For those of you who are on the verge of becoming a college grad in public relations this spring, congratulations!
Let me warn you right now, however, that you are on the verge of experiencing an annual rite of passage where seemingly overnight you become the target of tired old tips, well-intentioned coaching and alcohol-inspired bloviations from just about every past college grad you meet.
Don’t get me wrong, they mean well. But it’s a lot for college grads to take in, process and decide how it applies to their own lives.
So with that caveat out of the way, how about we heap on some PR over Coffee tips to help you figure out the often-tricky twists and turns as you proceed from university life to a promising career in PR?
PR Grad Tip 1: Research. Some up-front research into industries you like (and hate) will help narrow down your search. If you are a tech geek and love talking about code, the Internet of Things and nanotech, then look for PR agencies that work with technology companies, many of which are found in the Bay Area, Austin, Boston and even D.C. If you’re more of a film buff, then head straight to the glitz and glamor of LA and seek out a celebrity publicist or production company. If you are more of a giving person and want to make the world a better place, then working in a nonprofit as a communications specialist might do the trick. Talk to friends and professionals who happen to be in PR while doing your research. You may learn that working for a PR agency isn’t what it’s cracked up to be or perhaps getting into a nonprofit won’t pay the bills. In other words, look very closely before you leap.
PR Grad Tip 2: Internships. It’s true that internships have gotten a bad rep in some quarters because some unscrupulous companies use and abuse their interns without paying them a dime. Still, there are plenty of PR agencies and nonprofits that can use the help of a motivated intern, and most will pay an hourly wage for work done. It’s great way to get experience, pad your resume and make valuable connections that could lead to a permanent gig somewhere.
PR Grad Tip 3: Social Media. To get a foot in the door at a PR firm, a corporation or nonprofit, it helps to make connections on social media first. But be careful how you approach your targets. For instance, connecting to somebody you don’t know on LinkedIn is typically bad protocol and could get you marked as an over aggressive job seeker. It’s far better to get an introduction on LinkedIn by somebody who’s connected to your target PR professional; being a “warm” referral speeds up the “know-like-and-trust” equation you need to begin a relationship. If you meet somebody socially and get a business card, then you have a green light to connect on LI.
Twitter is another great way to connect with influencers and decision-makers as you seek to land your first PR job. Still, this way should be approached with caution. Be sure to “clean up” your tweet stream if you have spent the last few years bragging about how much you drank at a concert or how f*##ing amazing your Spring Break trip to Cancun was. Right, wrong or otherwise, posts like these are considered red flags for recruiters, and they WILL go back to look at your social media posts to form an opinion about you. Once you start following PR professionals, be sure to retweet their tweets (but not too often!) and start tweeting helpful content that relates to their professional interests. Don’t get too personal and intrude on any out-of-work tweets (stay away from Facebook completely!) as you are not “besties” and they don’t want to hear your comments about how cute their dog is or whether their 6 year-old is a good swimmer.
PR Grad Tip 4: Network. An absurd number of jobs are secured through one’s own personal and professional network, so be sure to expand it quickly. That includes meeting friends of friends, parents’ work colleagues, and cozying up to neighbors where you grew up. You never know where a hot lead for a job will come from. Consider getting a business card with your basic contact information to hand out to new contacts. Check out Meetup.com and LinkedIn Groups for networking meetings in your area that relate to the companies you have targeted. PRSA is a good networking opportunity but then that’s what every grad does. Better that you find networking groups that deal directly with the subject matter that interests you (technology, dog rescue, food startups – to name a few) than hang out at the predictable networking groups. For instance, PR over Coffee is a meetup group I launched in Austin and we get reporters to come talk to business owners, nonprofits and PR professionals; it ends up being a great way to make a connection with somebody close to your career interests.
PR Grad Tip 5: Authenticity. The word authentic has gotten overused of late but it’s still relevant, especially to PR grads at the start of their careers. When looking for a job and doing your networking, try to be true to yourself and not present a false impression of who you are just because you want any job. What’s worse than getting a job then realizing that you hate what you do and want to leave, or get shown the door for lackluster performance? Know yourself, your limits (including how many hours you want to work at your job in a given week), and listen to your “gut” if it tells you there’s a potential bad fit with a given job opportunity. You’ll save yourself a lot of scars and possibly an early ulcer if you stay true to yourself in your career.
PR Grad Tip 6: Email protocol. When looking for a job in an organization, be sure to find a real individual in particular to contact – not the general contact email address. Learn who the person is and what he or she does – hopefully a hiring manager or PR firm owner. Figure out what the primary strategy of the company (or nonprofit) is and then explain in a short email how your skills and background can help the organization in very concrete ways. With my tech PR agency, I receive far too many emails from college grads who don’t know the first thing about what kinds of clients I like to work with; nor do they bother translating their skills into a short description of how they can be a net add to my PR team. Put forth a little up-front effort and your email will usually be rewarded with a thoughtful reply.
PR Grad Tip 7: Volunteer. Another great way to get real-world PR experience is to find an underserved nonprofit and offer your PR talent. You will quickly gain experience in how to comprehend a customer’s vision/mission, discover key message hooks, write press releases and work with the media to organize interviews. It’s great experience, plus you’re expanding your network while gaining lots of good karma. On a similar vein, you can always help a startup or small business by doing some pro bono (free) PR work to help them get in the local news. Who knows, it might lead to some paid PR opportunities.
Conclusion: Alas, many of these tips came from my own errors (and successes!) piloting a course from college to where I finally found my true calling as a founder of a PR agency here in Austin. Use them as you see fit to find your ideal PR job, and feel free to reach out for advice any time!
Know any good tips for recent PR grads? Feel free to add your thoughts below.
About Dave Manzer: Dave Manzer founded a PR agency in Austin for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009 as one of the only PR agencies in the country to provide performance-based PR pricing. In 2010, Dave launched PR over Coffee to provide small business PR advice so that entrepreneurs and startups could practice “DIY” PR and promote themselves directly to media outlets. For more information about Dave or PR over Coffee, email info(@)PRoverCoffee.com.