Think You Can Work in PR? What Newbies Need to Know

January 25th, 2012   •   12 comments   

Photo Credit:


If you have just graduated from college or perhaps you are switching jobs and you see a posting for a position in a public relations firm, you might consider doing some research before you apply.  The PR industry is moving and changing fast—although many of the traditional core values still apply—and it’s hard enough for the veteran PR pros to keep up.  Tools such as the Internet, social media and mobile devices have contributed to the fast changes, but it’s not just technology that makes it tough. It’s also increased competition as well as savvy clients who demand more for less.

We all like to think we are the best at what we do, but beware of that pitfall.  As a PR professional, you’re never finished learning, growing and listening.  I have learned more in the last two years of my career than I did in the first ten.  So, if you think you are cut out for this business, here’s what you can expect:

  • Tough minded: You can’t win for your clients if you don’t know how to advocate and sometimes fight the good fight.  If you don’t know what that means, you will.
  • Dedicated to self-learning:  Those who go the extra mile to learn on their own will make it further.  Firms are working with limited resources and don’t have time or luxury to spoon-feed the newbies.  So, if you learned how to do a research paper in college, apply those techniques on the job.
  • Smart enough to read the paper everyday:  You wouldn’t believe how many people have worked for me that didn’t think reading the news was a priority.  They don’t work for me anymore.
  • Ability to learn client industry and know their business:  How can you expect to add value if you don’t know how our clients make money?  Get in the trenches.  Study your clients and their competition.
  • Be social media savvy: You can’t be in PR or communications and expect to move up if you aren’t on social, unless of course you work for a monster PR firm and someone else is doing all the social.  Even then, however, it is important that any PR professional know their way around the social web.  It’s easier than ever before to have access to reporters, bloggers, and influential people online.  Follow them, watch them and engage.
  • Network: The future belongs to those who can do the work and sell the work.  Build relationships in the business community. Get involved in civic and charitable organizations and don’t expect your company to pay for it all.  You must invest in yourself.
  • Good writing and communication skills, both verbal and written:  I know this goes without saying but, if you don’t know how to research a company and write a press release, you won’t make it in this field.
  • Ability to watch business trends and think critically about how that impacts clients: This trait will come in time to those who are naturally curious.  I love curiosity because I think it breeds creativity and ingenuity.  Employers, seek employees who are naturally curious.
  • Willing to put in the extra time: Think your job should be 9:00 to 5:00? When you have billed and collected three times what you are paid and when you have mastered managing client accounts, then I will tell you that’s okay.  New PR candidates are not normally productive in the first few years, if you do the math.  It takes time to cultivate your career, which means the extra time you put in gets you there faster.
  • Think “career” not “job”: I can tell the difference between those who want a career in PR vs. those who want a job.  Big difference.  If you just want a job, then accept that you may not advance.  Someone else in your firm will seize the opportunity and pass you.  If you are on a career path, you need to be sure you show that through your actions and by accomplishing tasks and projects that add value (are billable to client).
  • Teamwork matters, it is about working together toward a common goal: Be a part of the bigger picture. Help your teammates and pick up the ball if a team member drops it.
  • Understand the math: Professional service firms (CPAs, Lawyers, etc.) use the formula that each employee must bill (and collect) three times what he or she makes to be considered “worth it”.  Firms have overhead, accounting fees, legal fees, payroll, rent, insurance, etc.  There is no money tree; the producers go out and get the work.
  • Ability to identify new client opportunities for expansion OR new clients: Bring in the work and you are twice as valuable.
  • Finally, one of the most important things young people must do: Be proactive and communicate with clients before they ask.  Pick up the phone.  Emails don’t count as a blanket form of communication.  Get in front of the client!  Have a report to send? Take it to the client.

In the end, it is still about relationships.  If the PR firm/client relationship is good, chances are the client will be forgiving if mistakes are made.  The key is avoiding costly mistakes and understanding the above characteristics that will make you a winner in your firm.  Thanks for reading this and I’d love to hear additions to this list!

Portions of this blog are published on Ragan’s PR Daily



  1. This is great. I wrote for a Dallas firm many years ago – PRE-FAX Era. I would write a press release, then drive all over the city to hand-deliver it. Thank the tech deities for social media! How far we’ve come!

  2. Excellent points! From a PR newbie, thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Amy Howell says:

    Nancy: me too. Grew up in pre-fax & Internet day. Taught us how to get out there & make it happen. Newbies have no idea how the old days made us better;)) thank you for the comment. You & I sound like we are from the same era;)

  4. Kiné Camara says:

    Thanks for the tips! To be honest, I do not read the paper daily, but now I will take a stab at it!

  5. AJ Perisho says:

    Great tips!
    PR is one of the Lead Generation techniques I always preach to my clients. They need to treat it as part of their marketing system.
    Thanks for the helpful tips 🙂

  6. Ben says:

    Why not change the tone of this to be more encouraging to new PR professionals? Saying things like “if you ___, you’ll never make it” is a pretty cheap and condescending way to convey “wisdom.” Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the fundamentals of your points, but most of these suggestions are HIGHLY subjective and should not be applied across the board. A PR intern or entry-leveler who “picks up the phone” to call a client is probably not doing the right thing.

    Clearly, if work needs to be done, then the standard 9 to 5 rules do not apply. But then again, I don’t know anyone in PR who gets out at 5? Yes, “New PR candidates are not normally productive in the first few years, if you do the math,” but they are also paid much less than their superiors, if you do the math…

  7. Amy Howell says:

    Thanks all. @Ben, this post is not meant to be encouraging. It’s meant to be real in tough times. When you run a business and have a payroll, you need people who can step up the pace and be self starters. There’s a book out there you should get if you think I’m being critical. Check out “If you have to cry, go outside” by Kelly Cutrone.

  8. I just graduated but decided to further my studies after I couldn’t get job. &I got to say when I read this I got a bit scared but I survived my internship last year So Bring It On… Lol, thank you though – this has this has back a sense of reality, which I think I have lost a touch with!!! I don’t know if you can assist me but I would like ask when is actaully the right time to choose what I want to specialise in as a PR practitioner and how do I do that??? This is actually confusing me because unlike other courses such as Accounting where students graduate in different streams like Tax &Internal Auditing, in we PR don’t…

  9. Amy Howell says:

    Thank you Tebogo. That is the right “can-do” attitude. I think you just need to get some experience first and so landing a job in a PR firm would be the best first step if that is the path you want to take. I also strongly recommend internships. Thanks for the comment!

  10. Marielle says:

    I’m interning in fashion marketing/PR as we speak and I would love to see you add something along the lines of “be prepared to start at the bottom – the very bottom” to this list! A lot of interns don’t realize that and I’m sick of the complaining. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen and leave room for people like me who are willing to work for this.

  11. Amy Howell says:

    Marielle: I love this addition! You are so right! I just co-authored a new book “Women in High Gear” (Amazon) and this is one of the points in our book and certainly part of my story! I started at the bottom–the very bottom. My starting annual salary was 18K (this was in 1986) and I was the chief “gopher” at my firm. I even washed dishes and cleaned the kitchen! Great feedback, thank you!

Leave a Reply