“Oh, so you’re in advertising.”
“No, not really…”
Or, sometimes, especially if I’m talking to a young woman, I’ll hear, “Oh, like Samantha from Sex and the City!”
“No, not really…”
From time to time, students contact me to pick my brain about what working in PR is like. Most of these students are young women and they have stars in their eyes. They’re obsessed with Kelly Cutrone, have seen every episode of The City and think that PR is all glamorous parties, famous people and painfully expensive clothing. Pass the champagne!
I’m not saying that people don’t actually live that life. Some do. A very select few. But they work around the clock and I’m sure if you asked them, they’d tell you their jobs aren’t glamorous. For the rest of us mere mortals, that lifestyle is not a reality. But I’ll tell you what is.
The first few years are painful. You’re usually working for an agency. Whether it’s a small boutique firm or a multinational agency, you’re going to work alot. And it’s going to be tedious, mind numbing work. Like spending the whole day in an excel spreadsheet (media lists, anyone?). Or, making hundreds of call downs. Or researching, and researching, and researching. Sometimes you’ll get a reprieve and have to spend half a day managing someone’s Twitter account. That’s actually fun. But I digress. Even in a dream job, working with dream clients, these first few years are not fun. But if you can survive them with a can-do attitude, a smile on your face and become a tactical ninja, you’ll be alright.
Once you’ve earned your stripes, the real fun begins. Fashion houses and big consumer brands aren’t the only companies that desire publicity. I’ve worked with small non-profits, chemical companies, HVACR equipment manufacturers, logistics firms, technology resellers and many more different types of clients. And you’ve got to learn these businesses, their customers, their industry and their competitors in order to communicate their messages to the public effectively. It means being nimble, being a sponge and being willing to learn about a variety of topics – not just the ones the appeal to you on a surface level.
In any one day, you wear a million different hats and you have to be able to transition seamlessly from one to the next:
- Strategist and planner – One part psychology, one part philosophy. Figuring out the big picture goals and how to achieve them.
- Writer – whether you’re writing a byline article, a pitch to media, crafting messages or drafting press releases. You’re also a copy editor. Make sure to look over your work at least five times.
- Relationship nurturer – taking care of your clients and calling your journo buddies from The Wall Street Journal (or hey….even Water & Wastes Digest).
- Salesman – Also applies to clients and journo buddies.
- Researcher – Your clients have to be one step ahead of the competition, right? Or, maybe you were asked to write an article about virtualization and cloud computing (whaaa??) Actually, I’ve been there. Alot. The google comes in handy here.
- Worker bee – Just gettin it done and banging it out, ‘cuz we don’t have secretaries.
- Motivational speaker – Talking your clients through your latest big idea. Or keeping your cube mate from jumping off the ledge.
- Crisis manager – Your client did what? Oops. Time to fix it.
PR is a fun, thrilling, rewarding career. We don’t have big expense accounts and giant salaries, and most of us don’t get to be around celebrities all day, but it’s still pretty cool anyway.