PR Start by Nick Lucido

How to start in the public relations industry.

How to Prepare for PR in College – Part 1

I’m writing a four-part blog post on how to have a successful collegiate career for those interested in public relations. I’m basing this largely off my own experiences (a lot of what I’m including reflects what I wish I would have done during college, particularly in my early years) and those in my network. Please share and comment — with enough feedback, I may write another revised post.

For many, freshmen year is a time to transition and learn a new surrounding. From my own experience, a lot of people didn’t have a job or even a declared major, but one thing I learned is that freshmen year is a great opportunity to start your career. Here is a list of what I think are the most important things to keep in mind during freshmen year:

On selecting a major

The more and more I think about what major you choose, the more I think that it’s not necessarily the most important thing you should focus on. I think the key item to take away when choosing a major is that you should weigh your options and carefully choose. Another important thing to remember is the more writing classes you can take, the better off you will be in the long run. Here’s a list of preferred programs:

  • Public Relations-If your school has it — great! Similar programs that will probably have a lot of PR stuff include Advertising, Communication or Mass Media. Make sure the program has plenty of writing classes, but also make sure to take classes in other fields (i.e. business, political science, psychology) in order to become more competent in other areas.
  • Business- If you want to work in corporate communications or in an agency setting, a business degree is a great idea, just make sure to take more writing classes. If you emphasize your classes in marketing, this will be especially helpful.
  • Journalism- Knowing how to write (well) is arguably the most important skill a PR practitioner can have, but also know that PR practitioners write to persuade. That’s why if you’re planning on studying journalism, it’s good to have another major or minor to complement this.
  • Social Science- My other degree is in political science, and truthfully, it’s kicking my butt. However, I’m learning a lot of research (I’m surprised at this), analytical and writing skills, too. I’ve heard this from others, so it’s probably not a bad idea to consider a social science major. Dr. Rick Cole, the chairperson for the APRR Department at MSU, once told me, “Don’t forget the business is communication but the science is social and the science separates the real leaders from the technicians.”
  • Other- You’ll find that many practitioners “fall” into PR — as long as you are strategic with your career approach and make smart decisions, there are many other degrees that would prepare you for a PR career.

Tip: choose wisely, and seek input from many people.

Join PRSSA and other organizations

I truly believe that if you take advantage of all the opportunities PRSSA has for its members, you will start off on a successful career — not just a job — in public relations. I could keep going about how PRSSA is so helpful for PR students, but I think the most important thing to remember is that you need to take advantage of the opportunities. While you’re at it, join another organization that is service-oriented. Volunteering can be an integral asset on your resume, so while you have time freshmen year, help some people out.

Tip: become active in PRSSA, apply for leadership positions when possible and join another organization (not necessarily PR-related) that will allow plenty of volunteer opportunities.

Get a job

There are not any legitimate excuses why freshmen can’t have jobs. Seriously. Going from high school, when you’re in class for nearly 40 hours per week, to college, when you’re in class for around 15 hours per week, gives you plenty of time for a job. Even if you have to work in the cafeteria or telemarketing, just get a job. And try to save some of that money (like I said above — this is what I wish I would have done).

Tip: try to get a job working with people or on teams in order to develop phone and other communication skills.

Internship or no internship?

As a freshmen, I think it’s better to spend the year preparing for an internship rather than actively seeking one. That means building your resume (with the tools listed above), networking with professionals and learning the right skills. I would take a look at trying to find an internship after freshmen year.

Tip: you probably won’t get paid at your first internship, and maybe in future internships. Don’t be afraid to work with a nonprofit or small agency, especially during your freshmen year, while you still have your high school graduation party money.

Facebook is NOT for drunk pictures

I’ll tell you what no one told me as a freshmen — professionals are on Facebook and will “friend” you. Anticipate that down the line, you’ll need to have a clean online presence. Enough said.

Tip: don’t think cameras at parties are safe. And don’t be dumb about what you leaved tagged.

On networking

I’ve been in PRSSA for three years now, and each year brings a new class of freshmen who think they don’t have to start networking until their junior or senior year. If you learn one thing from this post, learn this: the best time to build a network is when you don’t necessarily need your network. If you start networking during your junior or senior year, you will undoubtedly face the awkward resume pass-on. However, if you have a strong network, you will be more likely to avoid this.

Tip: attend PRSA events, get to know leaders and members of student organizations, and attend your professors’ office hours. Network well and make sure people know you, especially in a good way.

I also asked my Twitter network what they thought, and here is what they added:

@carolinejones Use every mistake/pitfall as a learning opportunity to build knowledge and grow as a person.

@MKMasson Get involved RIGHT AWAY. PRSSA is the best experience, even if you don’t even know the definition of public relations yet.

@kellee_m Start early and get involved on campus. If you’re connected to people within campus, you can get hired before you even graduate

@GuyMCampbell Advice for PR freshmen: take extra writing classes and learn to pitch by phone & f2f, not just email. I learned in “real world.”

@CharlieCurve Intern early. Intern often. Internships provide valuable experience, but more importantly, they help you build relationships.

@LJZuber Volunteer to do things PR related, even if you don’t know what you’re doing – it’s a learning process.

@Charlotte_Marie Don’t be intimated by professionals. Most of them are more than willing to help you out and give valuable advice

@YMoffitt I can offer nothing better than “Get involved early on. It might seem daunting, but the sooner you catch on, the better.”

What else do you have to add?

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Filed under: Internships, Professional Development, PRSSA, Public Relations, , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. fisherjanet says:

    Great advice, Nick! I like that you put stuff down that even freshman can do in order to start building their resumes and portfolios. A lot of people make it sound like you have to wait until you are a junior to really start working on those things but I’ve always thought you should start exploring your career options day one in college. And yea, as a polisci minor I hear you on the butt-kicking part.

    Great blog!

    Janet

  2. nicklucido says:

    @Janet – thanks for the feedback. You’re absolutely right — starting early is a great way to differentiate yourself from the rest.

  3. Sarah says:

    Nick – great advice per usual. I always emphasize that joining PRSSA was my “ah-hah” moment, and made me confident in my decision to seek a career in PR. But with any student organization (as you mentioned) it’s important to do more than write your name on the sign-in sheet. Volunteering for projects and/or leadership positions shows initiative and gives you an opportunity to gain invaluable experience. I also liked @Charlotte_Marie’s tweet, and agree that students should not be intimidated by professionals and should take any and every opportunity to learn from them.

  4. epoeschl says:

    Great advice Nick! I agree that your major does not play a huge role for entry-level PR. Any major that allows you to build your writing and communication skills are perfect for PR. What’s important, as you mentioned, is getting experience through internships. I like your suggestion to build your resume freshmen year rather than search for an internship. But after freshmen year is over, I don’t think that students should ever be without some kind of PR experience (PRSSA, PR internship, Media internship, working for the school newspaper, etc.). Your experience should just be during your 3 months of summer vacation. Get experience year-round.

  5. nicklucido says:

    @Sarah – Very true. Having it on your resume is one thing, and I think it really shows in interviews when you are just a member.

    @Elizabeth – And that’s why part 2 will have some internship advice!

  6. Becky Johns says:

    Great advice, Nick!

    Another idea for students would be to really study and learn technology early-on.

    If you begin healthy Facebook habits as a freshman (like you mentioned), it will translate across other forms of social media like Twitter and LinkedIn. I know a lot of high schoolers using Facebook now that will probably already regret some of what they’ve posted. If young students get used to being aware of their online personas right away, they won’t have to scramble later to try to understand how these networks can be used as an advantage in networking and job searching.

    Going beyond just social networking, young students should focus on perfecting skills in things like Excel, PowerPoint, perhaps the Adobe creative suite software, Flash, Dreamweaver, and possibly even some html. I wish I had worked harder at becoming more of an expert earlier on, because I would have been able to produce much higher quality work in my classes throughout my four years here. Having a great portfolio is important, and knowing how to use technology professionally and creatively will give students a huge advantage in creating killer work samples.

  7. […] About How to Prepare for PR in College – Part 1 […]

  8. nicklucido says:

    @Becky – Such a great idea with the creative stuff. Having that knowledge can make you more marketable.

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