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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!