Last summer (2013) I began working towards my masters degree in strategic public relations. This summer, I’ll be graduating. With both a bachelors and masters degree before the age of 24, I’m fully prepared to join the workforce…and above entry level! Right?? Wrong.
Less than two months into my internship at FinePoint PR, based in Washington, DC, and I have already seen major differences between learning about the public relations field and actually working in it. To date (and while I’m sure there are plenty more), I have found seven major contrasts among the two:
The Small Things MATTER!
Now, in actuality, we are told this in class. Mostly in the form of never misspelling someones name so your prospective client won’t be offended. I have learned that some writing within public relations, such as blogs, can be more relaxed and even funny, but don’t be fooled. Every single element of spelling, font, and punctuation within a document matter. No matter what’s within the content of your piece, no one will take you seriously if you have continuous errors. NEVER let the pressure of how quickly you think you need to get things done affect the quality of your work.
When Pitching – Get to Your Point and Cut Yourself Off.
This one is a little comical. My boss had asked me to send over a pitch I had written at some point in class for her to review. Naturally, I found the pitch I probably got the best grade on and sent it over. Her response was… “very interesting.” Translation = wtf is this.
Turns out, the best pitches are approximately 5 sentences. My pitch was heading into the second page of a word document. No wonder it was interesting. We are told in class that you want to get to the point first and foremost in order to intrigue the journalist. Clearly, though, we were not told about the unwritten rule of the length.
I had felt the need to go into great length and detail as to why whatever story I was trying to discuss would be the best thing since sliced bread. Taking a step back and thinking about it, it makes perfect sense to not make it any longer than a few sentences. Journalists are too busy to read anything that takes longer than 30 seconds.
I Have Yet to Write a Press Release
I know that press releases are still very much a part of public relations. They always will be, especially for major companies that need to communicate daily and weekly movements to stakeholders, etc. However, at FinePoint, I have yet to write one. I am learning all the ins and outs of many aspects of PR, and press releases hasn’t been one. We tend to communicate to our audience most through blogging, tweeting and posting to Facebook. The classroom has consistently put a very strong emphasis on both following press releases and being able to write them, but until very recently, they hadn’t introduced us to up-to-date ways of communicating through other forms of writing.
What’s a Rundown?
I can’t say I’ve ever once heard of a rundown. So when my boss had asked me to get our clients rundown together my first week on the job, she got that message loud and clear when I just kind of stared at her, unresponsive. A rundown, which is a list of confirmed, pending, pitched press as well as any other project or talking point you need to review with a client, was something completely foreign to me. Even now I still sometimes fumble with where to put things or how exactly it should be organized. In class, the bigger picture usually takes precedence over smaller details of dealing with clients, like what happens on a weekly phone call. Perhaps it’s because most students in my class are working for large organizations that work for even larger organizations. Here at FinePoint, we work mostly with individuals. The gap between what happens in smaller and larger PR firms is quite wide, and the specifics of happenings in a smaller firm are generally passed over.
Social Media is Way Ahead of Academic PR
This summer, we test-ran our first ever “social media” class. This focused on how large corporations use social media to enhance their company or deal with a crisis. Yet, what I really wanted to know was how best to USE all of this social media and what’s the latest and greatest tools for gathering and disseminating information. Each class seems to be close to the same thing… researching a company and conducting a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). I’m a pro at those by now. Also, for our final project, instead of looking ahead, my project focuses on a social media crisis that happened back in 2011.
So when my boss asks me what I’m learning in class about social media and how it can relate to what I’m doing, I end up telling her that I actually use what I learn at work and apply it to my writing for class. I wish it could be the other way around… but I could always write her up an incredible SWOT analysis if she needs me to!
The Unspoken Assumption That We All Work for Huge Companies
I have to be honest, when I joined FinePoint, I had no idea what went into a small or startup company. I probably still don’t. I was excited and ready to learn, but that’s exactly what I needed to do: learn. There is no grace period of watching someone else do something and then you giving it a try.
It needs to be done by you. Now.
While I do feel as though I’ve gained confidence by just having to do things without being babied into them, I know I drive my boss nuts with my zillion questions. She continually tells me to just try it and take the risk of falling on my ass… and I’ll most likely follow that statement up with a question. It’s something I’m working on.
My point is, even with a masters degree and being a 5 year collegiate athlete, I wasn’t prepared for the craziness and the time sensitive tasks that take place day in and day out. It’s a different type of intense. You have to be able to learn very quickly. I know they say that in just about every field, but in public relations there is a very small window to communicate, talk about an idea or trending topic, and then the moments over. You HAVE to be able to capitalize on it to be successful. Sometimes that will mean falling on your ass in the process.
If You Don’t Want to Work Directly in Government, Don’t go to School in DC.
Lastly, as more of a sidenote, if you don’t plan on working within government in some form or another, I suggest taking public relations courses in another area. Being from Minnesota, I didn’t know all that much about the workings of government and the volume of organizations and businesses intertwined in politics. I suppose getting insight in to that was helpful in giving me a new perspective on things. Yet, I’m still not interested in working directly with government and politics.
Most of my classes focused around this, which makes sense since a number of my professors were adjunct and work in DC full-time. I can’t count how many case studies and projects dealt a great deal with politics and government organizations.
While I’m sure there are still many more differences, one thing sticks out the most: nothing can make up for the experience. The real, hands-on, life experience of working in PR. There’s no doubt that education gives you a great foundation and the basic knowledge of the public relations field, so if you have the opportunity to take classes and further yourself that way, I encourage it. Yet, I’ll forever be grateful that my boss was willing to take me on as an intern, even if it probably was at the expense of premature gray hairs, because it was such a wake up call. Similar to just about every aspect of life, you learn the most when you’re right in the middle of the fire.