What Does a Public Relations Career Look Like?By Eleanor Pierce

Gini Dietrich recently asked me if I’d talk to a student about what it’s like to have a public relations career after graduating.

I’m always happy to talk to students and up-and-comers. 

In fact, I wish I had been smart enough to reach out for advice when I was in school!

I thought I’d share here a few of the things I think college students might want to know about what it’s like to have a public relations career.

The Transition

I didn’t do internships in college.

I was living off of loans and what little money I could make waiting tables at the Olive Garden. I didn’t think I had time.

Not a smart move.

That meant when I graduated from college, despite my PR degree from a good school, I had zero shot of getting a job in public relations.

I ended up working for a newspaper because it was the job I could get.

If you’re in college now, and you want a public relations career after you graduate, get thee to the internship coordinator. Now.

As Ilana Zalika of Resound Marketing told PRNewser last summer:

When faced with a decision, I will almost always choose the applicant with relevant internships. School teaches you a lot, but there is nothing like on-the-job experience—especially in PR. No class can prepare you for what you’ll face in an agency or in-house PR environment.

The Competition

Working for a newspaper wasn’t my first choice (though I ended up loving my time there). But, at that time, there were good journalism jobs available.

Today? Not a good plan.

In fact, in many sectors, I see PR and marketing pros competing with former newspaper reporters for PR and marketing jobs.

And reporters can be tough competition, as they are scrappy, knowledgable, and great communicators. They often come into PR jobs on their beat, which means they already have the connections they’ll need.

I don’t know that this former-journalist-turned-PR-pro trend is quite as common in agencies, where more traditional internship-to-agency experience is often the norm.

But in my circles, the government sector, in particular, seems to be filled with former reporters who needed more stability and better pay and made the switch to becoming a flack.

It’s no surprise so many reporters see a public relations career as an appealing option.

As Pew reported last year:

The salary gap between public relations specialists and news reporters has widened over the past decade—to almost $20,000 a year, according to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. At the same time, the public relations field has expanded to a degree that these specialists now outnumber reporters by nearly five to one …

Four Things to Consider For a Public Relations Career

What else should those thinking about a public relations career know?

  • For whatever reason, the ranks of PR practitioners are largely filled by women. As The Atlantic reported last summer, women make up 63 percent of PR specialists. They make up 59 percent of PR managers.
  • Don’t expect a nine-to-five gig. The BLS also says, “Long workdays are common, as is overtime.” This isn’t a punch-clock industry.
  • You’ll need a combination of analog and digital skills—and you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Can you write clean copy? Can you actually dig in and use the reporting software? Can you do the math? You’ll be more successful if you have both old-school and new-school communications skills.
  • People outside of the industry will not understand what you do. They will think you are Samantha Jones. They will think you are a spin doctor. They will also fairly regularly just give you a blank stare and change the subject.

What did I leave out? What else do you think a college student thinking about a public relations career should know?

Image for Spin Sucks via Freeimages.com and Canva.com

Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

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