In my very first PR internship, I was in awe of my boss. She was smart, witty, had a killer resume and could write a pitch like nobody’s business. I wanted more than anything to become my own version of her. Beyond going down in history as the juncture in my life when I officially caught the PR bug, that internship taught me a great professional foundation that has taken me where I am today. And while I’m by no means an industry veteran, I’d like to think that foundation has given me some room to offer advice to the next up-and-comers of the PR world. For as many publicists and PR agencies there are out there, there are probably about as many unique approaches to handling clients, crafting a great press release and hammering out a solid PR strategy. However, there are a few things that undeniably apply across the board that will help you learn, grow and earn respect.
1. My Social Media, Myself
You’ve heard it for years – “don’t put anything on public social media channels you wouldn’t want your mom/grandma/boss/teacher to see.” Many people, especially those lumped into the “millennial” category, disregard it. Well, from one millennial to another – don’t. PR is social-savvy trade by nature, so I guarantee any prospective employers and coworkers will check you out from Twitter to Tumblr. Save the profanities, compromising photos and any dramatic recounts of fights with significant others for after-work vent sessions with your friends. They have no place in the professional world.
2. You Will Mess Up
People make mistakes. People who are new to something, by default, tend to make more of them. Guess what? It’s ok. When – not if – you mess something up, just be a realist about it. Think:
How can I handle this?
Think of a solution (or several) before ‘fessing up. Your supervisors will appreciate the forethought, and it shows maturity and initiative. However, if you’re really struggling, of course ask for help.
Who needs to know?
More often than not, probably just your immediate supervisors. If a client needs to know, they’ll guide you on next steps.
What can I say?
Explain what happened, apologize and move on. Unless it’s something absolutely earth-shattering, other people involved will, too.
Then, just make sure you learn from what happened and let it go.
3. Don’t Be a Diva
As you’re finding your place in the industry, you’re going to have to be an intern or an assistant, maybe even several times over. You’re going to have to do things that aren’t “fun” or “cool” or like you’ve seen Samantha do on “Sex and the City” (which, let me say, is incredibly unrealistic for 99% of PR pros). Don’t ever think you’re above it. The people that are directing you to do these things probably did the same stuff 5, 10, 20 years ago – they earned the right to move forward in their careers. As cheesy as it sounds, doing it with a smile on your face and gratefulness for the experience will take you far. If you’re up for a promotion against someone who sulks when they’re asked to update a media list or scan in new press hits – you’ve got that thing in the bag.
4. Media Hits Do Not Make a PR Strategy
Yes, media hits are an important component of a PR strategy. But, they are not a strategy in and of themselves. It will behoove you to learn to think strategically from an early point in your career. When you’re building a PR plan or pitching a story, think not just, “who is going to see this?” but “what is this going to do for my client?” Sure, an editorial feature in a magazine looks impressive, but is it going to sell hotel rooms? Encourage people to sign up for a new juice cleanse? Spread the word about an upcoming charity event and boost ticket interest? If it’s not the right audience or market, the answer may very well be “no.” In that case, move on – don’t waste your time or the client’s budget spinning your wheels on something that doesn’t make sense. Your clients will appreciate you far more if you get them two hits in publications that return great results rather than 20 in publications that just don’t connect.
5. It Gets Better
Being a publicist can be extremely stressful. You have clients to please and coordinate with, deadlines to meet, plans to create, press releases to distribute, events to attend – phew! Keeping it all under control can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a newbie. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Write it down
Some studies have indicated writing down to-dos actually decreases your memory capacity, but I wholeheartedly disagree – to me, they’re essential. Before leaving my office each day, I make a list of everything I need to do the following day. In the morning, I check my email, add to my list and prioritize accordingly. As I wrap up, I check things off – it gives me an idea of where I stand on important projects, plus, it’s always satisfying to cross another thing off your list.
Roll with the punches
There will often be things that come up that are an instant priority above all other tasks. Evaluate your status on other projects and adjust accordingly. We publicists are a paranoid bunch, and we often have the urge to do everything in one day. Resist – there are generally things you can swap around so your plate isn’t so full.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a senior staffer if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need help figuring out how to plan your day. They’re experienced and they’ve been in your shoes, so they’ll be happy to guide you.
Suck it up
Sometimes, you have to work late or start your day at 6am. Own it. Accept it. That’s your job.
As you start to come into your own and develop a pattern for workload and client needs, your stress will start to subside. It’s all part of the process of becoming a full-blown, a**-kicking communications professional. And, on the days when stress does get the better of you, remember this advice from PR great Kelly Cutrone: “If you have to cry, go outside.”