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The How (Not) Guide to PR

July 14, 2009

I blog a lot about PR tools, how social media affects PR and what we can do to be better PR professionals. However, what about those that are entering the PR field and wondering what tools they do need?

What about the tools they DON’T need? Let’s face it, not everyone is a rockstar PR professional, nor are they ever going to be. Many times, hard work and dedication will get you far in this field. If you don’t have the foundation, however, you won’t make it. Below are three points that won’t add to the next great PR pro:

1. I want to dress up, meet celebrities and like, host parties

sic_londonnyc_0 The public relations field is viewed as a glamorous all night party on many TV programs. With how my TV kids watch nowadays, it’s no wonder that many enter their college public relations programs thinking that’s what it is. Wrong.  Public Relations does not equal solely publicity.  Yes, you might plan events.  You will be the one running around, making sure all of the details are seen to, dealing with any crisis and making sure that everyone is happy.

2. I have to write and research?

Yes. Two strengths I always tell PR students is that they must be able to write and research well. Most of my days are spent writing, researching and executing media relations. PR is all about getting the word out – and you have to know the market and your audience before proceeding.

3. “I’m a people person.”

Good for you – so is everyone else. Your personality can get you far in this field – but it’s through pitching, promoting a brand and landing media hits that will get you even farther. Many times, being extremely personable can come off as flirty and non-professional. There is a line – and you have to work for a brand that fits your personality.

So, what would you add?

*Photo copyright of HBO and Sex and the City.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2009 7:48 am

    I’d also add that being able to think on your feet and deal with rapid change is a must. Your client’s needs, desires and approach can change in a half an hour: you need to be ready to shift approaches in 5 minutes.

    Being able to write fast, effectively and perfect brutally efficient communication is key as well. Trust me…reporters, bloggers and others don’t want your life story they just want the information you have so they can mold it into their own story.

    Oh…and if you don’t like change? Quit now. You are giving all of us a bad name.

  2. July 14, 2009 7:49 am

    S- Exactly. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on a project and the outlook, direction or approach has changed. Also, being able to multi-task and move from one project to the other is key.

    Great point on being able to communicate quickly and efficiently is key as well. Reporters get tired of hearing you ramble – so make sure you’re quick and to the point.

  3. July 14, 2009 7:51 am

    Lauren – thanks for doing this post. It’s one of the many things aspiring PR pros should read when they are in school.

    Given my role at Dix & Eaton, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw your comment about research. I tell students all the time that there is not likely to be someone in a role such as mine at the agency/corporate environment that they are going too. Maybe at larger corps, yes, but at mid-size and smaller agencies, no. Being able to conduct secondary research is a primary skill. It’s why our interns are forced (maybe a bad choice of words) to spend considerable time with me during their tenures here.

    If I were to add anything to your list is that this job doesn’t end when you leave your desk. Even if you are invited to parties, your clients/superiors issues don’t end at the 5pm horn. You must be prepared to handle crises at all hours of the night. Be available (especially when you are first starting out) at all hours of the night (and on weekends). If you can’t make that committment, then get the hell out of the kitchen.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. July 14, 2009 7:53 am

    Amen! The PR world is definitely fun and exciting, but there is a lot of nose-to-the-dirt work that goes on behind the scenes.

    Heck, I spent Friday picking up trash that our trash vendor left behind after a soccer tournament. 5 acres of land. Alone. Fun times!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I think it’s important for people who want to enter the PR world to understand what they are getting themselves into.

    Each segment of the industry has different issues, as well. Sports PR and restaurant PR, both of which I do, are almost like different worlds, with different languages and customs.

    It’s hard work…we work when people work, and because of the nights/weekends/events, we often work when people play.

  5. July 14, 2009 7:54 am

    Right on, Chuck. I remember hearing speakers in my PR classes tell me that they had their BlackBerry on 24/7, and if something came through at 2 a.m., you got up and dealt with it.

    In a small to mid-size agency, you are expected to do a lot of research – and be good at it.

  6. July 14, 2009 7:55 am

    Very true, Mike. You really do it all – and great point about the different industries. I’ve worked for major movie studios, healthcare and technology before coming to Mensa – and they all are different.

    Even the ones that sound fun have the grunt work!

  7. Rebecca permalink
    July 14, 2009 7:59 am

    Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for the advice. I always laugh when I tell people I am a public relations major and they automatically assume I’m going to school to be an event planner.

    At the end of your post, you mentioned working for a brand that fits your personality. I never thought of that, but it’s very true. I’ll keep your advice in mind as I transition into my career as a PR professional.

    Thanks again!


    • July 14, 2009 8:02 am

      Hey Rebecca – no problem! Feel free to e-mail me if you would like to chat about anything PR related. I graduated two years ago, but I found that in my experience, brands and workplaces have different personalities and you have to find the ones that fit.

      Thanks for reading! – Lauren

  8. July 14, 2009 8:07 am

    I agree with Stuart on essentially needing the ability for adaptation and change. PR people have to understand and prepare for sudden changes whether it’s media-related, something screwy at an event, crisis response, or industry-specific changes that have an impact on day-to-day operations. Our ability to counsel and explain hinges on our research and information-gathering prowess. Great post Lauren.


  9. July 14, 2009 8:10 am

    So true! I love your use of “like” in the first point and the accompanying image – I’m pretty sure a lot of my friends and former classmates still idealize Samantha Jones as the consummate PR professional. (Don’t get me wrong – she certainly planned several successful publicity campaigns, but the show never delved into the full scope of the job. And how hard is it really to promote hunky Smith? But I digress…)

    I’ll echo the additions above – it’s not a 9 to 5 job. Well said, gentleman.

    Another point I’d like to expand on is research and change. You have to not only know your audience and be willing to use new tools and practices. You also need a continuing desire to learn – and I think that’s an inherent trait.


  10. UnderstndnMrktg permalink
    July 14, 2009 8:13 am

    Great post, Lauren. Also, if you want to go far in (especially on the agency/freelance side), learn how to develop business relationships in a way that will earn someone’s business, not just “win” it. In today’s economy, it is unbelievably tough to encourage someone to give you their hard-earned money and entrust you with the development of their image. You’d better know how to go above and beyond the call of duty to let them know you can actually make a difference. The days of business falling into your lap are pretty much over.

  11. July 14, 2009 8:31 am

    This may be a pet peeve of mine, but it drives me crazy anytime someone says that they can ‘spin’ a story and/or us use ‘smoke and mirros’ with the truth. In PR, we are here to help promote the TRUTH and CREATIVITY in our cleints’ stories.

    The more we can promote value, the better off we, as an industry, will be!


  12. July 14, 2009 8:42 am

    I would add being flexible and open-minded, but also confident. There are many times when a client or company leadership will want to take a PR campaign in a direction that doesn’t match your own ideas, and if you think it’s still a sound idea that will be successful, you have to be flexible so you can adapt your ideas to what the client wants.

    Conversely, if people want to use tactics you don’t think will work well to accomplish their goals, you have to be confident enough to speak up and provide feedback. You should be able to explain why it might not work, and ideas that you think WILL work. Never come to the table empty handed when you’re shooting down someone else’s ideas!

    • July 14, 2009 8:44 am

      Meg – I love your comment. In entry level, it’s especially true. Not every idea will mesh with your own viewpoints, but if it can be successful, adapt well and you will go far. Also, great point about sticking up for what you believe in, especially if it doesn’t work.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  13. jaykeith permalink
    July 14, 2009 8:45 am

    If we’re talking about tools that PR pros do NOT need (especially when starting out), then I would throw in a massive ego as one. I can’t tell you how many times when I was at an agency I got looks of disgust when asking team members to do things like clip books and photocopies. Right out of college, and many of them acted like doing anything like that was “beneath them.” If you’re going to make it in PR, you’d best be willing (and able) to do even the most “low level” task, because you never know when it might be you at the office at 9 p.m. and you have to get something out to a client, etc. I’ve seen VP’s making photocopies and putting together clip books, and when you see that, you can’t help but jump into the fray and do what you can to get the job done. There’s no room for ego when it comes to quality work.

    Also, once people notice that you have an ego and aren’t willing to do things for the team (and ultimately the client) to succeed, then your chances of moving up the ladder get slimmer. Ditch the ego, roll up your sleeves, and show that you’re willing to do anything/everything to get the job done and help the team succeed.

    • July 14, 2009 8:47 am

      J – You’re right, no room for ego in PR. Campaigns can be a team effort, and ultimately, you are ALL serving clients that give you a paycheck. You need to work together and do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal or the strategy you set forth.

  14. July 14, 2009 8:48 am

    Fantastic post. When I decided on wanting to pursue a career in PR, the last thing I even thought about was organizing events. But thanks to Samantha Jones & that MTV show PoweR Girls, most preconceived notions about PR are all about the glam & the glitz. I’m sure there are times when things will be “glam”, but like you said, good writing, researching, and understanding how to cultivate relationships are essential. I also agree with a comment above in that PR may differ depending on the type of you are practicing.

  15. July 14, 2009 9:04 am

    Another great post Lauren! If you were to add another point to this I’ll suggest, “The ability to work concisely under pressure”. Last semester I worked with a professor to create a student run PR firm, where I acted as Firm Principal.
    If nothing else this role was a real eye opener into the PR world. We took on two real clients in the semester, and for one we created a 70 page communications plan in a little under 2 weeks.
    This was pressure like I’d never felt before! No matter how many times we wanted to break and just stop, we had to just keep on going to finish the job.
    The pressure can be awful, but at the end of the winning pitch, life is good!

  16. Rich Pulvino permalink
    July 14, 2009 9:06 am

    Hi Lauren,

    After just finishing up my studies in PR, I agree with what has been said so far, and would like to add that if you are working an internship, one of the tasks on the to-do list must be assertiveness in requesting greater responsibilities.

    A great manager and supervisor will arrange tasks that are educational and provide effective experience, but if you ask for extended responsibilities, it will show how much you care about your work and how determined you are to become as involved as possible around the office.

    Even if the internship doesn’t turn into a job, at least you were able to take part in more projects and strengthen your skills, and that’s the most important point behind any internship.



  17. July 14, 2009 9:25 am

    Great post, Lauren. It’s sad, but we often don’t learn these lessons in the classroom. I know I didn’t until I began my first internship. Sure you might be outgoing and get along great with people, but that doesn’t mean you are cut out for PR. It isn’t for everyone! Most important you have to engage people and generate interest while representing not only your clients, but your personal brand.

    • July 14, 2009 9:59 am

      Adrienne – You’re right. I think this is a big reason why everyone is encouraged to take on internships to gain real world experience. I know it was extremely beneficial in my career.

  18. July 14, 2009 9:28 am

    What a great discussion. It does my heart good to see so many young professionals that “get it.” One thing I would add is think strategically. Great PR campaigns don’t just happen. There is a tendancy, because the job is so busy and crisis-oriented, to proceed without a plan and rely on instincts. Don’t do it. Always take evn an hour or two to think it through. Do some research, give some thought to what you want to accomplish and how you will measure success. Then come up with a tactical plan and implement it.

  19. July 14, 2009 10:04 am

    Good list, and realizing that PR is so much more than just publicity is key. I’d add to the How (Not) Guide to PR: Ignore the Business side.

    Like Kami, I think that new PR pros need to learn to think strategically. And as you’ve suggested that means planning and research, but it also means having an understanding of business. PR as relates to corp. communications, as it connects with design, as that factors into overall brand and pricing strategy, sales and marketing and so on.

    Just because you’re a “writer” don’t think you’ll get out of having to know spreadsheets, statistics, and measurement. PR does not operate in a vacuum, it’s part of the business world and you’ll need the business skills too.

  20. July 14, 2009 10:22 am

    “I want to be in the spotlight!” – The star is your client, not you. Be prepared to be behind the scenes much of the time. Your words will often be spoken by others. Your hard work at researching and writing will often be credited to others. If you’re not okay with that, you might want to switch your major to drama or feature writing.

    • July 14, 2009 10:24 am

      Jen – I like this. Most of the time you are in the background, and frankly, the client will get most of the credit for what you do in the public eye. We used to have to take feature writing in the PR sequence – but they eventually yanked it because it wasn’t helping. It made our writing more “fluffy” than was needed.

  21. July 14, 2009 11:03 am

    In addition to the insights about strategy, I would add that a lot of “people pleasers” go into PR. But the best pros are those who have the backbone to tell their client and/or employer when s/he is headed in the wrong direction. Along with a willingness to be transparent and direct.

    • July 14, 2009 11:10 am

      Abby – good point. I also think, though, that one needs to know when to back down in case the client is stubborn on a point. Learn how to present it in a way that shows a compromise – and know that you aren’t always right.

  22. evanstrange permalink
    July 14, 2009 11:27 am

    Goop points Lauren.

    It’s ironic/ a shame how many PR students- and even pros- say they don’t like to write/research.

    If that’s the case, it’s probably time for a career change.

  23. evanstrange permalink
    July 14, 2009 11:27 am

    Goop= Great, awesome, fantastic, or a mispelling of good

  24. writeontarget permalink
    July 14, 2009 12:52 pm

    Good day, All:
    I have this sinking suspicion that I out-age everyone else who has commented thus far. Not that years matter, in and of themselves, but they do give some perspective that wannabe’s in any field simply do not have. Truth is, success in any field of endeavor requires the centeredness, tenacity, connectivity with others, and gruntwork
    you all have espoused. Parenting, medicine, teaching, law, PR, writing, and nearly any profession I can think of require these traits for one to rise to truly the top. Only those nursed on a consistent diet of t.v. and other fantasies believe otherwise. A skill everyone generally masters, roughly around age eight or so, is the ability to differentiate between fact and fiction. I highly endorse it!

    I look forward to any of this discussion’s participants visiting my blog as well,, especially the current post, R U 2 BZ?

    May you all meet with meaningful success in all your worthy aspirations…and it’s not just about the green…

  25. July 14, 2009 12:56 pm

    Hmmm…I am not a people person, so does that make me a good pr pro? Ha! I hated it when my peers and schools thought that should be their top qualification for landing a job.

    I think it is important young (and more seasoned) pr pros know the difference between a line and staff job and how much of their daily work should be divided between the two responsibility categories.

  26. July 15, 2009 8:31 pm

    haha, I love this post!
    Excellent Lauren. I have nothing to add. Love the conversation ppl started and your post cracked me up!
    I love #3 especially 🙂


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