July 16, 2014

Dear Graduates: Welcome to Public Relations in 2014

Each spring I start to get calls from job seekers looking for advice on getting started in the public relations business. I’ve been in the PR industry for almost twenty-five years and always happy to help graduates get started in this field. With that in mind, here are my top observations and correlated advice for job seekers:

1.  The belief about how many of today’s young people are entitled, lazy slackers is false. The quality of the young people who contact me has never been higher than recent years. In addition to being thoughtful, diligent about follow-up, and polished in their delivery, candidates have more practical experience via public relations courses and internships than I’ve seen in the past.

?  Don’t open your interview with “I’m a people person.” Discuss experiences you have with leadership and communications, and support your comments with details on how you were successful in your work. It’s more compelling to hear “I’ve maintained an online community for Game of Thrones enthusiasts that grew 500% in the six months,” than “I am an excellent communicator.”

?  Speak to which reporters you know, which social media platforms you’re conversant in, where you have placed stories, or tell a story about how you approached a strategic problem.

2.  It’s more than media. The PR industry is changing and the obsessive focus on who can secure the most media placements isn’t as dominant a performance metric as it once was.

?  The ability to speak to how marketers and publicists can use social media platforms in specific, measurable ways can be just as vital as knowing what was on the cover of that day’s Wall Street Journal.

?  On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you can go into an interview and not know the news of day and how it is being covered. Twitter and the Internet have not rendered writing, composition, careful analysis of newspapers and magazines, and good old fashioned media relations obsolete.

3.  Know your audience.

?  Different PR firms have different focus. You need a story for each one. Consumer shops, design shops, financial services boutiques, advertising/marketing hybrids, corporate, crisis — they all their own languages and priorities. Know them going in.

4.  Market yourself via LinkedIn.

?  The best aspect of LinkedIn is how easy it makes to help other people find jobs. When someone asks me for a referral, the only way I’ll send it is via LinkedIn.

?  With LinkedIn, I can identify the people most likely to care about your background in my network in less than an hour and get the message to all of them with very little hassle. I’ve been in public relations in New York for 24 years and know nearly every recruiter and hiring manager in town. If you send me a resume via email, and make me look up their e-mail addresses to send it around, it will drop to the bottom of my to-do list.

5.  Sell yourself on passion.

?  The best candidates are polished and professional but also need to demonstrate an eagerness to work, and an excitement about working with media.

?  Anecdotes of how you accomplished a PR task during an internship are good for this — hiring managers can sense when you’re really excited about how you solved a problem.

?  Failing that, even being able to break down a news article you thought was interesting in terms of how the subject delivered his or her messages and factors that made the story exciting also works.

6.  Don’t be intimidated.

?  My favorite aspect of public relations as a profession is that there is a low barrier to entry. You don’t need specialized graduate degrees, professional certifications or licenses to work

?  Sure, to stand out these days, an internship is almost required but an energetic candidate who is adept at making it clear what he or she brings to the table can still get past that.

The PR industry is looking for new talent and ready to give you a chance. The industry is more vibrant now than it has been in years so you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by following these principles to find yourself a position. If you apply the kind of preparation, diligence and persistence you’ll need to succeed once you are in the industry to your job search, you’ll be a peer soon.

By Sean Dougherty

Sean Dougherty is vice president of media relations at Dukas Public Relations.