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5 Things that College Didn’t Teach Me about PR

A contributed post by Sydney Holmquist

College is simultaneously the longest and shortest time period for young adults. Wanting to be done with the endless exams and thick textbooks while not really being ready for the unexpected “real world” that creeps closer by the day. The truth is though that no amount of schooling will ever really prepare you for the real world as it’s a completely different ball game.

As a public relations major in college I practiced writing press releases, read about case studies and grasped the big differences between PR and other fields such as advertising. My professors were great and I loved my classes – but it wasn’t until I started my last internship, which ended up segueing into my first job in the PR field that I began to discover the inner workings of PR.  Quickly, I realized how different it is from what you learn in school.

Below I’ve outlined 5 things that college cannot teach you about public relations:

1. Prioritization is key. I work at a PR agency and I am here to tell you that managing multiple clients can be stressful! In college, professors talk about how the world of PR is fast paced and constantly changing. What they don’t prepare you for are the days that you don’t even know where to begin because you have so many items to take care while managing multiple clients. Prioritization is key in these situations. Knowing which items need to come first, and remembering to breathe while doing them, will help you stay on top of your game.

2. Scandal is not real life. I hate to break it to all the Scandal enthusiasts, but the show is not the most accurate representation of a typical day in the life of a PR professional. Now don’t get me wrong, there are PR jobs that manage crisis PR on a regular basis, and individuals that work in those jobs can probably identify with some of the outrageous scenarios that take place on the show. However, for myself and many other PR pros, it is just a bit more low-key. I can’t say that I have ever had to cover up murders, deal with kidnappers or plot against people in power. What I do have to handle is broken embargos and misquotes of my clients.

3. Quotes are edited by a PR practitioners. At no point in any of my PR classes was I told that one day I would be assisting in the messaging of quotes that end up in press releases for clients. While the content comes straight from the client, ensuring quality and honesty, it is up to us to edit and adjust the verbiage so that messaging is in line. It’s actually pretty cool getting to work with the client on the positioning, see it go live on the wire and then drive home the media coverage your client wants.

4. Company culture is critical. Company culture is one of those topics that has shown up in dozens of industry articles but is not touched upon in school. The culture of the company you end up with can make a huge difference in your day-to-day and you don’t realize just how valuable it is until you’ve experienced it. I work for a company that has multiple offices, and regardless of the situation, there is always someone company-wide that is willing to jump in, offer tips or talk through a half-baked idea. Being surrounded by a supportive team, and being in an environment where growth and learning is encouraged, has played a huge role into my love for what I do.

5. There is much more to PR then what meets the eye. Deadlines, research, case studies, press releases, more research, media relations, contributed articles, trend pitches, rejection, acceptance and more research. The best thing about PR is that no two days are ever the same. There will always be new things to do, new opportunities to seek out for clients and endless writing opportunities on various topics. What the textbooks can’t convey to students is how great all of that is and how exciting PR really is on a daily basis.

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College sets an excellent foundation for PR but the real world of PR cannot be compared to what students are taught in school. Until you have your first client crisis, see your first press release live, or find the perfect award to nominate your client, you can’t fully grasp PR. School is just practice for what the real career of public relations is – a dozen of experiences that you learn from daily. So textbooks, thanks for the heads up but I’ve got it from here.

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Sydney Holmquist is an account coordinator with Vantage PR, which has offices in San Francisco and Orlando. She occasionally publishes content on the firm’s blog.

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Photo credit: Flickr, [AndreasS] (CC BY 2.0)

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