"You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else."
As a public relations student we anxiously await the endless possibilities the real world holds for us, as we prepare to make our mark on the world. With an abundance of industries to enter, we prepare to take on the responsibilities and demanding tasks we will face in our chosen industry. What is it really like and what struggles should we be prepared to take on as we enter the field? When talking to Krista Bennett, a public relations graduate from Mohawk College, we get an insight into the challenges and rewarding experiences she faces in her position at the Canadian Cancer Society; Krista does public relations and communications for the Smoker’s Help Line.
As we prepare to enter the work force, we all can’t help but wonder how vastly different the ‘real world’ will differ from the school world. Krista explains, “I think that as a Mohawk student you are very fortunate, because your professors are from the PR industry. Their advice in the school environment is directly from the field.
My advice, however, would be to never cease learning. This is probably the last thing you want to hear as a student who is itching to graduate, but the industry changes so quickly you cannot afford to fall behind. Learning does not always have to be in the form of formal education – start following PR influencers on Twitter and read their blogs. Join a professional association and take advantage of their resources. You will almost always stumble across something you didn’t know, and that you can directly apply to your job,” says Krista.
A lot of times school can’t prepare you for the challenges that will arise in your industry, Krista’s advice was, “without a doubt, hard work. I am by no means more brilliant than the next person. And, I didn’t have a single connection to leverage to get hired or move up. But, I am willing to put in the hours I need to do my job well and to achieve results. It sounds cliché, but it is true.”
“In not-for-profit communications, specifically, I often face stretched resources. I do not have enough hours in a day to accomplish everything I’d like to. And, my budget is never large enough,” Krista goes on to say. “The people in this industry are so bright and inspiring. For example, I sit on the executive board of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Golden Horseshoe Chapter. Just to be at the table with my colleagues there is an honour. The work is challenging and truly different every single day. I love the type of work that I do and I am just so excited to see what my long term career holds."
With the world of PR constantly evolving and changing Krista gave me insight as to where she feels this industry will be going in the next five years “The PR industry has changed since I graduated two and a half years ago, which leads me to believe that in another five years we are going to have to be one flexible bunch of professionals! I see the industry as being exponentially influenced by social technology. As PR professionals, we are going to have to be concise, unique and adaptable. Transparency is going to be more important than ever, because we are no longer the one and only source. Journalists can check our facts faster than we can say them. We have to rethink how we communicate with our audiences. Traditional media will not be the only avenues. Citizen journalists/bloggers are more and more prominent and they aren’t always receptive to our traditional tactics. They don’t respond well to embargoes or fluff. As their credibility grows, so does their free reign. Content creators are allowed to be opinionated and casual. We’ll have to learn to speak to our audiences through this medium.”
Daily tasks in a not-for-profit agency consist of scanning my media monitoring sources for any relevant news stories, tuning into my social media properties to start engaging with our stakeholders, respond to e-mails (I get over 100 a day on average) it really depends on what my priorities are each particular day. Sometimes we are in the middle of an active campaign and I will be writing media materials, testing the website, coordinating ad buys, planning events, etc. Other times, I can be more strategic and do some long-term planning.
As we prepare to graduate, we are faced with an abundance of competition and scarce jobs out in the world. I asked Krista, if there is anything she finds employers look for from PR graduates that would be an asset to have over competition we’ll face. Krista stated, “despite our recovering economy, the PR industry has fierce competition right now. We had a junior level posting out recently and the caliber of applicants was astonishing. This means that you have to find a way to stand out during the application process. Your resume and cover letter should be reflective of the type of work you would do. Put your work samples online so that I know you are worth interviewing. Be meticulous with grammar – no one will notice if your writing is perfect, but they will definitely notice if it is not. Employers are also looking for PR professionals to be skilled in multiple areas. As budgets are cut back, you might need to take on a little bit of everything. Be prepared to be a spokesperson, manage a website, write for many mediums, coordinate an ad campaign, etc. “
In closing, I asked Krista, as a graduate of the Mohawk College Public Relations Program, is there anything you would like to say, recommend or advise PR students class of 2010/2011, that we can take away with us into the field or help us to be prepared for?
“Every day of class is valuable. Your professors are from the industry and there is so much to learn from them. I kept all of my notes and assignments and referred to them regularly during my first year of work. When your employer asks you to write a PSA, you are going to hope that you didn’t miss that day of class! “
With the advice and proven success from Krista a Mohawk College Public Relations graduate, it leaves hope for a bright path for us as we set out to start our careers and make our mark on this ever growing and vastly changing industry also a way to get ahead of the competition.