I recently received a Facebook message from an acquaintance who is still in college, asking about “the real world” of public relations. To preface this, I would hardly consider myself an expert, but it was flattering all the same. Having learned a thing or two since moving my tassel over, here are a few things about this industry I didn’t learn in school:
- No one outside of the industry knows what PR is – After explaining I work in PR, I’m often greeted with a blank stare and an, “oh… that’s nice.” Because the field is perpetually evolving, no two days are ever alike – and it can be pretty hard to define exactly what it is you do. In my opinion, the beauty of this industry is that you can wear a different hat every hour of the day.
- There’s no template for this job – In college, you generally know a few things are going to be constant: You’re expected to show up to class, take some notes, crack open your very expensive textbook and complete your assignments and projects on time. One of the hardest, and most rewarding, parts of learning this industry is that there isn’t a given formula for the “best” way to do something. For instance, the way you pitch to one reporter isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the way you pitch to another. Tasks often aren’t black and white, and there’s no “one size fits all” approach.
- Life is not all SWOT analyses – The SWOT analysis diagram was beat into me in every PR class. Sometimes I still jolt myself awake at night muttering, “Strengths! Weaknesses! Opportunities! Threats!” If I had to tell you the number of times I’ve used the diagram post-grad, I could show you on a single hand. Good research and thoughtful consideration, however, are a very important part of the job. Taking the time to collect detailed background information on clients and their respective industries makes me feel more confident in my ability to contribute fresh ideas and generate strong results.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable – So many things change immediately after moving into the working world. For me, starting a new job and being exposed to new things every day was a significant challenge. For my first tasks, I didn’t even know what kind of questions to ask – that’s how little I felt like I knew what I was doing. I’m hard on myself in all aspects of my life, and I have to admit, I dwelled on every single mistake I made. This was both a blessing and a curse, as I was acutely aware of the fact I did not want to make that same mistake again. I kept pushing on and grew professionally and personally as a result. When you’re learning, it’s normal to feel a little lost. Growth is uncomfortable, but you will come out on the other side having learned something, even if what you learned was that you didn’t quite hit the mark.
Education, of course, lays the foundation, but the reality is you can’t compare classes to real world experience. Until you handle your first crisis, see your first media release gain coverage and get your first exceedingly happy client, this industry can be a little overwhelming and confusing – and that’s okay, too.