The Most Important PR Lessons Aren't Found in the Classroom.
In my studies at UNC Charlotte, I had the opportunity to learn that career success would be found through the lessons that come with experience. As the encouraging saying goes, “you won't know until you try.” And while this is true, I have also learned that even when you try, you still may not know all things with certainty. But whether it’s a victory or a failure, there are always lessons.
When I was first introduced to the public relations profession, I immediately recognized it was the type of industry that would always keep me moving and learning. I enjoy staying busy and desired a career that would offer me a fast-paced environment. I was learning the fundamentals of public relations at UNC Charlotte, however I always felt like the excitement was missing. As part of my classwork, I learned about creating campaigns and putting together strategies, but it was all in theory. I was never able to execute what I learned. It wasn’t until my first internship that I realized pursuing real-world experience was crucial. After graduation I was offered another internship opportunity: a chance to learn the inner workings of the agency world at Rein Communications. Though professors and previous internships taught me plenty, working for Rein Communications quickly proved to be the real-life experience that I needed. In just a few short weeks I felt as though I gained way more knowledge than what I learned about PR in my four years of college. While I could list a tremendous number of experiences I have had the privilege to experience, what is most important are the lessons learned. These are the top three takeaways from my summer at Rein Communications.
Relevance is Everything
From day one, I hit the ground running, soaking in every ounce of knowledge I was exposed to. One of my first experiences with media relations was about pitching: how to not only pitch a journalist, but most importantly, how to find the right media contacts. Having only written a few pitches in college, this was not something I had experience doing. The team threw me in head first and asked me to take my shot at writing a draft, giving me a life raft by offering advice, best practices and revisions along the way.
I learned that a pitch and press release are vastly different and serve different purposes, but can work well in tandem when done correctly. Account Executive Taylor Wright told me, “you will pitch more than you write a press release,” and CEO Nicole Peternel taught me that pitching is an art form. Journalists may only browse your pitch for a few seconds, so this means that your work must be concise and intriguing.
Pitching is not just sending out a brief tip to a journalist, it is so much more. It requires hours of research, deep diving into the web, stalking journalists on social media, and magically finessing the strongest story idea into a 150-word paragraph. Then, you ensure you pick the right journalist, the right outlet that aligns with your story, and include information that will be relevant to a journalist and their audience. Thinking like a journalist will not only help your writing but it will improve the way you pitch.
The Rabbit Hole of Research
Research! Research! Research! Though tedious, you must not miss this step. It needs to be done before you meet with a client and performed more extensively after they share their goals. We have to research past information about the client and determine what their reputation is. We research which media outlets will benefit them, find journalists to pitch and analyze their competition, audience segments, industry trends and so much more. Sometimes I have to deep dive into reference materials and data to make sure I am using the correct verbiage and find newsworthy statistics when creating content. Doing the necessary research sets you up for successful storytelling later down the road.
A crux of public relations is the relationships you establish. Though we work on behalf of our clients, open dialogue and effective communication are the key to success. When meeting a new client and figuring out their goals, I think of it like dating. You start with those conversational topics like “what’s your favorite color?”, but it isn’t until you ask “what are the goals you have for your life?” that you begin to learn who they really are. Meeting with new clients isn’t all that different (though I have yet to hear someone inquire about their favorite hue). You begin the relationship by asking relevant questions to get the information you need for telling a story that positions them favorably. Sometimes this requires telling the client hard truths, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Not only do you have to communicate with your client, but you have to help them communicate with their stakeholders and investors. As we say to clients of Rein Communications, it's less about the story you want to tell, and more about what information the audience needs in order to create positive associations that move the needle.
Getting it done
Last but not least, perhaps the most important thing my time at Rein Communications has taught me is this: quality PR isn’t about getting your name mentioned in a big publication or having a pretty Instagram grid. It’s creating strategies that work in alignment with organizational goals. Sure, PR agencies can blindly pitch out stories to journalists in a database and hope that someone bites. But if it's not value-driven, what’s the point? Nicole always stresses that concentrating on only deliverables rather than the goals is ineffective. PR efforts need to be part of a well-rounded strategy that results in client ROI.
Luckily this was something emphasized in school. I realized early on how when PR is done correctly, it can positively impact a client’s bottom line. I truly love how the Rein team makes this an important objective of all of our work. I have always believed that if I was going to do something, it should be done with a purpose. Having an effective strategy as a true foundation of our work makes our work meaningful and intentional.
A pleasant surprise
As I explored my communications journey, I learned a new skill that I quickly fell in love with. Though I was never given the chance to explore it previously, design has become a way for me to expand my skill set while helping clients build their brands and messaging. I knew PR would require a lot of writing, but I quickly learned that it would be useful to have visual communications skills. In this field, anything can happen, and you never know what a client or employer will request. I’ve found it’s been helpful to gain experience in a variety of different skills, such as design, social media management and writing. I have been asked to design graphics for websites and logos, to revise branding and to create items like social media posts and presentations. I may not be a graphic designer, but I've learned the basics and seen myself grow in this area. My advice to communication students would be to take an intro to graphic design course. If this type of course isn’t available at your university, do some research and find an online certification like Canva’s Design School.
Though my professors taught me the cornerstones of public relations, it's the internships that taught me how to execute. We may have learned to write a press release or the makings of a campaign, but seeing projects run from inception to execution has given me the assurance I needed in knowing that PR is the industry for me. What I learned in school was important- it allowed me to get my foot in the door, but this internship at Rein Communications taught me how to walk through it. The decision to do more than one internship, rather than just the one that was required of me, was one of the best choices I’ve made. I learned so much by being out in the field and putting what I’m learning to the test. I feel so thankful to be jumping into the game with the practice and playbook that Rein Communications has given me.