When it comes to getting hired in public relations, mainstream job hunting efforts sometimes will not do. These stories, coming from PR professionals at all stages of their careers, highlight some of the innovative ways people have gotten the attention of their future employers, and provide insight to help you score your next job.
Working on the Other Side of the Fence
Susan Coulby, Media Relations Manager at Camden County College in New Jersey, found her way into media relations by starting out in journalism. She majored in journalism and then worked as a general assignment reporter and editor at a daily newspaper. From there, she already understood what she needed to know to be successful in PR.
“My background has served me extremely well because it made me learn how to write like the journalists to whom I’m pitching and gave me understanding of the newsroom/deadline experience. This, in turn, gives me a level of credibility with the media that is unavailable to those without my background: I speak their language AND I get where they’re coming from in terms of challenges to do their job.”
Coulby, who has worked as the Media Relations Manager at her community college for 14 years, encourages those interested in PR to serve on the communications committee of Junior League to get real-world experience promoting an organization.
“I would give the same advice to anyone trying to break into the field that was involved with a nonprofit: do volunteer work helping out with communications and learn the ropes for real-world experience,” Coulby says.
Being Open to Opportunity in Unusual Places
Sharon Rosenblatt, who works in IT Accessibility Services and Document Remediation at Accessibility Partners, LLC, never thought she’d end up with a job when she took on part-time work as a personal trainer. As she helped a woman named Dana get in shape, she lamented her lackluster results of finding a full-time PR job.
Rosenblatt’s client offered to review her resume and help beef up her professional writing portfolio by assigning her press releases for the company Rosenblatt’s client ran. Rosenblatt wrote a couple of award nominations and pitched some articles — not for money, but for experience.
“Needless to say, I wowed them and began volunteering my time to improve her company’s PR with her over the summer, “ Rosenblatt recalls, “I gained more responsibilities and as the exercise portion of my employment waned, my business writing portfolio grew. In the fall of 2010, they made me a full-time offer. I’ve been with the company now for over three years!”
She says the best career advice she’s been given came from her mother: carve a niche out for yourself, and make yourself indispensable in whatever role you’re in.
Networking for the Big Picture
Everyone knows that networking is key to scoring a great job, but many job seekers don’t realize how long it can take to reap the benefits.
When Charles B. Henderson, who now serves as National Director of Communications for the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, was between engagements and looking for a full-time job, he met a gentleman who had served as the national president of Henderson’s current employer through a volunteer fair. This man also happened to be a member of Henderson’s church.
The meeting may have been uneventful at the time, but years later, Henderson opted to attend his church’s earlier service, where a representative from a nonprofit organization would speak about getting involved with the group. Guess who the speaker was? Yes: the man he’d met at lunch years before.
After the service, Henderson sought out the speaker, set up a networking meeting later in the week, and was rewarded when his contact put in a good word for him for an open position.
Henderson says the key to his success was smart networking: “Keep a log of the people you talk to. Don’t just get names and contact information of the people to whom they re-direct you. Ask them to make a personal introduction for you, either by phone or email.”
Henderson also offers advice to break into PR:
“If you want a job in PR, learn to write and think like a journalist. That means you have to know correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. That would seem self-evident if you’re seeking a job in public relations, but writing skills in this nation are deteriorating and some of the most egregious examples I’m seeing are from PR and journalism students.”
Using Social to Your Advantage
All networking doesn’t have to be done offline. Logan Stewart got his job as Community Manager & Public Relations for OrthoCarolina through Twitter, where he met his current boss.
Both had marketing roles for large organizations in Charlotte, North Carolina, and each knew who the other was on Twitter.
“For quite a long time, we’d just exchange conversational, often humorous tweets – we talked about sports teams, work, local news, whatever the topic of the day was. After getting to know each other on Twitter, we eventually met for coffee several times and discussed social media strategy for our individual companies as well as potential ways that our organizations could partner. Our personalities fit well together because we’re both extremely social and knew a lot of people in the community, and were willing to share those relationships to benefit each other.”
At the time, Stewart wasn’t looking for another job, but when his contact created a new position that was a hybrid of public and media relations with a new community manager-type role, Stewart was at the top of the list, and is now happily managing PR for the company.
Stewart says that networking, offline and on, is invaluable in the job hunt: “Twitter is a goldmine and a valuable resource when it comes to networking. Follow those in your industry in the city you want to work. Reply to their posts regularly without being overbearing. Be funny, be engaging and be relevant. Eventually people will notice you.”