Changing careers: PR edition
March 30, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

How do I prepare for a career in public relations?

I am currently a doing a graduate program (part time) while working full time in a job closely tied to the university I'm studying at. While I find my degree fascinating, I don't feel like it's moving me anywhere closer to a new job or a better career.

Due to budget pressure, there is a chance that I'll either have to take a substantial pay-cut or my job won't exist in the next 6 - 12 months, so I am hoping to move on pretty quickly.

I've decided to go back to school for PR. I have a bachelor's degree in English and have done some marketing and communications work in the past (as well as at my current job), but getting a job in marketing, communications, or PR in this town seems almost impossible without having an education in one of those areas. The program I'll be taking is a 10-month accelerated program for those with previous post-secondary experience, followed by a 2-month practicum (which, for many of the students, results in a full-time job).

However, because the program only takes a small number of students each year, I might not be able to get in until the fall of 2013 instead of this September.

Knowing that I'll be starting school full-time in either September of 2012 or September of 2013, what can I do in the meantime in order to help boost my career prospects once I finish the program? This question was somewhat helpful, but isn't quite the same as what I'm asking.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously "get a job, any job" is goal one, but what's the ideal PR job? Are you looking to promote and market multiple clients for a PR agency? Or would you rather work in-house with a single employer? Do you want to write press releases? Talk to the media? Do damage control when things go wrong? Develop strategies for product releases? Contribute to design? Focus on in-house communication? Are you interested in events, education, marketing, advertising, messaging, what? There are many options, and if you pursue experience in one of these areas it may not help you find work in another. More info would help.

If writing is your dream, stop going to school now and just write. Maybe get a book like "The Well-Fed Writer," which costs a lot less than tuition at any university I've heard of.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:26 PM on March 30, 2012

Getting a PR certification is pretty crucial for getting a job in a bureaucracy or perhaps an agency like Edelman, but I'm not so sure how stable these industries are. Perhaps someone will correct me, thanks to the growth of online marketing and social media, as well as a recession that has cut the fat from government and private business budgets, the PR field is undergoing significant changes these days.

5 years ago, graduates from a comms program at one of the local universities could expect to get jobs as juniors in boutique PR firms, in government, or in the IR and comms side of a larger company. Hiring has slowed down.

Of course, it depends where you are located, and what industries there are. However there are significant opportunities as a result of this disruption. Unless you're more interested in issues management or crisis communications, fundamentally the goal is to tell the story of your employer or client, and get coverage.

So, demonstrating you have the ability to pitch is always good. Understanding who to pitch to, from magazines to bloggers, is also good. Combining PR with SEO is pure gold, in that linkbuilding is a prime activity of SEO, and PR can deliver really good links.

Focusing on online PR is also going to help, because results are measurable, and if you can quantify your success you will be less likely to be laid off.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2012

I work in PR for a large association, and my boss has said numerous times in hiring that an advanced degree in PR is worth way less than the comparable time in the field. No one in my office has an advanced degree in PR or communications. It seems like knowledge of social media metrics is a good thing to invest in. You might just want to take a couple of PR-related classes to bulk up your clips and learn the latest trends.

You might want to check out the website for PRSA for guidance more specific to what you're looking for though.
posted by forkisbetter at 2:08 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you live in a big city, get a job at a TV news station. Try to get a behind the scenes producer job, assignment desk, or assistant/nighttime assignment desk. Getting some media experience may give you an edge over all the other people who want to work in PR.

I learned a lot about how PR people can get access to media people. Working in a newsroom you learn things like who to contact(ie. build a relationship with reporters), when to contact(ie, don't call during their morning meeting). Working in media, you make friends. Then when you work PR. Those friends in media will take your call.

I worked in tv news. It was the worst when PR would cold call and try to talk me into covering their story. They didn't do their homework. I couldn't help them. I was on deadline. They should have called the Assignment desk during the slow time. You learn that stuff in the news.

It's a side trip to your awesome PR career but I think it would make you more valuable.
posted by hot_monster at 4:24 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call up some PR firms of various sizes and focuses (foci?) and ask for an information interview. Tell them you want to get into the field and you want to know how best to do that. I get that phone call all the time in my field. At least a few of them will be happy to meet with you.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:36 PM on March 30, 2012

I have worked in PR and I'm not sure you need a degree, just need to know how to write and talk in a friendly, efficient, exciting way.

That said, sounds like school is full-steam ahead for you regardless. Definitely try to get internships or volunteer freelance gigs.

Another important thing is to figure out how you can leverage existing relationships to meet reporters. Knowing reporters who recognize your name is key when you are making pitch calls. So start establishing contacts before you graduate so you come to a job interview with a whole Rolodex of reporters. That makes you very valuable. Good luck!
posted by manicure12 at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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