Today, counsels CEOs and directors as an equal. Fifty nine years ago, was an anonymous staff publicist known largely to his parents. Writes books (10), position papers, white papers on management machinations, a bi-monthly policy implications newsletter and dusts off 16 professional awards (8 Silver Anvils, 1 Gold; one for public service) on the mantle. Has served on 23 non-profit board and is considered a management thought leader by his new peers.
Do you want a job or a career in public relations?
Easy question? But they are not equivalents. The symptoms may seem the same, but the roots differ significantly. Both require diligence, patience, writing skills, media relationships and, simply, hard work.
The dictionary defines a “job” as part of the routine of one’s occupation. A career is intellectual action. If that’s too esoteric let me simply say that building a career hinges on curiosity…one word, WHY. Why am I doing this…now…can’t it be done better, faster?
- A JOB makes it hard to get up in the morning and takes a while to get started.
- A CAREER propels you out of the bed and into high gear.
- A JOB is defined by hours, days, weeks.
- A CAREER is seamless…you often don’t know what time it is…sometimes even forget the day of the week.
- In a JOB you look forward to holidays, weekends.
- In a CAREER these are interruptions.
- In a JOB you often watch things happen.
- In a CAREER you make things happen.
I’m sure you get it.
So, now, clutching your parchment validation as a certified public relations practitioner, you can’t wait to get into strategic planning, mission statements applying the principles of behavior modifications, sorting out cognitive dissidence, etc. Your academic credentials are excellent, and you are snapped up by a PR agency (I’ll get into the corporate milieu later). You might even get an honorific title…“associate assistant account executive.” Assignment: promote Absolute vodka, or a new line of candles, a skin care treatment, a new line of laundromats, a fancy hot dog – or you may be shifted over to be a blogging feeder.
What’s this nonsense? Four years of study to be a publicist? Ye’ Gods! Well, friends, that is how it begins. I, the youngest–and cheapest–staffer to join the prestigious Carl Byoir & Associates, tackled in my first 4-5 years thermostats, door locks, a new bible, rivets, greeting cards and electronic watches. Know what? I enjoyed it. (I should mention that in those days we were full time on an account, so there was an awful lot of open time to fill usefully.)
I learned to write fast, to know to whom I was writing, to do research, to get to know reporters in person, to build relationships. A humble beginning? Yes. I never took anything for granted; conventional wisdom was an anathema to me. You’ll hear your colleagues pontificate wildly. Listen, but don’t absorb. You are, titles et al. not withstanding, a probationer…a novitiate. Have patience…as you get increasingly difficult assignments–and you do more than is expected–the real principles of public relations embedded in your DNA emerge.
Should you choose the corporate route, you’ll be low on the communications food chain…probably assigned to employee relations, and all the mystic wonders of emails, iPods, blackberries and web castings. Promotions come about as fast as a melting glacier. Turfs are clearly defined and impenetrable. Your boss is probably responsible for the market share of his product line. He wants free publicity, period! Don’t try to tell him/her all you know.
Do more than asked for…more than expected. It will ultimately be recognized, and you will move slightly upwards. But, you will learn the business, the traditions, the culture and the idiosyncrasies of the players. This is a pervasive weakness of agency life; there’s never enough time–or legitimate charging hours–to gain these invaluable insights.