When I began my academic journey to study public relations (PR), I was a wide-eyed sophomore at Brigham Young University (BYU). I was ready to get to work and get my hands dirty in the field that people deemed as “manipulative.” Manipulative? Please, more like strategic.
However, in retrospect I wish I had a mentor to give me some insight and tips to successfully handle the PR world. Initially I thought PR was comprised of pretty campaigns, yet I quickly learned that that’s not the case.
But we all know the best kind of teacher is experience, and experience has taught me quite a few things about the reality of public relations industry and all its glory.
Luckily, now as a senior in the PR program I have the opportunity to be a mentor to those entering the major, to welcome newcomers to the PR world and help them dodge some avoidable mistakes.
The PR field is one crazy ride, but I have six unique tips, tricks and advice to make it an enjoyable journey for you, newcomers. Buckle up, kids, this is going to be wild.
#1 Be a problem solver — I already have 99 PR problems and I can’t be one
Obvious, right? Being a “problem solver” is the bread and butter to any communication endeavor. However, we talk the talk about being problem solvers, but do we walk the walk?
The first step to being a problem solver is to not be the problem. To be an effective PR practitioner, one must know when to be involved in and when to stay out of conflict.
Next, if the problem does call for attention, take the initiative. Those who succeed in PR are the ones on the front line. They are the ones who aren’t afraid to send an email to the client about a recent crisis. They are the ones who invite open communication in contentious circumstances. They are the ones who go the extra mile to get the job done and to do it well.
Being in public relations, I have quickly categorized my life as one big group project. I am constantly collaborating with and relying on team members to help me accomplish tasks. This paradigm inevitably invites stress and conflict at times as we are constantly engineering multiple opinions into one.
However, public relations has taught me that when you channel your energy into being a problem solver rather than being “right,” you can work effectively with others and produce legendary work.
#2 Speak up — “Aye’yai, Captain!” “I can’t hear you!” “AYE’YAI, CAPTAIN!”
Being constantly surrounded by articulate communicators, innovative thinkers and fancy-shoe-wearers, it’s easy to assume that your voice will be drowned out. A paradox of being apart of a communicative industry is that sometimes it’s hard to communicate.
But here’s a little secret to get your voice heard: speak up.
Will it always be appreciated? Not necessarily. However, the best communicators are not the ones who seek to be validated, but to be heard.
Public Relations Society of America chair-elect Jane Dvorak says, “As employers, we already know your potential. But we want to see what you’re capable of beyond the resume, we want you to speak up and do.”
Public relations has taught me that success isn’t delivered by playing it safe, but rather shaking it up. For example, REI shut its doors and online shop on Black Friday in 2015 to promote spending time outdoors. Shutting down on one of the biggest spending days of the year was quite a risk, but the initiative received nothing but positive feedback.
People wonder how REI came up the simple, yet inspiring campaign. I would bet it all started with someone speaking up, someone who wasn’t afraid to shake things up.
#3 The customer isn’t always right — but they are always the customer
But WAIT. You’ve been taught your whole life that the customer is always right. Wrong. But they are indeed always the customer. Why does that exactly matter? I’ll explain.
From working with a team apart New York Fashion Week to interning with CEOs of major corporations, my experience has shown me that clients and PR professionals will not always see eye to eye. Clients might view a particular tactic in a campaign as mandatory, while PR practitioners might not.
Andrew Cook, a BYU student who works for the Bradley PR Agency, expounds on the difficulties of not agreeing with clients.
“Sometimes when you work with a client, you have to make tough decisions about the best way to reach your campaigns goals,” Cook says, As public relations practitioners, we have to communicate our perspective and try and influence the organization’s decision. Often this means persuading a client to take some options off the table that may seem really exciting but don’t actually accomplish the bottom line.”
Although the client may not always be right, it’s important to put their needs as a priority. When in doubt, first accomplish what the client asks of you. Then, go beyond the mark and wow them!
#4 Learn to roll with the punches — Like Rocky, except with more victories.
It’s inevitable that things will not go as planned, simple as that. Whether it’s being thrown a last minute assignment, misinterpreting a client or having your Samsung Galaxy Note 7 blow up, the PR world is full of mistakes, challenges and surprises.
In public relations, it is vital to have the tenacity and patience to roll with the punches and to keep your cool when the world yells, “plot twist!” To do so, one must learn how to respond, not react, to change or unexpected events.
The New York Times shares that the difficulty with handling unexpected events comes from the lack of control we feel. Jaynelle F. Stichler, professor from San Diego State University, says, “The problem is that change involves letting go of what we know to be current reality, and embracing new thought.”
When working with a runway company for New York Fashion Week, I was in charge of executing the seating chart for a show. Going off a previously made seating chart, I quickly realized that the chart was created with the wrong room measurements.
Since the room dimensions were wrong, we were unable layout the seats the way the designer asked. This resulted a small crisis since the chair arrangement was critical to the designer’s show.
In just 45 minutes, my co-worker and I designed a new seating chart and reassigned guests’ seats to meet the designer’s specifications. Though this was stressful, I quickly adapted to change and successfully handled the task at hand (and did so in heels, I might add).
Though uncertainty and change can strain one’s career and attitude, successful PR professionals welcome change and allow unanticipated occasions to inspire them. Learn to roll punches and everyone will want you in their corner.
#5 Learn to plan ahead — Confucius said it first
OK, but just because you need to be able to “roll with the punches,” doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for appropriately planning.
Strategic planning is an essential element to any PR campaign, project or assignment. Planning not only keeps you organized, but also allows you to better evaluate the efficacy of your work and avoid potential drama.
Confucius says, “A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.”
By planning ahead, you will exhibit better time management, have organized communication with colleagues and be able to set and reach realistic expectations.
Now, planning ahead won’t exempt you from abrupt changes or an unexpected turn of events, this is PR, after all. However, planning ahead will help you confidently prepare and manage unforeseen happenings.
The keys to being a successful planner are managing your time, your expectations and your cool. It’s important to be able to roll with the punches, but it takes being a planner to be a real knockout.
#6 Understand “That’s PR” — AKA ‘make it happen,’ ‘make it work,’
or ‘get over it’
The beauty and challenge of public relations is found in its broad nature of expectancies. One minute you may be designing a runway show, the next you might be media pitching to local news stations.
As PR professionals, we are expected to manage any situation that calls for communication, innovation or problem solving. More often than not, when clients are in a time crunch, they deem miscellaneous tasks as “PR.”
And when these unexpected tasks get sprung upon us, it’s not only our responsibility to accomplish the tasks but also to do them with flare.
Occasionally you might get caught thinking, “But wait, this isn’t what I signed up for.”
And to that I say, get over it and make it work.
Once I was interning with a publishing company that constantly demanded work that deviated from my job description. At first, I was frustrated and felt taken advantage of, but then I began to recognize that great PR practitioners are willing to take on any task — inside and out their job description — without complaint.
So, when you’re asked to spontaneously design a website or to get a sandwich for Whoopi Goldberg (both of which happened to me), don’t be surprised. Have the determination and tenacity to complete any task promptly, effectively and with a smile.
To survive and thrive in public relations, it takes effort, persistence and drive.
What few people understand is that public relations is more than a neat news release or a collection of social media posts. Rather, it is a balanced art of marketing and communication that requires collaboration and demands innovation.
Sure, people call public relations “manipulative,” but little do they know that the PR industry is what keeps businesses afloat, keeps relationships flourishing and keeps consumers in the loop.
Public relations practitioners are the glue that holds consumer and business relations together and without it, businesses could potentially collapse. I guess you could say we are a pretty big deal, eh?
Through these tips, you will be prepared to enter into the public relations industry and will undoubtedly be on your way to reaching your potential.
Welcome to one of the most thrilling, unpredictable, strategic, collaborative, challenging and unique industries of all — we’ve been waiting for you.