This post contributed by KB Concepts Summer Intern Jean Sa-Nganet, a senior PR major at Virginia Tech.
I didn’t start college as a PR major – I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I took biology and advanced math classes, and while I performed OK on my assignments, I shockingly failed exams. Near the end of the semester, I realized I didn’t love anything about biology and wasn’t in fact passionate about science. Instead I enjoyed writing, researching and following the news. Developing and maintaining relationships and positively influencing the world around me is exactly what I’m passionate about. So I changed my major to PR with a concentration in Marketing and Business Leadership.
I’d considered communications as a career before, but ignored the idea due to my fear of public speaking. I took a leap of faith and dove into my classes, which required individual and group presentations. My second semester was so much better; I took prerequisite classes and my professors were great in offering help and clarification. I began taking PR and crisis management classes in my second and third year. As I head back to school for my senior year having just completed a summer internship, I want to share my perspective as a PR major studying this field.
Why Public Relations?
Many don’t understand the significance of PR, but it truly is the backbone of every company’s communication needs. It fosters a positive relationship between individuals or organizations and their audiences. Celebrities, nonprofits, businesses and political figures are wise to have a PR professional on their team.
Our daily tasks include media pitches, market research, event planning, blogging and the constant demands of maintaining a social media presence. In addition, we’re responsible for messaging, brand development, crisis strategies and long-range planning. These are the key skills required to succeed in the PR field:
- Communications: The obvious skill every PR professional needs. You must be able to communicate ideas clearly, listen carefully and be aware of non-verbal cues.
- Research: The ability to gather information accurately and rapidly! I do a lot of research about event venues, company background, client inquiries, etc.
- Writing & Editing: Professor Neff-Henderson always told our Media Writing class, “PR professionals MUST know the ins and outs of journalism.” While journalists don’t necessarily need PR skills, a great PR professional exhibits both journalism and PR chops. This is something I really believe and focus on at school and in my work.
- Crisis Management: Most of my classes at Virginia Tech emphasize strategic and crisis communications. Bad PR case studies become the foundation of what not to do – and how we could effectively handle that situation next time. Rule number 1: PR pros must be transparent and honest with the public in communicating during crises!
- Social Media: Effectively managing and monitoring all the various social media platforms includes knowing how to appeal to and engage your audiences. Consistency, creativity and authenticity are vital.
- Cultural Awareness: This is a skill I’ve discovered many PR professionals ignore. Cultural awareness is important, especially when creating campaigns for different markets and audiences. H&M faced a backlash last year for its choice to put a black child in a “Cutest Monkey in the Jungle T-Shrt.” A year later, Zazzle used white models to sell black t-shirts, with predictable outrage as a result.
- Time Management: As a PR professional you’ll juggle multiple tasks at one time, usually on deadline. PR requires you to manage your time effectively and efficiently. Deciding the urgency and importance of tasks is also crucial.
A PR Career
Most jobs in PR require entry-level hires to jump right into their duties and tasks. Although a supervisor may critique your work, they probably will not offer a lot of help. Internships or positions with a school club can help you gain experience in the field. Employers look for work experience and references carefully; it’s always best to start early. I’ve learned so much interning with the KB Concepts team this summer, including polishing my blogging and SEO skills and helping improve their website.
Universities should offer a rigorous, challenging PR major that weeds out those with no genuine aptitude or interest in the field. Virginia Tech’s program challenges me every semester to improve my writing and editing. I’ve created case study analyses and crisis management presentations. I truly loved sitting in every course and learning about the ins and outs of PR.
VA Tech also shares an abundance of career-building resources. My department frequently emails me opportunities at career fairs, internships and entry-level positions.
While the network I’m building grows every year, and the array of specialization choices also seems endless (entertainment, sports, political, corporate, nonprofit, influencer, etc.) the field is competitive and huge, and many internships are unpaid. PR is considered one of the most stressful professions, because the consequences of making mistakes can be very public and painful. Entry-level salaries also don’t compare to those for science, math or business majors. But as you climb the ladder, there are lots of opportunities for well paying jobs.
I strive to stand out amid the crowded field, take every opportunity I’m offered, and am building a portfolio of writing samples and accomplishments.
Although my undergraduate study in PR is wrapping up, the learning will never stop. Wish me luck in my senior year, and as I set out to make my mark as a PR professional!