The Benefits of Working on Political Campaigns for Entry-Level PR Pros

Though the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest levels since early 2009, the job market is still inundated with seasoned professionals. This has made it a little more difficult for PR graduates on the employment front, especially in public relations where many entry-level positions require at least two years of experience. But one thing I’ve found that has helped me stand out in the industry was working on a political campaign.

 

In 2007, I started my master’s degree in communications and, one year later, took an internship with a PR firm. Waste deep into the internship, the 2008 presidential elections were well under way and one of my mentors came to me and asked if I’d be interested in working on the campaign trail. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I had no experience in politics and wasn’t sure where it might take me. Before I could answer, my mentor told me to take the job; that it would greatly impact my future.

Turns out, he was right.

It’s almost four years later and I have seen the inside of the Pentagon, worked for cabinet-level members, written speeches for Congresswomen and had various opportunities to work on great initiatives in the private sector. I credit my campaign experience and the support of my mentors as being the main reasons why I have had such a fruitful career path thus far.

So, if you’re willing to put in long hours for little pay – familiar conditions in the entry-level PR world – in order to gain experience and bolster your resume, then you might want to consider joining this year’s campaign trail. Here are some additional, important reasons as to why working on a political campaign can be an asset for young PR pros:

1. You’ll Gain a Wealth of Knowledge: Companies often specialize in specific fields. On a campaign, you gain knowledge on the facts of virtually every industry in the U.S., from agriculture, to defense, to education policy to finance. This position’s you to be able to work in various industries and not be pigeonholed down the road.

2. Get Hands-On Experience: Some companies like to keep the interns in the background, whereas campaigns need all the help they can get. On short notice, I was asked to staff a press event for a campaign surrogate, which I had never done before. As my supervisor at the time said, “The best way to learn is to learn on the job, so hit the ground running!”

3. Learn How to Deal with Fast-Pace Environments: With campaigns being so public and high-profile, you are pushed to another level of working under pressure – something that all PR pros need to become comfortable with. When you’re writing a press release with facts and figures associated with your candidate, there is no room, or time, to make mistakes. On a campaign, you quickly learn how to write a sound article under pressure, and with tight deadlines.

4. Experience Different Events: On a campaign, you are constantly on your feet and running around. Whether it’s a student rally or a press event, there are dozens of opportunities you need to get coverage on. The campaign will work your judgment-making skills to the max, helping you to become better at spotting media opportunities. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot!

5. Grow Thick Skin: Working on a campaign brings a whole new meaning to the word “deadline.” Your director, the reporters and your campaign mates are all strung out on coffee and sleepless nights. There is no time but to get to the point. When I first started out in PR, I took forever getting to the point when pitching to reporters. I took it personally when they hung up on me or when my director grew impatient. Working on the campaign helped me grow thicker skin and a quicker mind.

6. Become Prepared on All Fronts: PR Pros should be able to see every angle to a story, both good and bad, both weak and strong. This is especially true in politics. Working with the press on a campaign teaches you to not only pay attention to your own side of the argument, but challenges you to understand your competitors sometimes better than you understand yourself. You have to always be prepared and be one step ahead of your competition. Be clever, savvy and a fact-checking machine.

7. End up a Pitching Machine: On the campaign, you are exposed to local, national and sometimes international media. With each early morning that you spend clipping news articles, you start to become well-read on not just domestic issues, but on communities and people throughout the U.S. and the world. This teaches you to learn the various styles of reporters and how to speak to them in their language. When a client seeks your advice on where they can place their story, you’ll be prepared to give them several of the best options.

8. Networking Opportunities are Everywhere: As the saying goes: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know that matters.” Though I still like to stress that always being open to learning new things and honing your skills is key in maintaining a successful career, make no mistake that making connections with lots of different people can also open doors for you. This is especially true on campaigns.

At the end of the day, regardless of the career path you choose, always make sure you do something that you are passionate about. If you find yourself staring down an unfamiliar path, believe in yourself and take a leap. You’d be surprised at how far just one opportunity can take you.

About the Author
A South Florida native, Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay is an alumnus of the Florida State University and worked on the 2008 Obama/Biden presidential campaign in North Florida. She has also worked at the U.S. Department of Defense as a Communications Specialist and was politically appointed at the U.S. Department of Justice. Passionate about multicultural communications, she recently joined a private firm and travels between Florida and Washington, D.C., to work on public policy and Hispanic Affairs initiatives. Follow her on Twitter: @JacquelineO_PR.

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How to Find and Secure a Part-Time Teaching Position in Public Relations

Opportunities abound for public relations professionals willing to share their expertise and passion through teaching. Here’s an overview of how to find these part-time teaching jobs at higher education institutions, based on techniques I’ve employed during fourteen years of teaching such classes.

– Check out regional listings under Yahoo by visiting here to identify universities where you’d like to teach. Next, visit a university’s website, identify academic programs that offer relevant classes, then move on to other university departments that may offer degree and non-degree granting programs. You also might search a university’s course listings using key words “public relations” and “marketing” to unearth courses.

– Visit websites that list part-time positions in higher education, such as: 1) The Chronicle of Higher Education; 2) Online Faculty Careers; 3) Inside Higher Ed; 4) HigherEdJobs; 5) The National Higher Education Recruitment Consortium; 6) AdjunctWorld Resources. These encompass opportunities in traditional classroom settings as well as online. I’ve found that using keywords “adjunct” or “part-time” combined with “teaching” or “instruction” (along with a geographic focus, if your goal is to teach in traditional classroom settings) will generate results.  Also explore general job search sites (e.g. Craigslist) as they often post announcements for adjunct teaching positions. On Twitter, follow @onlinefaccareer and search using the keyword “adjunct.”

– Once I identify programs that interest me, I secure the name of the person who screens and/or hires part-time instructors. I’ll then send that person a short e-mail (or leave a brief voicemail message), introducing myself, providing an overview of my experience, and stating an interest in adjunct teaching. I identify a class that’s already listed in the school’s catalog or on its Web site as one I’d like to teach in this initial query. The school might respond affirmatively to this inquiry, as they need someone immediately to take over teaching duties for the class. Alternatively, they may need someone on standby for the time when a faculty member is no longer available to teach. Should you receive a “no” or no response at all, don’t give up. Be persistent, and recognize that the lead-time for decision-making can vary from weeks to years.  I taught several classes at one university because I e-mailed the academic coordinator more than a year after my initial query, highlighting my availability and interest in teaching. The class I’d targeted eventually needed a new instructor, and that quickly evolved into a second class on a different topic (but one related to public relations).  My persistence paid off.

– You also can volunteer to be a guest speaker in an existing class by contacting the instructor. I’ve found highlighting a specialized area of knowledge (e.g., social media) as well as specific industry (e.g. education), sector (e.g. non-profit), and/or setting (e.g. agency, independent consultant) experience as the best approach to fit in to an existing course syllabus. A positive impression as a guest speaker can turn into an opportunity to teach an entire class. In addition to the techniques I’ve outlined above, it’s also important to let everyone know you want to teach part-time—particularly fellow members of professional organizations such as PRSA and IABC as well as friends and colleagues who work at educational institutions. Adjunct openings often are not advertised.

In short, teaching opportunities await public relations practitioners who spend the time to seek them out.  The techniques outlined here should give you a great start on that process.

About the Author
Dr. Mitchell Friedman (@mitchellfriedmn) has taught management communication and related topics to graduate students at the University of San Francisco, the University of California, Davis, and West Virginia University. He also provides professional development and education to public relations agencies. He recently completed doctoral dissertation explored leadership development in public relations. 

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Secrets to Getting your Dream PR Job in 2012

PR concerns enhancing and maintaining the image of a business, event or high-profiled person.

Yes, that is sexy – which is why you strive to reach that dream job in PR.

A few weeks ago, PR at Sunrise published an article – “Do PR Students and Pros Want to Work In-House or at an Agency” – so I thought it would be a good time to share some advice on how to get that job you are looking for.

1. Know someone at an agency where you are just dying to work at? Spruce up that resume, network like no other and show your brand and worth. Reach out to your network, especially to someone who also receives an incentive for referring you! Pull together your own case studies and present them in a format that will turn the eye of even the most weathered HR professional.

2. Don’t just demonstrate that you know or understand a company’s culture and core values. Be ready to show that you are indeed a great fit for the company and how you both can be beneficial to each other. If you are reaching out to an in-house position, be sure to show how your experience in agency life can be a plus for an in-house job.

3. Look for those press releases that have contacts at an agency/in house job that you covet. Reach out to them – let them know that you are interested in their company and ask for a few minutes of their time to discuss the company and the best way to get your resume looked at. Once again… enhance your image! It takes a lot to secure that dream job, don’t be afraid to leap!

4. Infuse passion and truth in all that you do to secure your dream job. PR agencies and in-house departments look for that fire in each person that they hire.  Show them that you easily adapt but are truly passionate about the work and the image that you are striving to maintain on a professional and personal level.  Being confident about who you are, goes a long way in an interview.

5. Social Networking? Definitely a plus – don’t shy away from PRWeek and/or PRSA events.  Join those groups on Linked In with other PR professionals who may be the key to your dream job. However, do remember that you may be Googled at times, so always bear in mind that you are branding yourself at all times and you don’t want to lose the opportunity to secure that dream job for something foolish that may be posted.

Most importantly, remember that when scoring that dream job in house or in-agency is … never wait for it to land on your lap. Good luck!

About the Author
Lisa Hutchins is a human resources professional who has previously worked at leading PR firms such as Ruder Finn and Cohn & Wolfe. Her responsibilities included recruiting, employee relations, and miscellaneous employee changes. In addition to her HR experience, she has also as a PR pro on an array of accounts and campaigns, including GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. Follow Lisa on Twitter via @lisahutchins.

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Do PR Students and Pros Want to Work In-House or at an Agency?

January is almost here and you know what that means? Companies are hiring!

While finding jobs in this economy is no easy task, most places look to do their hiring at the start of a new year in order to get people on board and prepared to execute new yearly plans.

So with that in mind, I’m curious to know just what types of jobs people are looking to pursue. Whether you currently have a position or you’re pursuing one, please take a look at the poll below and submit a response.

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The Perfect Internship (Hint: It Doesn’t Exist)

PR majors need to do internships.

Notice the plural? A completed internship used to set candidates apart from the pack, but in today’s uber-competitive job market a single experience doesn’t go as far. Employers want to see that your college career has given you the knowledge and skills you need to do real work for real clients. Classes can give you plenty of knowledge, but aren’t going to cut it when it comes to know-how.

So how do you find the perfect internship? You don’t. Instead, you build upon your skill-set with multiple experiences and mold yourself into a qualified job candidate. Here are just a couple of considerations while looking at position postings:

Paid vs. Unpaid

Loans pile up while you spend your time at an unpaid internship. Most students simply don’t have time to juggle classes, an internship, and a paid job. While the vast majority of internships are unpaid, if you dig you can find those minimum-wage gems. However, there are a lot of amazing positions out there that don’t pay. If you happen to find a posting that you know will give you the skills you are looking for, consider your options. Can you take it for credit? Will one semester of not making money ruin your finances? Ultimately you need to decide if putting in hours of unpaid work now will better your chances of getting that amazing entry-level (read: paid) job later.

Agency vs. Company vs. Non-Profit

In my own job searches and experience I’ve noticed differences between the types of places of work. An agency internship will look great on your resume and may include a small salary. However, these positions are highly competitive, and depending on the size of the agency you may be stuck in a lot of support roles rather than working on real strategy and content development. Positions within a company are a lot more likely to be paid. They range in competitiveness depending on the profile of the company, and they can also vary a lot in terms of job responsibilities. Check job posting for the types of tasks you’ll be assigned to in order to gage your level of responsibility. Non-profits can be a great experience, but they are rarely paid. However, there are many of opportunities out there and you’ll usually be given more important tasks; I’ve even seen instanced of interns at non-profits being completely in charge of the public relations program!

Some internships truly are better than others. Spend plenty of time exploring job postings to get an idea of what you are looking to get out of your experience. When you spot a great position, apply! You’ll never find one perfect internship, but if you combine a few great ones, you’ll be well on your way to landing a job in the real, working world.

About the Author
Erin is a senior at  the University of Minnesota where she is working on her degree in Journalism with a focus in Public Relations. During a study abroad experience she completed an internship at a boutique PR agency. She is currently interning at a commodity exchange corporation in a marketing role, while writing her honors thesis and finishing up classes. Contact Erin on Twitter via @ErinMillard or on LinkedIn


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