Four years is a long period of time. The list of items we measure in four year increments is numerous: the terms of U.S. Presidents, the time between Olympics and World Cups, and the traditional undergraduate career of a college student. Over the course of those four years, students obtain an education meant to help them pursue their dreams and careers through life.
This week marks four years since I first walked through the glass doors of Stanton Communications. When I first entered these offices, I was a young professional looking to change his career path and work towards a new challenge. Four years removed, I am a slightly less youthful professional who has found a career with a dynamic and welcoming PR firm. During my tenure here I have been fortunate enough to experience a wide-array of professional opportunities; from coordinating massive media events on Capitol Hill to executing multi-state video productions and more.
Thanks to these experiences, I have picked up some important lessons that every starting PR professional should know:
1) Be ready for anything. This may seem like a simple platitude often espoused during stereotypical commencement addresses, but in the world of public relations it is especially true. Not long after starting at Stanton, I was assigned to work on-site supporting a government client. Overnight I shifted from supporting multiple diverse clients to working for a singular client with a new team and a different office environment.
It was an amazing experience that allowed me to gain new insight and skills while working on behalf of a great cause. While it was completely different and not something I had been prepared for, working on-site was the perfect opportunity that taught me to expect the unexpected.
2) Find your voice. It may be your first day in the field of PR, but the most important thing you can do is to define your work interests and your style. This not only helps to identify your career path, but helps you to be a better and more passionate communicator. We spend our days as storytellers, working to effectively tell important stories to our audiences. Everyone has different strengths, and playing to those strengths allows you to best tell those stories. Be it social media, online video production or op-ed writing, the best thing you can do for your career and for your clients is to do work which interests and suits you.
3) Remember your responsibilities. I wrote about the need to be responsible in my first Strategy Room blog post and it holds true to this day. In my view, you are always responsible to three groups: your client, the public, and your colleagues. If you let any of them down, you let yourself down. Never forgetting your responsibilities is a lesson that you should keep with you throughout your PR career. It seems like PR101, but many people forget this lesson in the daily grind of pitching and placements.
4) Blow your work up before someone else does. It is really easy to see the positive outcomes of your ideas and to become vested in their success, but thinking negatively and being your own critic doesn’t come naturally to many of us. When developing communications campaigns, it is of the utmost importance that we always think through the negative outcomes before they have a chance to play out.
Not a year goes by where a seemingly good idea or strategy does not blow up. In many of those cases, nobody took the time to think strategically and play out the possible scenarios of that campaign. Time and time again, from a New York Police Department social media campaign to a SXSW “homeless hotspot” campaign, well-intentioned campaigns have become disasters because no one asked: “How could this go wrong?” You will have plenty of good ideas throughout your career. By asking that important question, you help ensure your ideas don’t join a list of well-intentioned failures.
These are just four of the important lessons I have learned during my time here, but as any seasoned professional will tell you, you never stop learning. To the other PR professionals out there, what are some lessons you would share with the next generation of the PR workforce?