College courses in PR and communications can be very valuable; as PR students, we learn about topics as varied and vital as crisis communication, industry ethics, and social media management. Such classes are beneficial for anyone planning a PR career. Yet sometimes college professors spend more time telling us what our future looks like rather than showing us how to get there.
As someone working at a top PR agency, I know there were some missing courses. Here’s a sampling of classes that could be helpful to PR professionals working today.
Whether you’re an Account Coordinator or a PR veteran, you will be pitching stories… a lot of stories. The standard advice is to do your research, check your grammar, and personalize the pitch to the reporter. But in my experience, another key to pitching success is an attention-grabbing subject line. After all, if a journalist doesn’t make it past the subject line, the pitch will fail. So, make that subject line work hard! The other lesson I’ve learned on the job is to keep it short. Reporters and producers have too much going on to be reading lengthy paragraphs. A good pitch should get straight to the point without including all the story’s information.
If you work in PR, you’ll be building plenty of media lists for your pitches. Anyone can find around 50 contacts and put them in a google sheet and send their pitch out to the list. But a good PR practitioner should know that it’s not about how many names are on your list, but how many are interested in the story. Colleges should teach PR students the more practical aspects of media pitching. They include how to look out for these things: where the reporter writes; what’s his/her focus; and how they like to be approached. Quality and personalization trumps quantity every time. Check out Sarah’s tips here for more on how to tailor a story pitch to maximize its appeal.
If you work on the agency side, no day will be exactly like the one before. We don’t know what will happen in the news cycle, what our clients may throw at us, or how hectic a given day will be. So, it’s natural to feel that we’re sometimes in a reactive position. But the best advice or lesson for succeeding at a PR agency is to be as proactive and hands-on as possible. Think about how to go beyond what’s asked. Scour the landscape for find media opportunities before you’re asked. Follow up with reporters on pitches, and always, always take notes. Some days doing multiple news scans throughout the day for a specific issue or client can be fruitful. And on other days, volunteering to take on more will help you stand out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether it’s your first week or your fiftieth, asking questions and showing appropriate curiosity will display initiative and proactivity.