June 23, 2016

Homework Isn’t Just For Nerds

When I was a kid I rarely did homework—and my report cards showed it.

As more of an experiential learner, I preferred going out and doing fun things rather than sitting home with a textbook like a nerd, and I tried a litany of classic excuses to explain why I missed so many assignments. (Despite myriad exotic illnesses, paper-eating wild beasts and frequent desperate family emergencies, I managed to survive and graduate high school.)

But today as a PR professional focused on professional services, I’m grateful that college had far less tolerance for slackers. I quickly learned the necessity of hard work and research, which, in pre-Google and Wikipedia-less days, meant going to an actual library, finding actual books and other publications, and scouring them for information.

Homework today is a mixed book bag, as pressure increases on American students to keep up with peers in Europe and Asia. A study last August in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that K-12 kids were assigned up to three times more than the 10 minutes per subject per night recommended by the National Education Association. Parents in some school districts are pushing back, saying the assignments take too much time from other activities and tend to be pointless.

But you can’t overestimate the value of hard work vs. laziness. During my career as a journalist, preparation and research were indispensable. A mentor once implored me to never ask a question of a public figure if I didn’t already know its answer. He was right. Knowing both the topic and the subject of an interview to the maximum extent possible makes for a far more productive conversation and end product.

In public relations, you’ll get nowhere without homework. Before interviewing for a position at DLPR, I reviewed the firm’s online case studies to understand the services it provides to clients. This research served me very well during the interview phase, as I was able to reference the agency’s specific work and then pivot to how I would fit in.

Similarly, when we meet with a prospective client, we try to learn everything we can about the company’s leadership, its place in the market, the type of strategies and tactics they need and how our programs can help them achieve their business objectives. And we do this all before the first handshake.

When it comes to pitching the media, homework is equally crucial. When I was a reporter and editor, I received many uninformed emails and calls from junior PR staffers cold-calling their way down a seemingly random media list, asking me to cover topics of no relevance to my beat or the newspaper’s audience.

But even when working with a database that groups reporters by beats and publications, good homework skills demand that you check that the reporter wasn’t reassigned or hasn’t already written the article you’re suggesting. Reporters also expect some details about what your client has to say on a topic — and why he or she should care.

In an increasingly competitive job market, in PR and other fields, success belongs to those who are long on good homework skills, and short on excuses.


– Adam Dickter