A Letter to the Class of 2012

Dear Class of 2012:

Are you interested in a challenging, engaging career—one that exposes you to the world and pushes you to grow professionally and personally? Do you want to get in on the ground floor of a dynamic, rapidly expanding industry? Are you intellectually curious, a go-getter, a critical thinker, creative and a hard worker? Consider an opportunity in public relations.

Andy Polansky

Public relations firms have been on a tear these last few years, growing at nearly a double-digit pace on the way to becoming an $8 billion global industry.  Between now and 2020, the US Department of Labor projects employment for public relations jobs to grow more than 20%.  We need resourceful young communicators to help us grow and build the vibrant public relations firms of tomorrow.

The industry is transforming in exciting ways.  Graduates entering our workforce have a chance to learn not just about public relations but also about the business world in a broader sense. Working at a firm, you might find yourself helping to educate consumers about new consumer brands or drug therapies, or explaining complex technologies and why they’re important for businesses and consumers, or you may work on corporate or public affairs assignments.

As a result, we don’t just need people with communications degrees; graduates with technical backgrounds and specialized knowledge in fields like law, the sciences, finance, public policy, the arts, and the humanities will do well in our profession. We also seek out candidates of diverse ethnic backgrounds whose perspectives can help us counsel our clients to best engage with their target audiences. Finally, we welcome graduates who understand the power of social media, since our clients are now engaging across multiple platforms to reach customers and other stakeholders.

Public relations firms make a positive difference in the world. In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, a public relations firm handled virtually all elements of disaster response communications on behalf of the Salvation Army. In addition to press releases and media alerts, this firm created blog stories and Facebook and Twitter posts. And that’s just one of hundreds, even thousands of examples. If you want to make a difference, not just locally but globally, this an industry that deserves your consideration.

What should you do to get a job in our industry and move up quickly? I’d suggest several things:

•First, learn the business of public relations, but also the business of our clients. It’s not just about being able to write well or pitch stories, but thinking strategically about clients’ broader marketing opportunities and reputation challenges.
•Second, be authentic and true to who you are. You can’t represent clients well unless you represent yourself well.
•Third, be transparent. We’re all held accountable, so we all need to genuinely care about our work and do our best.
•Fourth, be interesting. Read a lot, listen a lot, and absorb information from many perspectives. Understand the issues about which people feel passionate. Bring new insights and energy from the outside world into your job.
•Finally, have fun! It may be unnerving to contemplate what life after college is like, but you really can have a lot of fun in the public relations industry. Make the most of your opportunities.

Public relations offers you a chance to embark on a career full of learning and challenge. In our industry, you can become an ambassador and advocate for companies and brands. You can become a practice leader with deep knowledge about a particular area, or a global client leader working with colleagues based in countries around the world. You can lead a team in a particular office and put your stamp on how to define corporate cultures. I encourage you to explore the many exciting places public relations can take you.

Andy Polansky is president of global public relations agency Weber Shandwick, and he currently serves as chairman of the Council on PR Firms. This post appears today on the Council’s Firm Voice blog.

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