Getting Started in Public Relations

Tips for recent graduates and others new to the profession

By Hayley Thrift

Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

Throughout my final semester of college, I was asked the same question more than 10 times each week, “What are your plans after graduation?” It’s a question that haunts college students because, often times, they don’t have a definitive answer.

The fact of the matter is, landing your first public relations job is a difficult task for recent college graduates during these tumultuous economic times. After years of countless hours of studying and attending classes, the ultimate goal after graduating from college is not to find just any job, but to start a career.

Ready or not

Beginning a new public relations job, regardless of how well you did in “News Writing” or what you learned in “PR Campaigns,” can be a daunting process. For many, including myself, it entails relocating to a new city, or even a new state. Apart from having to find a place to live, you now have to learn the ropes of a new city as well as your new work environment. You might also be entering an industry that you are not familiar with. This is not a negative thing; many professionals start out in an industry they had not intended on.

How can you possibly juggle all of these new stresses, while also making a positive and immediate impact in your new career?

Back to Basics

It’s important to not get overwhelmed during your first few months at your new job. For that reason, start with the basics of public relations and work your way up. Most credit unions will hire public relations professionals who have a degree in PR, or a related field, such as communications or journalism. This means you already will have a solid foundation and general understanding to build on.

There are two main resources each PR professional should have at all times:

  • AP Stylebook: The Associated Press Style is a universally recognized writing style used by editors and journalists throughout any and all industries. Therefore, it is paramount that all public relations professionals adhere to these rules in their writing. If you didn’t graduate with a degree in PR, and you aren’t as familiar with AP Style as you should be, quickly purchase an AP Stylebook for reference. Trust me – you will need it. AP Style even makes an app you can download on your iPhone or iPad for quick use on the go. Talk about convenient!
  • The PR StyleGuide: Formats for Public Relations Practice by Barbara Diggs-Brown. This handbook provides easily accessible references to all things PR, including how to write a proper news release and the standard formats for putting together common press materials, such as fact sheets, corporate overviews and executive biographies. The guide’s illustrations and provided examples make quick referencing a breeze.

In addition, you must understand that social media is far more than a Facebook status update or an occasional tweet. As a PR professional, you will be expected to have — at minimum — an understanding of all things social media. There are many resources available, through webinars or columns, that would be greatly beneficial to entry level PR professionals in any field.

For example, www.prnewsdaily.com, a news site that delivers news, advice and opinions on the public relations, marketing and social media worlds, is an excellent source for articles pertaining to social media use in PR. Also, the Public Relations Society of America offers free webinars to its members that vary in topic, but regularly discuss the latest trends in PR, which can include the proper use of social media. Anyone who is not a member of PRSA can take part in webinars for a fee.

Do Your Homework

New graduates will know the basics of PR but what they might not know is the ins and outs of working in a professional office. To assist in this process, I recommend reading The Rules of Work, by Richard Templar. This book focuses on what you need to know, from dealing with office drama to scoring a promotion, about the workplace.

Apart from understanding the rules of the workplace, it is of the utmost importance to understand the industry or industries you serve. Credit unions are unique in the financial services industry with many traditions unlike others. Chances are, a PR new graduate may not have a background in the industry, or finance at all.

Attend a lecture, a webinar or a conference; read publications and books; or simply begin talking with those around you to learn from what they know.

Request a meeting with a co-worker who has been in the credit union industry for more than just a few years. Take this meeting seriously and bring specific questions to the table. Use this time to ask how the industry has changed since they first started and what challenges the credit union industry currently faces. Utilizing resources around your work environment is a simple task and can often be the most rewarding (and least expensive).

Network, Network, Network

College students are told almost on a daily basis how important networking is when looking for a job. While this is true, networking should not end once you have entered the working world. It is crucial to the success of your career to dedicate time to continuing your education outside the workplace. The public relations field is constantly evolving, and a successful PR professional must stay ahead of the curve. Socializing with PR experts in or out of your industry is an excellent way to gain valuable insight into trends and other perspectives, which you can implement into your own working style.

Depending on your location, there are many opportunities to become active in professional networking organizations.

  • PRSA is the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals ranging from recent college graduates to the leaders of the world’s largest multinational firms.
  • Local groups for young professionals. Especially in larger cities, there are many options to get involved with networking groups specifically focused on young professionals in your industry.
  • Alumni groups from your alma mater. Most major cities will have alumni groups for professionals of all ages to network with each other. Especially if you have relocated to a new city, this is an excellent opportunity to meet other professionals with a common background.

Stay Focused

Earning your first job is a monumental achievement; you’ve earned it! But always remember that you are never finished learning; you can always improve. The key to becoming successful is to start slow, focus on the basics and gradually progress over time. Time will fly when you become immersed in your new career, so now is the time to re-evaluate the first steps you take for setting the foundation for a long and prosperous career.