Do you remember the feeling of wondering what you could do to distinguish yourself from all the other young people looking for their first job in your chosen profession? Because we are at the cusp of another college year the question is being mulled and crunched in classrooms and campuses across the globe.
As an instructor of both social media and reputation management at a university and community college, I am often cornered by young and second-career professionals who want to talk about how you get a job in public relations and communications today. What are agencies and corporate employers looking for?
My answer is not that surprising. From the perspective of 30 years in this business, I say focus your energy on acquiring rock solid digital skills. Yes, I teach social media, have managed the social media practice at large agency and still practice there as a senior digital strategist. You would be right to assume a bias. But I have also been a magazine journalist, speech writer, crisis communications specialist, issue manager, media trainer . . . and I have hired dozens of PR juniors, and continue to do so.
And what distinguishes the people I hire today? Heavy investment in their digital knowledge bank.
There are too many graduates of PR programs with only cursory knowledge of social and digital strategies: of the hard skills of managing social communities: of how to use Facebook Insights to alter content strategies; of setting the right visual and aural tone for a social platform; of building relationships with influencers in social networks and dozens of other social knowledge or experienced based skills.
Too many see social media and digital as extensions of media relations — with similar imperatives, strategies and relationship dynamics — even though ‘owned ‘ digital media now offer better options for storytelling than trying to get media to ‘buy’ your pitch. Audiences aren’t differentiating religiously between journalism and owned content today anyway, especially if the content is well done — and ‘authentic’ and ‘honest’.
It is still possible to get a job with basic PR training, especially if you see PR as about ‘relationship’ rather than placement or impressions. But it’s getting tougher as the digital, content, interactive, advertising, communications, social and PR disciplines become almost fungible.
And think about it — do you really want to build a career on an eroding and unstable substratum or one that takes account of the present and the near future?