So, you just graduated with a degree in finance or fashion, and you are ready to break ground and launch your own firm or clothing line.
The thousands of dollars you spent and hours you toiled away for that degree should have fully prepared you as a professional, right?
At least, not at as an expert or executive.
Not quite yet.
Many times in the modern education system, when you go to a university or specialized school to study a specific industry (such as public relations), you are taught the history and theory of that industry.
You learn about why it came to be and how it can be useful, but you don’t always get an opportunity to get the hands-on experience that is actually needed in order to be a true professional.
If there is one thing I have learned through my experiences of interviewing and employing millennials who went to college for public relations, marketing, communications or any other major that PR pros can come from, it’s this: It’s one thing to have earned a degree by learning about an industry; it’s another thing entirely to actually put those theories into practice.
It Starts With a PR Internship
This starts with a PR internship.
In the current corporate climate, many major firms and big corporations will invite college students to work as interns who fetch their coffee, walk their dog, or take out the trash.
That’s NOT what PR is.
That’s not how it works and definitely not what it’s all about.
If you are a business owner and want someone to do those tasks, hire a personal assistant.
But do not do the students who are interested in pursuing real careers in PR the disservice of having them run around doing personal errands.
It is our responsibility, as employers, to prime them to be great professionals.
It is irresponsible for agency owners to look at their staff as disposable in that way.
While the fault for an errand-running PR internship lies on the person who hired and managed the intern, not on the intern themselves, there are a few things the prospective intern can do beforehand to ensure their time and energy will be utilized in properly training them:
- Research the company’s culture, stance on teaching, testimonials, and job descriptions
- During the interview, ask, “What is going to be expected of me in this internship?”
- If they say, “Run some errands, take out the mail, drop off product…” RUN. Do not work for that company. You learned how to take out the trash as a teenager. You don’t need extra experience in that.
They are setting you up for failure.
Those internships do not help anyone.
All they will have done, when you start applying for the entry-level PR position of account coordinator, is make you unqualified.
What You Should Know After Your PR Internship
When you finish your PR internship, you should already know how to create a valuable media list, how to properly research journalists and bloggers, how to compose a personalized pitch, and how to write a catchy news release.
As an intern, I was extremely fortunate in that I was given real work to do.
I was asked to create real lists, to call out real data, and to draft and edit real pitches and news releases.
By the time I graduated college, I rolled into an account coordinator position, ready to rock, and I was able to move up quickly because I had that prime foundation.
I spent 13 years earning my wings and working my way up to vice president level.
Only then was I able to open up an agency (and make it an award-winning agency in less than two years).
And while money is on everyone’s mind, the experience is more valuable than the first few paychecks in the long run.
Short-term Pain Becomes Long-term Gain
I left a salaried job as an account coordinator to go backwards again and intern for the Oakland Raiders for three months while I was a young mom with real bills. I didn’t come from money.
But I knew what it was going to take to pay it forward.
That short-term pain turned into LONG-TERM gain.
Two different, real internships and then real entry-level positions in technology (when I started) then into consumer/sports (with the Raiders) created the perfect blend of tech and consumer that laid the foundation for where my agency is today.
All other positions in my future had a blend of both and I tightened all those skills for years to come.
For college students, just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you should immediately begin earning top-dollar in PR, especially if your PR internship didn’t prime you for that position.
You really do need to take the opportunity to learn what it is really like to write a meaningful list of media, to have done your due diligence in researching those contacts and learning how to pitch those people.
It takes experience to know the smart questions to ask and the smart decisions to make on behalf of your clients.
If industry professionals roll their eyes when you tell them you plan on opening your own firm right out of college (often without first knowing what an account coordinator up to vice president is expected to do), they do not do so to dissuade your passion, but to emphasize the actual learning curve required to run a successful business capable of growth.
There are certain expectations of people in the PR industry, and if you don’t know what they are, you then become the irresponsible business owner.
My Best Advice to College Graduates
- Don’t open up your own PR firm right away. Go learn. It’s not going to hurt you.
- Choose a PR internship that will teach you how to do the real work of an account coordinator. You need to learn how to pitch from the very beginning of your career. That is the bread and butter of what we do. If you have a solid foundation of learning that from your very first entry point into PR, you will continue to grow and tighten that muscle.
- Don’t be too proud or entitled. Understanding PR requires full-time attention to detail. If you can’t take a non-paid PR internship, take whatever paycheck they can give you. If they are only offering minimum wage, suck it up and make it work. Michael Jordan always said, “If I cared about the money, I would’ve complained about being underpaid a long time ago.”
- Work so hard at your PR internship that you leave them no choice but to hire you.
Sometimes you just need to put in the time to earn the real experience that will pay off in the long run.
If you make sacrifices early in your career, what you will gain is the knowledge, portfolio and work ethic that will make you indispensable.
Trust me, when an intern or employee goes above and beyond to turn around work that is invaluable, employers will find money to give to that person.
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