That was the topic of a panel on which I participated recently at the PR division meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC). Rich Jernstedt, CMO, EVP and senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard; Jack Koten, retired SVP of corporate communications at Ameritech (once again part of AT&T) and I shared points of view garnered from our more than 100 combined years in PR.
Jack underscored the importance of establishing solid contacts and building networks of people who can help you get things done. He also recommended getting involved in outside activities, both in college and in your first job. All three of us agreed on this point, and it was interesting to hear how we each had been deeply involved in extra-curricular activities in college and that commitment carried over into our work lives.
Rich divided his comments into two categories–how to use time in college to prepare for your first job and observations from interns about the adjustment to the “real world.” In college, Rich said it is important for students to Be curious/ask questions; Engage in extra-curricular activities to develop teamwork and leadership skills; Interact with faculty members to learn as much as you can; Understand the basics/learn to write; Become good at research; and Develop verbal skills/ability to sell. Rich surveyed his agency’s interns to determine what they found most surprising/interesting in their first jobs: Global nature of PR; Intense service orientation of PR agency teams; Sense of time/urgency; Importance of being able to sell in ideas; Need for practical skill; and how digital solves problems; Lack of knowledge about how to put together media lists or pitch media.
My top five recommendations:
- Think Globally
- Take electives that support potential areas of skill weakness (see earlier post)
- Get plenty of hands-on experience and start internships as early as possible. Don’t wait for your senior year or graduation.
- Build networks. Not just Facebook friends, but adults, faculty and friends who want to help you succeed.
- Become a very good writer. Nearly 30% of those taking our office’s writing test scored a C or below. Few bad writers rise to the top in PR.
The panel session was videotaped and will be available later this Fall on the Plank Center’s Web site: www.plankcenter.ua.edu.