Career Coach: Public Relations
I caught up with public relations specialist Barry D. Miller for a bit of career advice.
What drew you to a career in public relations?
I happened on public relations by accident. In college, I studied marketing and journalism, and had my eye on an advertising career. But that didn’t pan out. While doing temp work in New York to pay the bills, I landed at a PR agency where I was assigned menial work such as typing, filing, and photocopying. While at the agency, I became friendly with the staff and acquainted with the day-to-day operations, and was eventually offered a full-time position — first as an assistant, and later as an account executive.
Is a career in PR something that you need training or qualifications for, or is it something that you can learn on the job?
Many colleges and universities now offer degrees in PR, but when I started out it was uncommon. For certain PR specialities – public affairs, governmental affairs, crisis management, business-to-business, healthcare and financial affairs – specific degrees or training would most likely be required. For consumer goods, fashion, lifestyle and entertainment PR, you can learn on the job. What’s most important here is that you’re creative, socially aware, media savvy, persistent, and a good writer.
Was the reality of working in PR like what you had expected it to be?
Yes and no. It can be fun and creative, but also be demanding and demoralising. I like to think of PR as the stepchild of marketing. Advertising is the ‘family favourite’ and lavished with money, praise, and attention. PR often gets just the leavings. When marketing budgets are cut, PR is usually the first thing to go. Also, PR executives are often scapegoated if a campaign fails. Still, PR can be rewarding. You certainly will learn valuable life skills plus invaluable insight into how the business world works.
What are some of the skills or attributes that you need in order to build a successful career in PR?
For a career in lifestyles PR – consumer goods and services, entertainment, fashion, beauty, travel – you need to be up on the newest trends, styles, and inventions. This means keeping up not only with the Kardashians, but everyone and everything else being covered on broadcast and social media, on and offline publications, film, video, web, fashions, music, and theatre. Introverts will find this type of work challenging. I believe it’s imperative you enjoy socialising with people both online and in-person, and are not easily intimidated. If you’re friendly and persistent, you’re already ahead of the curve. It also helps to have a thick skin or be willing to develop one, because you’re bound to face many disappointments along the way.
If someone was thinking about exploring a career in PR, what advice or guidance would you give them?
Go to Google and type in – Careers in Public Relations. This will keep you busy for a while. I also suggest you visit the websites of the PR agencies based in the city where you live or wish to move to.