Public Relations as a Career

May 31, 2017
HOW TO: Land a Career in

The public relations field has given me the opportunity to attend lavish Hollywood parties with A-List celebrities and to jet-set around the world with international dignitaries. I have backstage passes to all of New York’s hottest fashion shows, and I once spent a hilarious weekend in Aspen partying with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

If you’d like to get a job in PR to do any or all of the above glamorous things, well, you’re going to be horribly disappointed. Why? Because none of the words in the first paragraph are remotely true. They weren’t for me; they aren’t likely to be true for you. Sorry, pals!

A lot of young folks have grand visions of the public relations industry, and while I can say with authority that PR is a field well worth pursuing, it’s important to have an honest view of the realities of the job (hint: you won’t be partying with Beyonce – unless that’s your dog’s name).

I’ve spent the last 12 years in public relations (and the last seven in social media), working in Boston, San Francisco and now in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. True, I’ve flown all over the place for the job, but there’s nothing glitzy about taking a redeye to Los Angeles, having a meeting in the morning and then hopping right back on a plane on no sleep. In fact, it’s a drag.

But there is a lot to like in the PR game. And like anything else, there are pros and cons. If you’re considering public relations as a career choice, here’s what you need to know:

Here’s my Top 5 Reasons PR is a great career

  1. Variety of responsibilities – once you climb above an entry level position such as an internship or a job as an Account Coordinator, the work changes constantly. No two days are alike, and you get to improvise constantly. Some days you’re writing a press release; others you’re on the road with clients conducting a multi-state media tour. Busy? Check. Boring? Not even a little.
  2. – over time you’ll find yourself interacting with some of your industry’s smartest, best-connected thinkers. And while it’s pretty heady stuff, you need to keep your wits about you, add smart observations to the dialogue, and always be respectful of others’ time.
  3. – if you can walk the walk, you can climb the ladder fairly quickly in the PR world. Most PR agencies operate as a meritocracy, and the truly talented can lap the field. And the pay is pretty darn good compared to some professions, so being great at public relations can be a lucrative talent.
  4. Evolving constantly – the tools you use today will be defunct tomorrow, particularly as they relate to social media PR. If you hate sitting still and love learning new ways of communicating and measuring success, PR is a great fit for you – especially if you like teaching others the ropes.

Here’s my Top 5 Reasons You Should Run

  1. High turnover – the PR industry, particularly in large metros like Boston and New York, tends to be a revolving door for lots of young PR pros. There are lots of reasons for this (that I won’t get into here), but it’s important to understand the team you work with today might look radically different next month. And again six months later. That can be a real pain in the butt when you’re left holding the bag (read: all the work). If you work for a smaller PR firm outside a major metro, like Calypso Communications in Portsmouth, NH (wink-wink), people tend to stick around longer because they appreciate the work-life balance.
  2. Fickle clients – you’ll find that some clients will simply never appreciate your hard work, which can be soul-sucking. It’s like having parents who have never told you they love you. But you know what? When it comes to PR, sometimes the reward is in the doing of great work. And as long as the client isn’t abusive, at least you can hang your hat on your achievements.
  3. Office politics – with so much room for advancement, a lot of PR agencies grapple with a handful of folks who put themselves ahead of the company. You know the type – it’s all about them. They steal your ideas and pass them off as their own. They snipe at you to the boss and are always trying to make you look bad. But don’t despair – most savvy PR leaders can smell this a mile away. The self-aggrandizing folks have a way of disappearing of their own accord. Just be yourself, and stay ethical. If you’re good, the rewards will come.
  4. Ever-changing tools of the trade – this was listed as a positive above, but if you’re a person who hates surprises and change, you might want to rethink your decision to get into PR. You will never get “caught up” on your work in PR, and you will never know how to use “all the tools.”
  5. Market volatility – recessions aren’t kind to PR pros. Marketing and PR tend to be the first line items cut from budgets in tough economies, and layoffs at PR agencies aren’t far behind. What can you do? Make yourself invaluable to your agency by keeping clients happy, bringing in new business, etc. But never forget that there’s no such thing as “indispensible” at a PR firm. As Charles de Gaulle famously observed, “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” Substitute “men” with “PR people” and you get the idea.
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