We all discover things about our careers that we never expected going into a new job or field. Maybe we found things that excited us or made us thankful we chose that particular path. Or, maybe, there were things we wish didn’t come with the territory. As with any job, there were skills or characteristics of publicity that my undergraduate studies did not cover. Graduating college, I knew I wanted to be a public relations practitioner, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like. There were many avenues I could pursue and it all felt a bit daunting.

If you don’t work in PR or the media, there can be some confusion about what PR professionals do. Do we appear with our clients on TV? No. Do we write for our clients? Sometimes. Is our goal to secure good media coverage for our clients? Yes. Most of our family members still don’t know exactly how to explain our jobs. In the same way, there are many things you don’t learn about PR until you’re actually working in the field. As I reflect back on what I learned in those four years and what I’ve learned since, here are a few things that I could only learn through on-the-job experience:

  1. We have influence, not control. Choice Media & Communications Founder Heather Adams taught me early in my career that although we can influence people and request they cover or include something, we ultimately don’t have final control over what is printed or aired. It’s our job to do everything possible to ensure things go positively. But, at the end of the day, we are not advertisers or marketers who can determine exactly what is said or when something will go live.
  2. Relationship is at the core of everything we do. I wanted to pursue public relations because I loved working with people. However, I’m not sure I understood how, quite literally, relationships are entwined in everything we do. Relationships with clients, relationships with media contacts, relationships with colleagues. All of these connections must be nurtured and successful for us to achieve our goals and the goals of our clients. What relationships are crucial to the success of your job?
  3. Those events are not as glamorous as they seem. Ask anyone on our team and they will tell you I love coordinating events. I am a logistics person, so I thrive in those settings. People often tell us “oh, you look like you’re going to all of these fun gatherings.” The truth is, when you’re working these events, you are consumed with logistics and making sure everything runs smoothly. Yes, they are fun, but generally, you are running around making sure your client or media are where they need to be.
  4. Reading will help you be successful. If you keep up with the news cycle and understand what outlets are covering or what writers are discussing, you will be successful in PR. Many times, we will pitch clients as experts for certain news-of-the-day topics. If you don’t know what people are talking about, you can’t provide your client as a source. Knowing things like what column Redbook is running or what the 10:00a.m. hour of “TODAY” covers versus the 8:00a.m. hour will also help you be prepared. On another note, being a strong writer is one of the best tools you can have in your arsenal. By reading – books, magazines, journals, etc. – you’ll improve your writing.
  5. If there’s a project you believe in, make it known. If there’s a campaign you want to work on or a client you want to work with, make sure people know. Your boss will never understand your excitement or know you want to work on something if you don’t tell him or her. If they don’t assign you the project, at least you will know that it’s not because you didn’t express interest.

What has taken you by surprise in your career? What are new avenues you can explore and learn within your career? I challenge you to look for opportunities to learn new things and expand your skill set. There are always opportunities to grow. Sometimes, you just have to look for them.



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AUTHOR: Maggie Rheney