Like many PR industry folks, I was a communications major in college (go Boston U!). Like many college grads, when the Dean handed me that diploma, I felt powerful, knowledgeable; I was a master of the PR world! My brain was bursting with PR jargon and corporate case studies. The AP Stylebook practically streamed through my typing fingers; I knew it all! And then I got a job.
Now don’t get me wrong. In actuality, I was incredibly prepared for the working world upon graduation. My course work, internships and mentor programs provided an incredible foundation to launch a career. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much more I would learn on the job.
Sure, we learned how to write a press release. We learned about a sub header, the ever-important inverted pyramid form, a boiler plate and the end-of-content marker. But a text book can’t teach you tone, or terminology catered to a targeted audience. You don’t learn about the research that goes in to churning out a release that is content-heavy and styled in what may seem like a foreign industry.
Yes, we learned how to pitch. My PR 101 notes read “get to the ask in the first line of the email,” “ask the journalist if it’s a good time when you call,” “end your email saying you will follow up with said call.” But personalizing a pitch can’t be taught. Rather, it’s only learned through the hunger for securing coverage, the pressure from a client for that critical hit. You don’t learn how important it is to take the time to liken an orange-colored underwater ROV to Aquaman to get the attention of a top tier editor who has a fascination with superheroes, a characteristic you only learned after an exhaustive twitter/facebook/blog search. I don’t have notes on how to quickly pitch a different client when you can sense a reporter’s interest in your initial pitch is tepid.
Nowhere scribbled in my notebook do I see “have a personality.” The first words from a PR professor should be “quiet, easily-intimidated people need not apply.” I will defend my fellow PR people when I say we are not all pushy, rude and selfish, as often portrayed. But we do have personality. We can talk easily with media in all different industries, we can respectfully level client expectations and we can make friends at networking events. Relationship-building is never really mastered; it’s a continuously learned skill that is paramount in PR.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the real learning just begins the moment you leave school. Particularly at an agency, a new client can pop up at any moment with a focus in an unfamiliar realm. So you learn the ins and outs of it, and you immerse yourself in it until you are an expert. New vocabulary, new social media platforms, new strategies, new relationships…this industry is constantly developing and reinventing itself. For PR pros, there is always more to learn.