Through the fellowship for educators program with The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama, I recently had the privilege of spending two weeks embedded within the corporate communication department at Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS). Discover, a FORTUNE 300 company, is best known for its Discover card.
Part of my job as a public relations professor is providing my students with insights into the job market and helping them become more competitive candidates for internships and job opportunities. With this in mind, I spent much of my time at Discover asking everyone on the corporate communication team, from Kathryn Beiser, the head of the group, to the summer intern, what advice they had to share for succeeding in the public relations field today.
I’ve distilled my conversations and observations into six actionable insights that I believe will help you succeed in a corporate public relations internship (and beyond):
1. Strong Writing Still Matters: In a world of informal tweets, Facebook updates and blogging, does strong writing and mechanics still matter? The message I got back during my fellowship was an unequivocal – YES. Strong writing skills remain critical and are expected, particularly the ability to adapt your writing style for multiple publics, situations, and communication platforms. There’s no substitute for practice. I try to write at least several times a week (even when I don’t feel like it!) to stay fresh and active.
2. Get Multimedia Training: Organizations are increasingly incorporating multimedia into their internal and external communication efforts and Discover is no exception. While writing competency remains critical, demonstrating that you have multimedia production and design skills (think Adobe Creative Suite) is one way to separate yourselves from the pack. If you feel your school doesn’t offer enough coursework in multimedia and visual communication, there’s no shortage of tutorials online. You may also have a friend that can help you bone up in this area. As usual, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
3. Be Like Curious George: This tip applies to during the interview, as well as once you’re at your internship or on the job – ask questions and demonstrate good listening skills. Asking questions show you are engaged, curious about how things work, and that you want to learn and grow. Of course, your questions should be well informed and thoughtful (think before you speak!). This means doing homework on your organization in advance of your interview and, whether it’s the job or on the interview, taking good notes and listening carefully so that your questions are more likely to be on target.
4. Show Judgment and Maturity: I was told multiple times that a new-hire should be someone that the team would feel comfortable putting in front of the CEO or another senior executive. What you say, how you dress, and how you act certainly signal a level of maturity and judgment (or lack thereof). Corporate communication professionals often deal with fast-moving, high-profile, high-stakes situations so having good judgment is a necessity. A resume or recommendation may get your foot in the door, but once you’re in the interview or at the internship, it’s what you say and do which will speak the loudest.
5. Speak the Language of Business: As I sat in meetings where a steady stream of business terminology and acronyms were tossed around (from ‘ROI’ to ‘pre-IPO’), I was reminded of the importance of having at least a working knowledge of business concepts and terminology. Even if you plan to work in a non-business setting, taking outside electives in business, such as marketing and management, will only help broaden your understanding of how public relations can help organizations achieve business goals and objectives. Make a habit of visiting WSJ.com or another major business news website.
6. Show You’re Well Rounded: The corporate communication team at Discover comes from a variety of backgrounds (liberal arts, journalism, technology, politics, business, etc.) and has a wide range of interests. This is also a very community-minded group. While every organization is different, in general, I believe you’ll do your job better, and will be a more attractive candidate for organizations, if you demonstrate you have interests outside of the office. On this note, internship experience is important, but so is demonstrating involvement and leadership in co-curricular and community organizations.
Matt Ragas (Ph.D., University of Florida) is an assistant professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University where he teaches courses in public relations principles, media relations, corporate communication, and corporate social responsibility. He thanks The Plank Center and Discover for this experience. Matt may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.