PR students dish on ‘real world’ prep, share tips

MTSU John Bragg College of Mass Communication (MTSU photo)

When I graduated from Middle Tennessee State Universitynearly 10 years ago, no one had heard of Mark Zuckerberg. The word “tweet” was simply something a canary did, and “Google it” had yet to replace……..wait for it……. “search for it online.”  Yeah, not as fun. Back then, Yahoo! was leading the field of search engines, if I remember correctly, and people were commonly asking Jeeves to find stuff for them.

As you can probably tell, I was recently reminiscing on my college days as PR student. As I blogged about earlier this year, I worked hard in school to prepare myself; however, it still took some luck (and burritos) to get my start. While I was thinking about it all, I got curious about how today’s PR students are doing with regard to preparing to enter the work force.  So, I reached out to some enterprising, future stars to glean some insight.

In short, if you’re a PR student looking to get ahead, read this and act on it! If you advise or interact with students, share this!

Thanks to @amfunderburk1 and @byuboston for offering thoughts on managing their respective college careers, what they’d do differently to better prepare for the “real world,” and tips for PR students preparing for life after the cap has sailed and diploma is framed awaiting a cubicle somewhere.

1. How well prepared do you feel to compete for PR jobs?

Ashley Funderburk

Ashley: I feel pretty well prepared to compete for jobs within the PR industry. While I have gained a lot from my professors, attending conferences has definitely helped me out. Speaking with professionals, and networking, provides a new setting that students cannot get if they only stick around what they know at their universities. If I had not decided to step out of my comfort zone when I declared my major as PR in fall 2009 I do not think I would feel as prepared as I do right now.

Blake: I definitely feel very well prepared. I believe this comes from the experience and knowledge I have gained in my classes, as well as the PR internships and jobs I have had during my school tenure.

2. With regard to preparing yourself for post graduation, would you change anything about how you’ve managed your college career?

Ashley: There are a few things I would change since I am currently preparing for graduation. I would take advantage of any and all networking opportunities. While there is not a PRSA chapter really close to me, there are other opportunities (PRAWNC for instance) I have not fully utilized while I have been in school. Yes, I still have a summer and fall semester left, but I could have started networking in my area more when I joined the major. Another thing is volunteering more for businesses located in the community around my university that cannot afford PR. This would have given me more experience and helped businesses out for free.

Blake: To be honest, I feel my college career has gone really well. I decided to do public relations during my junior year, but was still able to get my classes done and make time for extra-curricular public relations opportunities. I decided to do summer school in order to finish the program by the end of my fourth year of college. Doing school during the summer was such a good decision because it showed me that, just like the PR field, I need to keep working and learning how to balance my life and be effective and efficient in my work.

3. Do you think you’ve received a quality education? Why?

Ashley: I do think that I have received a quality education because all of my professors are very experienced in this industry. They use real life examples, while in class, to help students like myself get a better grasp on what to expect in the real world. We also have a very active PRSSA chapter and a student-run firm on campus. I am very involved with both organizations (Vice President of WCU PRSSA and firm director of Catamount Communications), so I feel like this has aided in my quality education outside of the classroom.

Boston Blake

Blake: I definitely feel I have received a quality education. The professors at BYU really care about their students, and they prepare us for the workforce and not just for tests. They have also put so much of their own time and effort into helping our PRSSA chapter be successful, and helping our student-run PR firm on campus into a quality agency where students can get real-life experience doing public relations campaigns, leading projects and working directly with clients.

4. Do you expect college to fully prepare you or do you take responsibility for that?

Ashley: I think it is a happy mixture of college preparing you for the real world and you taking an initiative yourself to become prepared for what to expect. I research many things on a daily basis, so staying on top of industry trends, especially since I am about to graduate, helps me prepare for post-graduation. So like I said, it is a mixture of both. You cannot expect your professors to do everything for you to prepare for your future, but you have them as mentors to guide you along the way.

Blake: I think that college is a tool for people to gain a base knowledge and education, but I don’t think college can fully prepare someone for the workforce, especially public relations. We learn principles in the classroom and can have our work critiqued by professors, but ultimately we need actually real-life experience in order to be truly prepared to leave and enter the field. I think students should be looking for work and volunteer opportunities while they are in college so they can put into practice the things they have been learning in the classroom. It’s also important for students to learn how the field is different than college so they can prepare themselves accordingly.

5. What’s one thing you would advise your fellow PR students to do to prepare themselves for the “real world?”

Ashley: Get involved! Experience is everything in this field. Everyone has to start somewhere, and college is a great place to learn and apply what you are learning to volunteer work and internships. Also get involved with your PRSSA chapter. Being involved with PRSSA has opened many doors to me that I would not have had otherwise. Attend as many conferences as possible! Yes, they may be pricey, but they are definitely worth it. Network, network, NETWORK. As college students we hear this every single day, and it is so important to do in this industry. Join in on social media, because it is shaping the future and in order to help businesses out with it we as PR students and future professionals need to know how to use it. The last thing I will say is research! You can never research enough.

Blake: The thing I would recommend most for students to do to prepare for ‘real life’ would be to go out and find opportunities to put into practice the things they are learning in the classroom. Find volunteer, job or internship opportunities. Don’t wait until you are a junior or senior, start immediately. If there aren’t any available, MAKE your own opportunities. People are happy to let you do PR work for them for free. And don’t be afraid to do free work, at least at the beginning. After you spend time doing that, you have quality resume items that will help you get greater opportunities later. These opportunities will help you stand out from other students, especially those who try to enter the work force with only a degree. Everyone has a degree. Make yourself different.

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Look up

Most days I never look up. I spend all of my time looking at what’s in front of me. I analyze, think, criticize, laugh, smile and talk about it all.

My life is largely consumed by what exists from street level to the tops of trees, give or take a few feet.

Well, today I looked up, I mean really looked up. If I was listening, I would have been actively listening. And it was awesomely calming and enlightening.

I was reminded that when I look up it is nearly impossible to think the same way I normally do. It was a wonderful disruption.

If you’re like me, you have established routines for every day of the week, even weekends. Routines are all about task accomplishment and efficiency. However, at times, I think they can stifle thinking. This is why organizations do “off sites.”

Leaders think that by changing the setting and limiting day-to-day distractions, their teams will be more productive and creative.  They’re not wrong either. However, after looking up today for the first time in a long while, I’m convinced that simply swapping one indoor setting for another may not be the best way to spur creative thought and solve problems.

Instead, take yourself or your team outside, find some grass to lie down on, and just look up.

I think you’ll be amazed at what happens.

The tortoise wouldn’t have ‘gone viral’

As many PR pros can attest to, an abundance of organizations out there want “to go viral.” Nowadays when we think of going viral, we often think of videos spreading like wild-fire online, garnering hundreds of thousands if not millions of views. It’s exciting! Who wouldn’t want that?

The problem is going viral in most instances is not what organizations need even if it could be attained, and let’s face it most products and services simply don’t lend themselves to going viral any ways.  But that’s not the point. The point is heavy, short-lived attention is no substitute for long-term, deliberate PR and marketing that is focused on building relationships.

The desire for a viral video or story in my estimation is equivalent to the I-want-to-be-on-Oprah syndrome.

Like viral videos, many people also believe high-profile media attention leads to success or will  benefit them greatly in some way. Why? Because they’ve seen it happen.

However, the vast majority of products and services sold and funds raised across the planet are not as a result of viral videos and prime-time media appearances. Rather success came from bringing something desired to the marketplace and marketing it slowly, steadily and smartly. I mean think about it? How many of your favorite possessions or causes became that because of a viral video or 60 Minutes spot? Most likely none.

What’s more plausible is the maker of your favorite beverage reached you through well-thought out product development and marketing, and in the end they added value to your life and kept it up.

I repeat…they added value to your life and kept it up.  Kind of like a best friend, right?  Well, this is probably how your best friend became your best friend. You met, found out you had stuff in common, spent time together, added value to each others’ lives and ultimately grew a great friendship. Great PR and marketing follows the same path, a path focused on the long-term that is fueled by patience, not rocket propellant.

Sure, a well-made video on YouTube may get you a lot of attention quickly, but if your aim is to grow a lasting business or nonprofit, you need to invest your time and effort into a slow, steady, and methodical communication approach, not in short-term, high-thrill tactics.

Or in other words, be the tortoise.