Another school year has ended, marking the beginning of summer travel, sunny days… and new careers for recent graduates. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 5% of the entire population of college grads are earning their degrees in communications and journalism, a sure influx of new talent into our field. We asked experienced public relations professionals from around the country what their advice would be for someone just starting out in PR. Here’s what they had to say:
“One, take and show initiative,” says Thompson & Co. Public Relations President and CEO Jennifer Thompson. “Just because you are fresh out of school or new to the profession or job, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valid ideas or can present a better way to do things. Leadership begins at the start of your career and the more you can speak up and demonstrate initiative, the better. Second, take advantage of any professional development that’s offered to you. Sign up for the webinar, attend the lunch and learn, go to PRSA or any marketing clubs to learn more. Lastly, read, read, read. Being a news junky may seem old school, but there are so many sources to learn from and a plethora of professional resources that you can avail yourself of. And be two-sided, don’t only read news from outlets you tend to agree with, make yourself as unbiased as possible, it will serve you well in the long run.”
“My advice to young people just starting their careers is to be a sponge — soak up every opportunity and experience you can,” said Barry Finkelstein, SVP/director of PR for North Carolina-based integrated comms agency Luquire. “Take initiative, volunteer for that extra assignment or ask to shadow someone who’s working on something you’ve never been exposed to before. Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll establish yourself as an invaluable team member who’ll end up getting invited into more and more of the important conversations.”
Co-founder and COO of Seattle-based Kiterocket Rebecca Holmes summed up her advice with two words: ask questions.
“When you're joining an agency, you are drinking from the proverbial fire hose. You're learning how the agency works — their culture, their tools, how to track time, how to manage clients, you're learning client industries and new skill sets, and if this is your first job, how to work with colleagues. You don't want to be annoying or look like you don't know what you're doing, so you tell everyone you've got it all under control and run back to your desk to conduct frantic "how to" Google searches.
Here's the thing, no one expects you to know everything. Ask questions. Ask for further direction when you need it. Proactively ask for a review of your work. We want you to learn and grow — and we want to help. Asking questions shows you're listening; it demonstrates that you want to be there and want to do things right. You'll never know what you don't know unless you ask. So next time you want to tell yourself, ‘I should know this,’ be brave and ask the question. You'll get from novice to expert a lot faster if you do.”
“Take advantage of every opportunity,” says Sarah Erkmann Ward, president and CEO of Blueprint Alaska, T&C’s sister agency. “Go to that early morning breakfast for an organization you are interested in. Join the board of directors for an interest or cause you care about. Meet and network with a broad spectrum of professionals. In a business driven by relationships, getting to know community leaders early on will give you a big advantage in your career.”
“Be present, actively listen and find the vast opportunities to learn from others — professionally and personally,” says Managing Partner John Walker of Atlanta-based Chirp PR. “By actively listening, learning and being present with the world around you, you’ll discover ideas, concepts and cultivate relationships that matter when you take time to soak up every piece of knowledge we encounter daily.”
My own advice? Having spent my entire 15-year career at agencies, I admit a slight bias, but I would highly recommend that new grads try and get their start at an agency. It is fast-paced and challenging, certainly not for everyone. But agencies provide invaluable insight into a variety of industries and clients plus a chance to learn a variety of skills in each area of PR — perfect for those just starting out who want to do some research on what path they’d like to pursue in their career. Being passionate about what you do is a key piece of a successful career, and the ability to explore what areas of communications are most fulfilling for you will pay off in the long run.
- T&C VP Liz Baker