Three things I never learned about PR in college

4 days later
(CC) flickr // terryballard

I don’t hide where I attended college. Quinnipiac University is listed in my twitter bio. I’m proud of where I went to school and this post is in no way knocking the stellar education I received from a well-known and respected faculty at the QU School of Communications (shout out to Professor Beverly Levy). I think it just goes without saying there is only so much you can learn in four years within the walls of a classroom. Real world experience is where it’s really “at” in the grand scheme of our public relations careers.

  1. I never learned how to really interact with clients. Good, bad, impatient, readily available, constructive, bi-polar or indifferent, the type of client we work for in PR runs the gamut. I did get some face-to-face interaction with clients at one of my internships in college, but there wasn’t a class where I was taught: this is how you tell a client “it’s all going to be fine” when they are crying tears of desperation apprehension. Or, this is the best way to handle a client who WRITES IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE YOU MESSED UP!!!
  2. How to interact with journalists and editors. Of course I was told the golden rules. Get them what they need in a timely manner. If you can’t do so, tell them approximately when they will get it. Never say “no comment.” They have creative license so do not tell them how to do their job. Etc. This is the kind of thing we get schooled on the most in the real world of PR. It takes some time and a lot of follow-up and pitching calls to get a thick enough skin for journo-rejection (<– can I copyright that?).
  3. How to bring in a new client for your firm (if applicable). QU provided me all the tools to soak up everything fantastic about PR, but it took getting settled in my job to be able to really relate why PR could be great for a potential client’s business. I guess you can’t really “sell it” until you’ve truly experienced everything (I use that term lightly) PR entails.

Again, these three items may differ depending on where you went to school. I simply find them to be the things that a classroom setting could never teach. These are lessons we must, and usually do, learn once in the “real world of PR.”

What are some things you learned once out of the classroom? Any changes/edits/deletions to what I’ve listed?

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  • arikhanson

    Kate:

    This is a topic of particular passion for me. I went through the exact same situation. Smaller college. Limited cirriculum. But, I will tell you I got tremendous value from my extracirricular activities. Working for the student newspapers. Being a part of AdFed (yes, AdFed–we didn't have PRSSA at the time). And a series of internships toward the tail-end of my college experience.

    You hit the nail on the head though. Classroom work doesn't give you the entire perspective needed in today's PR world. In fact, to be totally honest, I'm not sure it comes close. Again, just speaking from my personal experience. I'm sure folks who sit in Bill Sledzik's or Barbara Nixon's classes would argue that point (and believe me, I would have LOVED to have a prof like Bill or Barbara when I was in school).

    I think one of the big things students need to learn on their own outside of the classroom is just business etiquette. You alluded to this in your first point above, but I think it's even bigger than that. What's the business lingo? How do you behave in team meetings? How do you behave with clients vs. how do you behave with your internal team? How do you learn to push back and really counsel clients? These are all skills and insights you can only pick up in the workplace. And, there's nothing wrong with that. That's what internships are for, right?

    This is an important conversation. So glad you guys are getting these issues out in the open. Where was PRBC 15 years ago? ;)

    @arikhanson

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Thank you for your comment, Arik!

    You bring up a good point about the value of extracurricular activities. I must stress that internships, PRSSA, the school newspaper/TV station, or even a student-run PR firm can do wonders to give you an edge experience-wise once entering the professional world.

    I also have to give credit to the woman I mention in my post, Professor Beverly Levy, who I adore and keep in touch with. She taught my corporate communications class (which @stina6001 and I had together) blogging. We were assigned to pick a specific corporation and write a number of blog posts on company activity, news and more. Professor Levy taught us how to use a blog platform, how to best mix commentary and citing other blogs and articles, etc. And hey! Here we are at prbreakfastclub.com :)

  • http://topsy.com/tb/bit.ly/2qadK9 Tweets that mention Three things I never learned about PR in college :PRBreakfastClub — Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather Dueitt and Christina K. Christina K said: @KOttavio I think that ques deserves a new post actually "How would you run a class as a professsor? cc @tjdietderich's http://bit.ly/1W9Zt [...]

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    Arik -

    Great to get comment from such an outstanding PR Pro. Particularly interesting that the problems rarely change (though I think this may be across industries, not just ours).

    As for where we were 15 years ago — You and I were likely at the same place if you count back to the day — making plans for getting a keg for a Thursday night blowout.

    As for the others….don't ask, you'll start checking yourself for varicose veins :-) . This bunch is smart as a whip(s) and the whippersnappers show me up at least a few times a week.

    [Wow, two whip metaphors in a single comment]

  • laneyc

    Kate,

    I also learned amazing tools at school: writing a press release, key messages, how to research and so forth. But you know what I didn't learn? I didn't learn about the corporate world I would be working in. I didn't learn about the budgeting, I didn't learn about the strategy. I think these are important learnings that we miss out on. Sure, we get small glimpses at it through our internships, PRSSA accounts or what have you, but sometimes I just don't think its enough.

    I have a few friends that call me every now and then to find out what “PR is really like.” And I am always stumped because how do I explain what you really should be prepared for is to have a set of skills that you have to continuously build on. Your A+ press release writing may come in handy but you have to understand why you are using that press release or why you aren't.

    The other thing that always troubled me, and I too loved many of my professors, but a good portion of them had NEVER worked in the industry. I may be going out on a limb but I think it should be a requirement to have some industry experience if you are going to be teaching someone how to do a job. They got their Masters, PhDs and came to teach. Part of our industry is learning from experience and its hard to be taught by people who don't have that. I learned the most from professors who had spent years in the industry so they had concrete examples of what worked and didn't work and why that particular action was taken. So that is where I learned the most, and honestly, sometimes I still drop them a line when I need to know more.

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    Hi Kate, I may sound like a total newbie because I never had a formal PR education, but it seems like (just like any other kind of education) nothing can be a good substitute for real world experience. There are just some things you can't simulate in a classroom, like the angry client or the rushed journo. I'm not saying formal PR training is a bad idea, but surely you can't expect it to teach you everything.

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Great point! I think I was lucky at Quinnipiac to have so many professors with years of experience in the PR/communications field (many of them still active in a full or part-time communications job). No one can tell you what your life in PR will be like better than a former or current PR pro. There’s just no other way around that. I think a suggestion I would make off of your comment would be for high school students checking out colleges to see the percentage of their prospective college’s faculty who have worked or still work in the field they teach.

    Thank you very much for your comment!

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    I’m going to become a professor and run my classroom a bit differently…

    Calling kids cell phones at 11:30 p.m. telling them the AP just broke a story on how there iss a warrant out for their arrest…

    Writing them e-mails with feedback on their press release assignments saying “THIS SUCKS! YOU WILL NEVER BE A GOOD PR PROFESSIONAL!”

    Ha :)

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    A PR boot camp? I love it! We could write a whole syllabus on what they'd need to know.

    You could recruit J-school students to play along too! OH MAN. Our next calling?

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    I would teach the class exactly like Professor Bull… no really that's her name ;) . And she would call you on your BS at all times. She was a former FBI Public Information Officer. Kate and I both took her crisis communications class.

    She had mock interviews, press conferences, video taped everything and recorded everything. For our final we all had to put together a crisis plan for a particular client and for the next 3 hours we worked together as team being hounded by past students staging as journalist.

    Literally – we had to go meet people all over campus, get a million phone calls, write up statements, get yelled out. Quite frankly the best mock experience ever. Yes it wasn't real but it is something I still refer back to today.

    Perhaps I would teach a class “PR – the situations you're going to get into that we never trained you for.”

  • Elisha Velez

    Kate,

    I feel the same way. Although I was given the tools to start my career I wasn't given the experience. Not until I starting interning did I learn the same lessons you numbered above. I also love your new word “journo-rejection,” been there, done that, didn’t learn it till after school.

    By the way, your first description of clients can also be related to co-workers you may have to deal with on a daily basis, which is another thing I have had to learn once getting out of the class room.

    Thanks for the laugh, I’m glad someone else agrees that experience can be a greater learning tool than a text book.

    Elisha

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    So glad you brought up that we need to learn how to interact with co-workers as well, not just clients. I'm lucky to be at Co-Communications. The people are one of the main reasons I like it so much. But I can imagine (and not only just the PR field) how many different personalities we can run into or conflict with just inside our workplace.

    Thanks for your comment, Elisha!

  • Name

    Love my college, but I graduated not knowing what a pitch or editorial calendar was. My school focused WAY too much on “theory” and not enough on application. I graduated with a PR degree and applied to advertising jobs because I hardly knew the difference. Granted I could have done more research on my own, but I was too busy writing papers on how people interact with each other.

    But on a positive note, the two helpful classes were where I had to do communications plans for actual companies. Also my journalism minor was extremely helpful.

  • http://rpulvino.wordpress.com Rich Pulvino

    Great post, Kate! As someone who just finished up a PR education, I can say that there is just too much material to cram into a 4 year program or 1-2 master's program. Courses and professors seem to do a great job teaching the foundations of PR and relating their real world experiences to the classroom – doing their best to prepare students for the real thing.

    The truth is that it takes of a ton of learning outside of the classroom, and one of the best things my teachers encouraged was to have as many internships as possible before graduating (lucky an eight-week intership is also required to graduate from my program). My professors all admitted that a solid internship can teach worlds beyond what we talked about in the classroom and can teach a student about professional behavior and business etiquette that are so vital to a successful career.

    All great points that you made in your post. Great PR programs sets up students for the opportunity to thrive and then it becomes the students' job to knock it out of the park.

  • http://twitter.com/EternalFooFan Joan Vander Valk

    Fun article to read, and I can relate. I went to Seton Hall University, which has a terrific communications program. I did get a feel for these things through several dynamic professors, but there's only so much the curriculum can focus on. That's where involvement in organizations such as the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) comes in – the SHU chapter has a student-run firm. But it was my three internships — at a small agency in NJ, a large agency in NYC, and a corporate setting — that best prepared me for the “real world,” and enabled me to have an impressive portfolio of “real work” to share with prospective employers when I was looking to land my first job. Now, as group VP of a PR and marketing communictions firm, I look much longer and harder at resumes with solid internship experience. And through my role with PRSA NJ, I am emphatic about this with the students I mentor at my alma mater!

  • sarahsoczka

    At my university we learned all the PR “basics,” such as how to write a news release, what is and isn't newsworthy, etc. But, we did miss out on a lot of the real world experience that you mention. For instance, we were never taught how to pitch media. I think that class should be added to all PR programs.

  • sarahsoczka

    At my university we learned all the PR “basics,” such as how to write a news release, what is and isn't newsworthy, etc. But, we did miss out on a lot of the real world experience that you mention. For instance, we were never taught how to pitch media. I think that class should be added to all PR programs.