Public relations professionals are increasingly playing key roles in helping their organizations manage and groom their public images.
If you enjoy creating narratives, driving stories and influencing public behavior, then a career in PR might be worth looking into. Even if you didn’t go to school specifically for public relations, don’t let that stop you from trying. Many PR pros today started in other professions ranging from journalism to advertising and even law.
Obviously, there will be some learning and training that will have to be done before you can become a public relations expert. Hopefully, this post will be helpful to the professional in any field who is thinking about breaking into the public relations industry.
Understand Why You Want to Go Into PR
Making a career change, no matter how large or small, should be a decision you mull over with extreme caution. The age-old expression, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, does hold some truth. If you are deciding to go into PR because it sounds better than your current career situation, but you don’t have more solid reasoning, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Before making a life-changing decision as large as this one, take some time to do deep research into the field of public relations. Many people think they know what a public relations job entails, but in reality, the job isn’t always what it may seem to be.
A great first step to entering the field of public relations would be to shadow a current PR professional or interview one as the next best resort. Shadowing or interviewing a current professional in the public relations space will give you a more concrete understanding of what your day-to-day and year-long tasks would be. Having a more rounded view of the job will only help you further determine if this career change is right for you. If you are not able to interview someone, you can read through our career capsules that detail the career path of a variety of PR experts.
Again, going into public relations just because it’s a growing field or because you think you’d like it are not good enough reasons. You need to find the driving force in your character that will make you an effective public relations specialist.
Use Past Experiences to Choose a Niche
Like any other field, the public relations industry has a plethora of sub-industries and niche communities to work in. Seeing as you are late to enter the ultra-competitive PR field, you will need to lean on your unique situation to gain a competitive edge over other job-seekers. The public relations industry requires you to be well-versed across almost all business practices. So, while you may not have any traditional experience, experience in marketing, advertising, human resources, or business law can get your foot in the door. For instance, if you have worked for 10 years as a human resources professional, then Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate PR could be an area you find immediate success in.
Some different niche communities of PR to look into are:
- Media Relations
- Strategic Communications
- Community Relations
- Crisis Communications
- Public Affairs
- Corporate Communications
- Social Media Public Relations
Each field of public relations will be different from another. Coming from a non-traditional background, you must lean on your existing skills and interests to guide you down the right path. In this stage, it may be worthwhile to create a one-sheeter of your prior experiences and skills as a way to visualize what area of PR you might excel in. This one-sheeter can also be used when applying for jobs as a way to showcase why you are qualified for the job, even without a PR degree.
Hit the Books
Up to this point, we have been talking about how a non-traditional PR background can give you unique skills to excel in the field. While this is true, you will still need to do some learning on your own time to develop skills in order to be the best PR professional that you can be. Hitting the books and taking general public relations classes will give you the foundation you need to find success, while also making you a more viable candidate when it comes to hiring.
If you already have a degree in communications, journalism, English, marketing or business, then you have a good base to start with. These fields are all adjacent to PR, which will make you a more viable candidate to recruiters than if you had a degree in another field like math or science. For people in this situation, you likely don’t need to go back to college for a degree. Instead, you should look to brush up on the more specialized public relations skills through online learning sessions. Since you are already an experienced candidate in other areas, brushing up on your PR skills is all you need to do to show a recruiter you are serious about becoming a public relations professional.
Over the past few years, and especially since the start of the pandemic, online learning has become an increasingly popular and respected way to add new skills to your tool-belt. These online courses allow you to learn from accredited professionals within a field, from the convenience of your home, and for a much cheaper price tag than college courses. Some classes to look into taking are:
- Intro to Public Relations and the Media (offered by The University of Colorado Boulder)
- The Strategy of Content Marketing (offered by UC Davis)
- Branding: The Creative Journey (offered by IE Business School)
These classes are just to help you get your thinking and research started. There are a variety of other courses and classes to choose from online that will give you the skills to become a successful PR professional. If have your undergraduate degree and currently working, you might want to check out my university’s exciting new online master’s degree for working pros — Professional Communications. Dr. Matt Ragas, PROCOM program director, and an impressive team of top communication professors have developed an impressive one-year degree program.
Make the Jump
When deciding to make a career change at any point in life, you will find yourself at a crossroads. Whatever the reason may be for you to want to leave the current industry you are working in, it will be difficult to make the official leap. You will be leaving everything you knew for the unknown, and people tend to fear the unknown. There are steps you can take to ease the mental, emotional and financial burden that will take place when starting a new job.
The first thing you can do to make the transition easier is to organize your finances before your job hunt. Quitting a job will always cause financial stress. To ease this stress, you should do a few things. First, try to minimize spending, especially on unnecessary items. After cutting down on spending, you can get a side-gig or freelance type job to bring in some extra cash in your free time. And finally, try to either build up your savings before you quit your job, or lean on the funds from something like a personal loan so you can afford any extra expenses that will help your PR career. Equipment, classes, and seminars all cost money but will help your path into the PR industry in the long run.
Besides your financial health, you will need to maintain your mental and emotional well-being when making a career change. This is going to be a tumultuous time in your life, so give yourself time to accept the change. If you have family or loved ones to lean on, do so. Let them know about your life change and talk to them about your career transition. Changing career paths is becoming more commonplace in society, you never know who might have gone through the same thing you are currently going through.
The PR industry is growing and is expected to continue to grow in the future. The market is ripe for new talent, and the unique nature of the job allows older professionals to jump into the field later in their careers. If you are looking to make the leap, but want to know more about the PR industry, I hope my blog helps provide helpful advice and insights into public relations careers.