Mary Beth West, APR, served on the PRSSA National Committee while a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she was honored as Public Relations Student of the Year in 1994. A past PRSA national board member, she has managed her own firm for 11 years – now one of the largest in Tennessee with in-house digital capabilities.
When I started my journey in the public relations field as a student, I confronted the same challenges that most pre-professionals encounter when it comes to securing the right foothold for long-term success.
Among them: an intense energy and passion for the profession burdened by the limitations of youth and inexperience; raw talent yearning for the right influences and mentors to help mold it; strong belief and hope in myself seeking both validation and objective doses of reality to help me know what I didn’t know.
Through that fledgling experience, several tenets that I latched onto served me well, continuing to this day:
- Be proud of this profession and your role in it. Public relations facilitates and directly orchestrates arguably one of the greatest cornerstones of the free enterprise system – the cyclical process of listening, speaking, relationship-building, trust-earning and call-to-action. Whether the context involves selling a product, a service or some of humanity’s highest ideals, our profession’s impact constitutes the market-maker for success in practically any endeavor. That’s a tall order and a high calling. Embrace it.
- No one owes us a job. At the end of the day – whether it’s graduation day or just another day at the office – the relevancy-value factor of our work will be the only thing that potential employers and clients are willing to hang their hat on, specific to their investments in us. As such, the onus is on us to prove the case. Our own professional reputations –our personal brands – evolve to match both the monetary and intrinsic value that others perceive of us. Make the value you’re generating count. Your stock will rise . . . and the issue of job opportunity will take care of itself.
- Work/life balance and work ethic are two different things. As the adage goes, there is working hard, and then there’s working smart. Our chosen field requires a heavy daily dose of both. In this age of much conversation about work/life “balance,” as it were, the oft-times inconvenient fact is that there are choices that each person must make at all ages / stages of life, each with consequences, both desirable and less so. Key point: Don’t ever let a client, employer or yourself confuse your desire for a free flow of oxygen with your commitment to produce results while you are under someone’s employ. Achieving both simultaneously is very possible… that’s where “working smart” comes in, by both employer and employee.
- Aspire to professionalism as a total package of style and substance. How you dress, speak and graphically design your résumé may provide some of the style points that get your foot in the door, but it’s how you integrate substantive ethics, strategy, writing, creativity and diplomacy that will keep you in the room.
Our profession is blessed with some of the greatest young minds and talent of any field. The future of public relations shines brightly with the students and new professionals who are entering it. As Betsy Plank often said to us as students, Godspeed to you and to all the potential your future holds!