Betsy Plank, known as the first lady of public relations, dedicated more than 60 years to the public relations industry. During her career lifetime, Betsy spoke to hundreds of students across the United States about her life, career, the lessons she learned along the way, and her Baker’s Dozen for PR students.
- In addition to your communications studies, make sure that you are grounded in the liberal arts – history, political science, language, sociology, literature, math, science, psychology – all the arts and sciences populate our society. How else can you communicate effectively in a culture if you don’t understand its roots and what motivates its people and their behavior?
- Minor in business. Learn its vocabulary, its methodology in finance and management and operations and marketing and personnel. Whatever institution with which you are associated – for-profit or not-for-profit – remember that it is a business, disciplined by business objectives.
- Get as much practical experience as you can – through internships, student agencies, for pay or by volunteering. That opportunity to exercise what you’re learning in the classroom is invaluable. (And it looks so good on that first resume. So do recommendation letters from your worksite supervisors.)
- Write. Write. Write. In all shapes and forms. For media, for business, for print, for the voice. Writing infers research, strategic thinking which analyzes a problem and the stakeholders, then expressing those thoughts succinctly and persuasively. Writing – in all its dimension – is and always will be the sine qua non of public relations practice.
- When you’re seeking that first entry-level job, consider it to be one of the most challenging public relations assignments you’ll ever face. Research your market. Develop a plan. Execute it. Evaluate it. Consider your letters to prospective employers as some of the most important pieces of persuasive writing you’ll ever do. Put yourself in the place of those readers – what qualities are he or she looking for? (Aside from neatness and good grammar and spelling!)
- Your interviews – prepare for them; rehearse them. Above all – learn something about the organization before you set foot over its threshold. Read its annual report. Search the current literature to discover something about it business, its industry, its problems and objectives. And if your direction is the corporate sector, be sure to read the Wall Street Journal! At least read it during the week before that interview. It’s the daily Bible reading for all business executives, including those prospective employers with whom you’ll be conversing.
- Leave a trail of thank-you notes. Certainly at the beginning, but throughout your career, too. Find every excuse possible to thank prospective employers and contacts. They’ll respect your follow-through and remember your name.
- Build a network of contacts. Most certainly join PRSA and its chapter in the area in which you plan to practice. As a PRSSA graduate, you’ll have a special opportunity to become a PRSA Associate Member at a minimum rate for two years after graduation. So do it! Get active in the chapter. It’s good for your continuing professional development. Get to know and work with every chapter member you possibly can. It’s good for your career.
- In your eagerness to connect with the big league – IBM, American Airlines, Motorola and their peers – don’t overlook a couple of realities. First, most major corporations are downsizing today. So your best opportunities may be in the faster-growing sector of the economy – the medium or small firm, companies in the healthcare field – pharmaceuticals and hospitals, for example. Second, remember that the non-profit field usually gives you more initial opportunity to practice the full range of your craft. That field is growing, too. It’s highly competitive and is recognizing that its survival depends more and more on stronger public relations.
- Seek out and cultivate a mentor – a professional who has a stake and interest in you, who will champion your career and its progress.And when you’re launched on that career…
- Get out there and learn your client’s business first-hand. Don’t hide behind the desk, the computer and the telephone, making friends only with your communications colleagues. Learn how the business works. How it produces its products and services. Its marketing and customers and suppliers. Its culture and people. Build your insider contacts up, down and sideways.
- Pay your dues. Mentor other young professionals. REturn to your Alma Mater (or if it’s not nearby, adopt another one) and be a role model to the next generation of public relations students.
- Above all – BE AN ETERNAL STUDENT! Not only of your profession and business, but of your community and all the issues which impact the society in which you live and work. When it’s practiced at its best, public relations is a lifelong adventure in learning.