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.
- Secrets to Getting your Dream PR Job in 2012
- The Perfect Internship (Hint: It Doesn’t Exist)
- Choosing Your Career Path: In-House vs. Agency