When I was in middle school, MTV introduced a show called “MTV – The City” that followed reality TV star Lauren Conrad as she entered the Los Angeles fashion industry to pursue her passion and dream.
The show made a lasting impression on me, particularly one of the supporting characters, Erin Kaplan. Erin was the director of public relations for ELLE magazine, where she worked with fashion designers and celebrities. I couldn’t imagine a more exciting job than hers. In fact, I wanted to be her.
That image of a glamorous PR pro stuck with me into college, where I declared myself a public relations major. My classes exposed me to the most well-known public relations successes and failures, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Tylenol recall of 1982. In short, all the teaching reaffirmed my belief that as soon as I graduated college I’d be involved in similarly high-profile engagements.
But when I landed an internship and then moved into a full-time job, I was abruptly faced with a harsh reality: PR is not all high-profile crises that dominate the 24-hour news cycle, or celebrity-studded events. In fact, the day-to-day is pretty different, particularly for early-career professionals like me.
Here are three false assumptions I held, and what I learned from them:
Three false assumptions
I’ll be planning events, writing tons of press releases and fixing crises.
Sure, I’m involved in all of these activities, but as an entry-level professional, I’m playing a supporting role. I’m doing a lot of research and I’ve learned how important it is for creating a solid plan. Without it, our team would miss the mark each time. So instead of seeing research as a daunting or tedious task, I now see it as a crucial one.
All my clients are glamorous A-list celebrities.
For each celebrity client, there are probably about 200 clients that are organizations. Not all of us can be publicists for famous people. However, the institutional clients that at first may seem conventional often offer the best opportunities for creativity, impact and meaningful partnerships. These clients are hiring us for our expertise, and it’s incredibly gratifying when our teams are able to collaborate on initiatives that effectively advance their goals.
I’ll pitch a reporter and immediately get a placement in a major publication.
My professors taught me “know who you’re pitching,” but they failed to mention that creating the perfect pitch takes time. Pitching for the first time is terrifying, and the rejection can be painful. In my first pitch, I mixed up words, said the wrong name, and ultimately received a resounding “no” from the reporter. That hurt, but I learned never to give up and to keep improving my pitch. And when I got my first placement, all that hard work was rewarded.
I’ve learned a thing or two about the realities of an entry-level PR job. And you know what? I love the field and I am very happy with my career choice. And at each job, I’ve adopted a role model that serves as a light at the end of the tunnel and a reminder of why I got into the field. My superiors are doing the work I expected to be doing. I just have to be patient and work hard to get to the position that I always envisioned.