December 10, 2015

PR is an attractive field because it has an aura of glitz and glamour – high-profile events, media interactions, creative brainstorming sessions and schmoozing with folks in high places. While there are moments like these in the life of a PR professional, most of us typically spend much more time doing, shall we say, less exciting work: writing, calling down lists, and tracking myriad tiny details to make sure whatever it is we’re doing for our client goes off without a hitch.

I know that people beginning a PR career, by definition, won’t have much hands-on experience, so what makes one relatively inexperienced PR aspirant stand out from another? Here are a few things I look for:

  • Good writing. A former mentor of mine once said, “If you can’t write, you can’t think.” PR is about communication, and the written word is at the core of all we do. Write for your school newspaper; start a blog. Do something to prove to me you know your way around a keyboard.
  • Good grades. I frankly don’t care what your major is. Neither PR nor advertising degrees impress me nearly as much as good grades do. Success leaves a trail. If you’ve been a successful student, you’ve already developed habits that will help you be a successful professional.
  • Relevant work or volunteer experience. Maybe you’ve been the volunteer communication person for a non-profit or for your neighborhood association. Maybe you’ve contributed to your company’s newsletter. There are many communications tasks you might have taken on regardless of whether they were in your job description.
  • Passion. Care about something. Care about something beyond yourself. Maybe it’s your church, your community or some other cause. It could be music, a sport or a craft. People who allow themselves to be passionate in one area of their lives are better able to find passion in other areas, including their professions. Employers want more than a warm body. They want creativity, energy and passion.
  • Precision. Remember that I said PR is all about communication. Don’t expect a call back from me if your resumé has typos or if you use improper grammar in your written or verbal communication. I can spot a typo from a mile away, and the sound of subject/verb disagreement is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

And one more thing: Whatever you do, don’t tell me you want to get into PR because you’re a “people person.” I’ve been in PR for 30 years, and there are days I can’t stand people. If all I wanted to do was to be around people, I’d be a greeter at Walmart. People are fine. I usually like being around them, but that’s not what drives me. I love the written word, and I love to use it to influence the way people think. I love business, and I love politics. Those are things that drive me. Tell me what lights you up.