Posts Taged education

What Public Relations is Teaching Me


Six months ago I confidentially strode across a stage and collected my diploma. While I now possess a piece of paper that claims I’ve learned, I definitely didn’t stop learning after graduating. After several months working for a public relations agency, here’s what PR is teaching me.

Relationships are Key

Public relations is an industry focused on relationships. These can take many forms, whether between PR professionals and businesses or with members of the media. In order to be successful at PR you have to constantly be putting yourself in other’s shoes and looking at concepts from a wide range of perspectives.

Make Use of Resources + Ask Questions

Resourcefulness is valuable, especially when it comes to problem solving and research. The internet doesn’t have every answer, but it has quite a few. PR is teaching me that using the information I have at my fingertips is crucial.

Using resources also encourages continued learning. Organizations like the PRSA are a great tool. At A.wordsmith we listen to one of their webinars per month. The PRSA webinars cover everything from Snapchat to crafting effective pitches.

As mentioned, resources are plentiful and useful, but they have their limits. I’ve learned the importance of asking questions. Use others’ experience and knowledge as a resource. Gathering as much information up front as possible saves time and energy down the road.

Read, read, read and READ

Most people will tell you that writing is a central skill in PR, and this is true. However, I’ve learned reading is essential as well.  Reading public relations news sites like Ragan’ PR Daily, or PR Week or Bulldog Reporter has helped me learn about the industry, current events and trends.

Public relations is about telling stories. One of the best ways to become a better storyteller is to read well-told stories. Whether its news articles, industry specific blogs or thought leadership interviews—reading quality writing helps you produce quality content.


Learn by Doing

Finally, PR has taught me that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. Looking over the past few months in a professional position, the points where I felt like I learned the most where when I was assigned a task I had never tried before. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to attempting things that stretch you. If you succeed, it’ll be an added boost of confidence. If you don’t get it right the first time, ask for feedback and adjust.  In trying new things you may surprise yourself and find you have a knack for something new.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

“What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me” is part two of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith. Read part one here.


I veered towards PR after five years in the education and nonprofit world. The overlap between development and communications is significant, but I realized that specialized training would give me an advantage in the market and elevate my skillset. I pursued a Master’s in Management Communications with a Concentration in Marketing and Public Relations. This mouthful of a degree combined a wide mix of journalism, sociology, social media, marketing, research, and rhetorical methods courses into a surprisingly cohesive curriculum. While I certainly had a lot to learn post-graduation, I graduated with an excellent grasp of the core capabilities required in public relations. These are a few  of the things my public relations degree taught me that helped me get a head start in my PR career:

What makes great writing

The writing skills taught in kindergarten through college programs often focus on grammar and basic style guidelines. I believe that great writing requires this knowledge. I can easily bore even the most earnest listener with my zeal for the Oxford comma, my personal relationships with Strunk & White and Harbrace, and my embarrassing crush on The New Yorker’s diaereses.

However, advanced writing requires something richer. One of my courses focused almost exclusively on metaphors. Another guided me through sensory writing about music and food. Still others spent time on the logistics of understanding and cooperating with your audience. These exercises gave me the toolbox and the je ne sais quoi that makes great writing great, and the ability to tap them for the vast range of topics and markets that our PR clients belong to.

How to become an expert in anything

When I explain that much of my work involves writing and working on articles with media outlets, the next question is always, “About what?”

“Whatever the client needs.”

On any given day, I may be producing content about anything from the FDA approval process for prescription drugs to the hidden gems of southern Oregon wine country. The tasks can rarely be boiled down to simple copywriting or editing – most of the time I am researching, developing, and presenting complex subjects. I spend hours poring over articles and blogs, perusing competitor thought leadership, and interviewing subject matter experts. Fortunately, rigorous research requirements in school left me quite adept at zigzagging through academic databases and lay publications. My marketing coursework primed me in strategic competitor research. I owe my interview skills to a fastidious journalism adjunct and a supportive qualitative research methods professor. These skills let me become an overnight expert in just about anything – and I couldn’t produce quality work without them.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

Why we tell stories

We tell stories because they work. Stories are at the root of communication. They’re more engaging and can reach a wide audience. In every course I took – from Social Media and Culture to Applied Marketing Strategies – the importance of storytelling was pounded into our minds. Journalists and editors can sniff right through a pitch about a nonstory. The case studies A.wordsmith writes tell a company’s success story with a certain goal in mind, and even web copy has greater impact if it illustrates the point. PR shares messages, and the best messages are usually couched in stories.

Look for part 3 of this series next week!

What My Public Relations Degree Didn’t Teach Me

public relations degree

Part one of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith.

In 2014, I graduated with my master’s degree in public communication and finally headed out into the “real world.” Since I basically went straight from my undergraduate studies to my graduate program, I hadn’t yet had my true introduction to the public relations field. I was armed with a lot of knowledge, research, and some experience with in-house PR departments, and eager to apply what I’d spent the past six years of my life studying.

However, in the past two years, I’ve discovered that there are some things about being a PR professional that college just didn’t teach me. I had the public relations degree, theoretical background, the critical thinking skills, and the writing ability, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the important facets of PR that school couldn’t provide a lesson plan for. Most PR professionals learn a lot as they go, and continue to learn throughout their career, so I know I’m not alone. However, I’d like to share the top three things my college education didn’t teach me to help other new PR pros get a head start:

No one knows what PR is

public relations degree

You will quickly discover that no one will understand what you do when you say “I work in public relations.” It seems super obvious to us, because we’ve spent our college life immersed in the industry and worked with professors who have years of experience. Your family won’t quite get it and occasionally even the clients you work with may even be confused by what you do. Early on, practice an elevator pitch that describes what public relations is and what you do for work. If you don’t understand what you do well enough to describe it at fifth grade level to others, you probably don’t know the PR field well enough. Creating this elevator pitch is a good exercise to highlight what you’d like to know more about yourself.

Quality wins over quantity

As a new professional fresh out of school, you probably have dreams of your clients appearing in the New York Times, Good Morning America, and Vogue –all in the same month! PR is all about the big wins and the glam, right? Well, not always. Hang on to these goals, because (for the right clients) they’re great long term ideas. However, you will quickly find these are stretch goals for even well-known companies. Most of your wins will come in the form of local news and industry outlets. Outlets you’d never heard of previously will soon become a source of excitement for you when your client is mentioned in them after a month-long conversation with an editor. These publications are often targeted more specifically to your client’s audience than large national outlets and get the content in front of the right people. It’s also often better to get one, well placed piece than a bunch of mentions in outlets that aren’t right for your client’s audience. Someday your client might be sitting down for an interview with Matt Lauer, but for now you’ll find plenty to be proud of when their article in your local newspaper goes live.

There’s not a template for this

While each class is different, much of college follows a similar format: come to class, take notes, complete your projects following the guidelines. Though there are certain ways of doing things in PR and sometimes you can follow a guide in certain documents (like press releases) ultimately, good PR doesn’t happen with a template. You won’t get very far using the same email pitch to every reporter you reach out to. Every pitch, project, and client deserves an individual strategy and considerations. Templates can be a starting point, but true PR happens when we work beyond the traditional format and take risks.

Look for part 2 of this series next week!