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Let’s Be Frank: Some Advice for PR Graduates

February 1, 2009

Today’s blog post was meant to be about personal branding, and the importance of it. And, it is – for another blog post. This past week, I have spent a lot of time giving advice to soon-to-be PR graduates and listening to what they are looking for. Disclaimer: This is my blog and I can be frank if I want to.

I have seen a couple of GREAT resumes, and I wish they had graduated when I did, or earlier – back when the economy wasn’t so bad and companies weren’t cutting their PR and communications departments left and right. So here it is: some frank advice for the soon to be PR professional. I wish I could sugar-coat this and make it easier, I really do. 

1. It is great to be goal-oriented, but one also needs to be realistic

Before I graduated, I had that kind of semi-arrogance that I have seen before in many college graduates: I had had 3+ internships, I had a great range of experience, was PRSSA president and did a lot of community service. Surely, the big names would just be stupid not to take me. But what I realized is that those big names had become big names because they retained employees like a camel retains water – and job openings were few and far in between. Clients, once they have built trust with an agency and  that certain account exec, it is very difficult for them to be introduced to someone new. It was the small to medium sized agencies that were hiring entry-level PR, because they were young agencies that had some really exciting start-up clients, and were constantly drumming up new business. At these small agencies, you can gain a lot of experience because you really get to see the ins and outs of an agency, unless your agency operates on the closed door policy and AAEs arent privy to a lot of conversations.

Also, look into non-profit and associations. Contrary to popular belief, this is where a lot of job opportunities will be coming from. They all need in-house PR, and they also have a great need for the 20-something who is great at social media. In non-profits/association, you truly know the ins and outs of your client, because you ARE the client. In these settings, you also gain a ton of experience because you get to do a lot more, and are trusted a lot more, than in the agency atmosphere. I never dreamed that I would be walking 60 Minutes around the national convention 2 months after I started at Mensa…. or landing a segment on Good Morning America. I get to be PR counsel to 134 Local Groups, and handle all national media relations/PR for American Mensa and sometimes, the Mensa Foundation. 

2. A college degree + A paid internship after grad isn’t always bad

If you are set on the big agency, be prepared to take a paid internship for a couple of months before being offered an entry type position. This might not happen, but you do have a great name on your resume, and if you can get a recommendation it’s even better. From these internships, you can further your skills even more, and since you have a degree, you will be trusted with more. We all have had dues to pay, and unfortunately, this is how it sometimes is in the PR field.

3. Don’t turn your nose up at offers that might come in

You are not better than any offer that you receive. Note: You are not God’s gift to PR. Not even those with 10+ years of experience are. Sure, you’re better than the scammer agency that you found on Monster.com, but if it is a small agency with a good reputation, I say go for it. You might find it’s a great fit, and you will definitely learn from it – good or bad. Also, you might hear of a development coordinator job opening – this is geared toward fundraising and developing the brand. This is great for a young PR pro because you can really fine-tune your pitching and customer service skills.

4. The ripe time for you to go on interviews/be hired is right before graduation – Network until then.

Sure, your finance and business major friend already landed a job back in December. Guess what? This is PR and communications. Those hiring, unless its stated, usually want someone to start within a month of the interview process. This is a field that is constantly on the go and constantly changing. Network with those in the area you wish to work in. Network with those outside of it so you can get great advice. Twitter is a wonderful source for this, and there are some amazing PR people on there. Also, if you email any PR pro, make sure that you double and tripe check for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Make sure to say please. Even if in a big metroplex like Dallas, it’s still a small PR community. Word gets around, and you don’t want to be blacklisted.  I hate using that word, but it happens. Once you make a connection, make sure you are constantly checking in with that PR pro – we might know you are only looking for a job, but this business is about building a foundation for relationships. Go to a PRSA meeting and write thank you notes, handwritten, to anyone you met. Trust me, it will go a long way.

I love to help any PR grad who is passionate about the field. It all depends on how they handle building a relationship and what they strive to do.

So, let’s be frank: How are you handling your looming graduation?

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2009 6:24 pm

    Great advice. I think networking with professionals and your fellow PR classmates is very important.

    I’ll be sharing this with other PR students.

  2. February 1, 2009 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Rachel – and for sharing it with others.

    I was worried that it would come across as too frank, and I hope it doesn’t discourage future PR professionals – I meant it as tool that could be used and different avenues that might help. After getting the 10th email from a friend losing their job in the field, it can look as pretty bleak out there. But those that continue to push through and gain experience will always prosper.

  3. osuprssa permalink
    February 1, 2009 8:04 pm

    I think a big question a lot of graduating seniors ask is when do I to start applying. Thanks for your answers and advice! I know a lot of our Oklahoma State PRSSA members follow you, especially those networking in the DFW area. Thanks for your support of future professionals.

  4. February 1, 2009 8:14 pm

    No problem at all. Even if you try applying right now, that is ok – I just wouldn’t except a job offer until a bit later. An informational interview is a great way to network, so I say go for it!

  5. February 2, 2009 4:41 am

    #1 above is a great point. Smaller agencies represent an outstanding opportunity for younger PR pros. In addition to the reasons you list, Lauren, it also teaches you to develop an entrepeurial attitude–one that will come in handy throughout your career. Also, the idea of working at a nonprofit should never be scoffed at for the many reasons you listed. Great experience. Multiple disciplines. I worked for a NFP earlier in my career, and I had the opportunity to work in PR, communications, marketing and community relations–all in one position. Also, you’re absolutely right about the social media angle. The best place to build social media experience in the months ahead may be the NFP industry. Huge need and low cost.

    To add to your last point about networking, don’t be afraid to approach random people at PRSA, IABC or other professional association meetings. We were all where you are now once. We know how you feel. And believe me, for the most part, we’re much more approachable than you think we are. Approach us. Introduce yourself. And start asking questions. It’s really as simple as that.

    Good post Lauren–I could have used some good advice like this when I was starting out 13 years ago.

    • February 2, 2009 12:48 pm

      Thanks, Arik! You made a great point about an entrepeurial attitude, and especially how it comes in handy throughout your career. I am also glad that you pointed out that working for a non-profit should never be scoffed at – I have found my niche here in associations/non-profit, and I get to do everything that you mentioned. I think that many upcoming grads think that only a big name agency will get them places – and it is really not true at all.

      And I second the approach us point. I learned some great tools of the trade just by talking to someone, and it’s great practice for pitching and cold calling!

  6. February 2, 2009 4:51 am

    What would your advice be for someone who’s graduated with a PR degree, held some internships, but went a different route after college and is now trying to get back into the PR field?

    • February 2, 2009 1:06 pm

      Hi Kasey,

      I would first reach out to any person you might know in the field – an old professor, friends, etc. Start re-building relationships with them, take them for coffee, etc. These are the people that can help you with your job search, and also serve up a great recommendation letter (from those internships that you have already had.) Good luck!

  7. February 2, 2009 6:26 am

    Lauren,

    I really enjoyed your post. I think it covers questions that a lot of soon to be graduates have been asking. I think many of these things apply to many other industries as well.

    It’s definitely tough to go through the job search process right now. I’ve been doing my best to network but I still feel the need to rush to find a job. I absolutely understand and agree with your advice that you should network until you’re closer to graduation but it’s hard. Some of my best opportunities are still unable to confirm a full-time job offer for me and it can be very demoralizing. Still staying positive though and taking opportunities where I can.

    I have a couple questions as well that you may be able to help with. Is it alright if I email you?

    Thanks,
    Dave

    • February 2, 2009 1:08 pm

      Hey Dave!

      I think the need to secure a job is not only driven by the economy, but by those friends that have already landed something. As PR pros, we tend to not be very patient – we are always on on the go, always making something happen, so the waiting game can be hard. Feel free to email me anytime – I’ll DM it to you on Twitter.

  8. Maggie Kierl permalink
    February 4, 2009 5:09 am

    Lauren,

    You are a gift to PR Students. We are trying to find someone to come speak to the OSU-PRSSA chapter about job searching and what to expect when we graduate – I wish you could be the one to speak at our meeting. You really know your stuff and you’re a gift to the PR world!

  9. February 4, 2009 1:33 pm

    Hey Maggie!

    I wish I lived closer so that I could. I think you really know your stuff too. Can’t wait until you relocate to Dallas!

    Lauren

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