What is the most valuable skill for recent PR grads looking for a job today? Questions about PR

I’m writing a series of posts answering questions from PR students at the University of Georgia. If you have questions of your own, leave them in the comments or email me at jeff@jeffrutherford.com

On to more questions.

Q. What is the PR industry’s reputation today? How do other industries view Public Relations as a practice? Is PR being taken seriously everywhere? How has this changed in the past few years (if at all)?

A. I’ll answer this two ways. First, and this is just my personal approach to life – not just public relations – I don’t spend any time contemplating or thinking too much about how people view public relations. I’m usually too busy working to think about what someone may or may not think of the public relations industry. And the reality is that there will always be negative people, and I long ago realized that life’s just too short to spend much time trying to change people’s opinions about public relations – or politics.

Second, you can point to a wide number of public “scandals” that people blame on public relations. BP’s numerous communication mistakes after the Gulf oil spill. The current Penn State crisis (I’d be willing to be there was a PR person involved at some point – giving horrible advice on preserving Penn State’s “image.”) There are PR mistakes made every single day, just as there are business mistakes made every day, journalism/reporting mistakes made every day, etc.

Those mistakes should not – and frankly – don’t define the industry as a whole. Do they give PR a black eye? Absolutely. Do they invalidate all the honest, hard PR work going on every day, nope.

For me, it all boils down to what I bring to the table for the companies I work with. Companies, especially, startups live inside a bubble. That bubble is necessary to design software, sling code, and ship product. However, that bubble leads companies to believe that they’re doing life-changing, totally revolutionary work. While that might be the case, reporters need and thrive on context. Where does company X fit into the overall industry landscape, what about their product is truly unique, and what is similar to competitors?

It’s my job to work with companies to tell a compelling story about their product or service within the context of the overall industry and the overall news conversation of the week or month. To me, that’s honest, fun work, and I sleep soundly every night regardless of what some person or persons may be ranting about the ills of the PR industry.

Q. What is the most valuable skill for recent PR grads looking for a job today?

A. I touched on this in my earlier post answering these questions. My biggest piece of advice, and I can’t stress it enough is DON’T WAIT.

If you’ve investigated PR, and you think you’d like to work in the industry, DON’T WAIT.

DON’T WAIT – for professors to insist that you be well read and well-informed on daily news. Even if you plan to go into celebrity or entertainment PR, every PR professional should be reading every single day – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today (at a minimum). Those newspapers, along with the Washington Post and LA Times drive the news conversations of the day and the week.

If you’re reading newspapers and blogs every single day, you can start to make connections and see how the companies and organizations you’re working for can fit into the ongoing news conversation.

DON’T WAIT – to learn digital content creation. Build a blog. If you don’t consider yourself technical, there are literally tons of online tutorials for people who are “non-technical”. Figure out what you’re interested in, and start writing about, recording video commentaries, start an audio podcast. Begin building your audience today. Those skills will be invaluable and required for PR professionals.

DON’T WAIT – to get PR experience. Sure, pursue internships and participate fully in any classroom assignments, but you can start gaining PR experience today. In every town, in every city, there are tons of worthwhile organizations – charities, non-profits – desperate for PR help. Help them build or revamp their website. Volunteer to help them with their Twitter, Facebook, Google+ strategies. Help introduce them to local media and local news reporters. Write press releases for them.

Classroom experience is valuable, but in-the-trenches PR experience and learning how to build an audience online and interact with that audience are invaluable talents and skills that will help you gain your first job in PR – and succeed and thrive over the long haul.

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