twitter, and PR push to land a job at Headblade, a company that markets a scalp shaving product for men, and one that he personally uses and loves. Eric’s smooth social media moves and bald relentlessness grew into hundreds of blog posts, links, and mentions, massive Facebook attention, and even traditional media coverage. He also got the job. The best new example of digital media smarts – and pure creativity – is that of Alec Brownstein. He bought the names of prominent ad agency creative directors on Google adwords to get their attention when they googled themselves. He got it, and a copywriting job, for a total investment of six dollars.
Recently I was one of several PR firm owners targeted by Auburn University senior Amanda Pinto, who’s determined to fulfill her dream of working in PR in New York. Amanda launched a getAmandatoNY blog and personal marketing campaign with a little help from her friends. Her video is funny, original, and social – attributes that typify the Millennial generation. She’ll get there. And, with persistence and a little innovation, so will you.