1. You don't have to major in public relations, but it will be harder to get into the industry if you don't. I went to a liberal arts college and studied sociology. The people who majored in PR do have a significant leg up, so if you study in the liberal arts, you should educate yourself about it in other ways, like internships. Having someone give you a chance is one of the hardest parts if you don't have a PR degree. But even in liberal arts schools, there are definitely other communication-oriented things you can do to boost your résumé, like joining the school newspaper, planning events, and joining student government.
2. Internships are essential, not just for getting a job, but for figuring out what area of PR you want to go into. I had two PR internships right after college; the first one was in fashion PR and then my second one was actually where I took the full-time position and where I've been since, doing corporate communications at a global PR agency. Fashion PR was definitely a good experience, but it wasn't the industry that I could really see myself in. There are things you need to know, like how to build a media list using the specific program your agency uses, knowing how to write a press release, or knowing what story you would send to each media outlet. Let's say it's a three-month internship; that's a three-month tryout for the company.
3. Take extra time to connect with coworkers, because that's really where you'll learn most. Grab coffee with someone who you really admire for how good they are at media relations, or whatever it ends up being. Take the time to ask those people how they started or what helped them in the beginning. PR professionals are normally pretty social people, so it's pretty easy to reach out to people and be like, "Hey, this is an awesome thing that you did, can we grab 10 minutes to get coffee?" In a big PR agency, you're getting information from so many different people who know so many different things and have so many different areas of expertise. Some people are more creative, some are more analytical, some are more data-driven, some people are really good at coming up with social media strategy. You'll learn a lot about best practices just by talking to people about their careers.
4. A lot of your pitch emails will be ignored, but you'll develop better strategies over time. There are frustrating situations even now and I've been doing this for a few years. With cold emails, I would say more than half are ignored. But it definitely has to do with how smart you were with who you're reaching out to. Background research is an incredible portion of your success. If you don't look at what they're writing about and you cold email, I'm not really sure if you're going to get an answer. I don't send mass emails. If it's a press release and it's not really a targeted story or news, maybe you would email multiple news desks that make sense, but I would never mass email a targeted pitch, and I wouldn't email more than one person at a media outlet. I don't think there is any golden rule that will always get you an answer to an email. A lot of it is sort of common sense, but it's also just learning what works for the media outlet and the journalist you're pitching to.
5. Build relationships with journalists before you pitch to them, if you can. When developing relationships with media, there doesn't always need to be a purpose for reaching out. It could just be saying, "Hi, I work with this client. I just wanted to let you know that I could be a resource to you in the future." But when you're pitching something to a media outlet, it needs to be pretty targeted to them. Getting to know journalists or getting to know what a media outlet does or does not like took time to learn, but is really important. It's kind of a mix of knowing what news an outlet likes but also a mix of using your own common sense, like knowing that person literally never writes on politics, so you're not going to email them with this politics story. You need to provide them with something that's different than what they would have gotten from someone else and that actually has a news hook. It's really important to build relationships with specific people so they know you're a resource for a certain client. You'll go to them when you need something, but they'll go to you when they need you.
6. Develop good judgment on when, and when not, to share information. You have to be careful and mindful of what you share to someone that's outside your team, especially to someone in the media. Anything you share can get leaked ahead of time. We embargo information, but even then, that's not 100 percent reliable. Let's say we're going to announce a new campaign and we want to make sure it gets media coverage, so part of our media strategy might be making sure that certain journalists write pieces on it. So you share information with them under embargo, which is sharing the information if they agree not to publish a story until a certain date. That's one of the most important reasons to form relationships with journalists, because then there's a degree of trust. But one of the biggest things is really being mindful of the fact that what you say and what you send could get leaked. I'm not saying journalists share all the time, but it happens. I had someone break an embargo a few weeks ago.
7. People will think you're spending your days working with celebrities or covering up mistakes. A lot of people think PR is glitz and glamour, and you're working with famous people or planning events. That's more at a boutique agency that specializes in those things. People also think that we're constantly covering up mistakes, but that's really not what we're doing. A pretty big portion of the day is spent in meetings. A lot of time is spent on media strategy, so it could be anything from building out your media list to building out a specific story line. If you're an issues person, then it could be a lot responding to media reactively and drafting messaging and those kind of things; you're not responding to crises all the time. There's planning and requirements for you to know what's going on in the news all the time, and having a very big-picture mindset for when the time comes when you need to respond to something.
8. Staying up-to-date on the news is a big part of your job. You have to make sure you know what's going on all the time, especially in the industries that affect your clients. It's part of your job to share those news updates with clients, even if the client isn't mentioned in it, but to show what your competitor is doing or if it's something that's going to shake up the industry. They're keeping an eye on the news too, but it helps to have that strategic mind, to help them know how they should be reacting to something. That's something that a lot of our clients lean on us for. Even when you're not at work, you definitely need to stay up-to-date on your Twitter feed and with the news, so you're aware of what's happening.
9. You can't predict when something will go wrong, but you can use past issues to guide your response. For crisis PR, if something happens, you have to figure out how you're going to respond, how you're going to move forward, and then you're activating your media plan. You can look at what happened with a similar issue in the past. Something could always catch you off-guard, but I think a big part of issues communication is keeping your cool when no one else is, and sitting down and knowing exactly what's happening. If an issue happens—like a recall, an accident, an offensive social media post—we're not trying to sweep it under the rug. It's more making sure the client's messaging is included in the media coverage. If the media coverage is negative, we'll make sure the messaging is included, whether it's an apology or an explanation, making sure it's there so the piece more balanced. We're absolutely not lying. But of course we're going to highlight the best parts of an initiative or whatever it is. Or if there's an issue, we're going to provide an explanation and show what we're doing to fix it.
10. It will take some time to figure out a good work-life balance, and even then, it won't be perfect. I would say I work an average of 10 hours a day, but it's probably more than that pretty often. PR is definitely not a 9-to-5 job. Sometimes there are weeks where you work very late multiple nights in a row and you have to cancel plans, but then there are days where you can leave at 6:30 and have dinner or work out or whatever. You just have to look ahead and decide that maybe a certain night isn't the best night to commit to having a dinner or do a workout class. If I know we have a launch coming up, the week leading up to it, I know I really shouldn't be committing myself to anything.
11. You don't have to work 24/7, but you have to be responsive nearly always. I'm not tied to my phone after hours, but I absolutely check my email. You learn over time what's necessary to do right now and what isn't. You don't want to consistently do work on the weekends or you'll burn out. I'm convinced that no one can work that much and legitimately like it. But crises can happen on the weekend too. If it's an email asking a quick question, I'll answer it. Or if it's something I can't answer quickly, I'll still answer saying I'll dig into that on Monday. Being responsive and letting clients know that it's on your radar is hugely important, especially because we have so many different projects going on. You have to be a dependable resource for your clients so they're confident that you've got it. You're always on. You don't leave your work at work.
The person interviewed for this article works for a PR agency in New York City.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.