Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Feel Confused About Starting Your PR Work Life? Find Your Answers Here.

I interviewed James Watkins this weekend, who works for VOX PR. James provides writing and research account support to the firm and executes strategic communications tactics for his clients. He graduated from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. James wants to share his experience with undergraduate students who want to engage in the PR field. If you will graduate soon, I hope this article can help you understand more about a career in public relations.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced at work? How did you overcome it?

“The biggest challenge I faced working at VOX was learning how to make pitches to the media. In my first week, I was asked to call reporters here in Portland for an event at Wal-Mart. I had just joined the company and knew very little about the client. However, I was expected to summarize the event for reporters and explain why it was newsworthy. Basically, we wanted them to attend and publish a story about the event. 

Reporters are always on deadline though and don't have much patience. The PR major focuses a lot on writing, but it's impossible to prepare for the professional world of phone pitches to media.”

“I just practiced a lot. It's important to make note of the highlights so you can condense the story to a 30-second pitch to the reporter you need to call. And just make sure you take the time to learn as much as possible about the client; reporters expect you to be an expert in whatever you're pitching.”

What is the biggest difference between public relations at work and public relations in college?

“I think a lot of people see PR as a high profile, glamorous job in which you get to attend events and parties. That's certainly a part of it, but it also requires you to be at a desk and on the computer from 9 to 5 many days. Another big difference is that in college, there's a huge focus on social media like Facebook and Twitter. But the reality is that lots of companies still need to rely on traditional media outreach like news releases, stories in print publications, drafting and revising op-eds and appearing at industry events. We conducted a survey for one of our clients, and most of their customers responded to say that they prefer print mailers to emails or Facebook posts.”

If you have the opportunity to go back to college to continue studying, what ability or skills do you want to improve first?

“I would have liked to learn more about Microsoft Excel and the logistics of working at a PR agency. I have to use data and numbers quite a bit – and I didn't really have any experience with using excel to track it all. I've made learning to use Excel a large priority since I joined VOX.”

“It's especially important when you need to create media lists to distribute material to reporters. Also, It's important to understand how your work fits into the agency.

You need to understand each individual contract and how to allocate your time most effectively to serve each client.”

Do you have any advice for students who will graduate this year and enter the job market?

“I would recommend that you read as much as possible about the industry and check the news every single day. It's your job to be the eyes and ears for clients and identify any news items that might affect their business. If you'd like to read a good book about transitioning from college to the professional world, I would recommend 'They Don't Teach Corporate in College' by Alexandra Levit.”

If you are a job recruiter, what is an ideal employee in your mind? Will you put more emphasis on their academic records or work experience?

You can only learn so much in the classroom. So, yes, work experience is always a huge plus for job candidates. I've never heard of a candidate being asked to provide his or her GPA from high school or college. Most interviews focus on relevant experience, as it provides the strongest indicator of ability and potential. Employers don't have the time to hold your hand every day at work, so it's important for them to know that you're arriving with a base level of understanding. Internships, on-campus organizations and volunteering offer great opportunities to build that area of your resume.”

Have you studied or worked with Asian students? In my opinion, a common challenge for them is they speak less often and might be reluctant to present their ideas. Do you agree with this? Do you have any advice for them?

“I haven't worked much with Asian students, in particular. Obviously, the ability to communicate is extra important when working in public relations.”
“But at the same time, people are always very accepting and open to listening to new ideas. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone that lives or studies in a new country, and I'll always give them the patience they deserve to present their own ideas.
Listening is a huge part of the communications industry. Professionals should be able to do that effectively.”

What are the key qualities for career success in PR?

I think adaptability is a great asset to have as a young professional. Especially early in your career, you'll be expected to pitch in on many different projects and take on new responsibilities every day. If you're confident and eager to learn, you'll have the capacity to succeed in the industry. Beyond that, you must be able to communicate with different types of people and adjust your style accordingly. The phrase 'put yourself in their shoes' is an effective exercise for any public relations professional to understand.”

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