4 Steps You Can Take in College To Become a PR Professional

By Megan Yoder

College—the days of sleeping-in, pulling “all-nighters” for exams, and cheering on your school teams. While the college years can be some of the best years of your life, they also are the most vital. Before you know it, graduation is around the corner and your career is your main focus. After completing a public relations internship with the Iowa City Community School District, I found that PR is a fast-paced industry with an ever-changing landscape. If you are choosing to do it, here are four steps that you can take to become a PR professional while in college.

Build a Brand
Use your insights or classroom experience in PR to build a brand. Branding helps you to stand out from the competition. Brand yourself so that employers can understand who you are and what type of public relations work you want to pursue. In branding yourself, consistency is key. Make sure that your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blog profile photos are all the same. This way, it is easier for an employer to recognize and remember you when it comes to hiring for a position.

Another way to build your brand is to create a professional website or blog. Your page should include your writing samples or other class projects, your resume, and contact information. This helps employers to have direct access to your work and will show them that you want to be taken seriously in the pursuit of this industry

Dress Professionally, Even to Class
While college students love sweatpants, and they are comfortable, they don’t look professional. Unless you are sleeping, lounging around your apartment or working-out at the gym, sweatpants should be tucked away in your closet.

Choose items such as a blazer and skinny jeans (for women) and a nice button down shirt and khakis (for men).

I know this may sound a bit extreme, but it’s important. Research by Forbes.com, states that people make a first impression within seven seconds! Knowing this, it is vital to dress professionally as you never know what connections you might make with professors, students or university staff. Connections are vital and looking your best will help you to be taken seriously in your pursuit of a job in any industry.

Use Social Media
If you don’t have a Twitter or LinkedIn account, get one ASAP. These social networks may seem like another thing to add to the list along with Facebook, but they can be vital in staying up-to-date on the PR industry and creating professional connections.  Additionally, make sure that you keep these accounts set to “open” instead of “private,” as it can show employers that you know how to use these tools and are up-to-date on topics in your industry.

Have a Professional Email
This may seem like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at how many students’ email addresses are unprofessional. While funlovinggirl123@hotmail.com, was a great account for you back in the junior high days, as a young college professional it’s unacceptable. Whether you use your university email address or one of your own, make sure it clearly states some version of your first and last name (john.smith@gmail.com, is a great example).  Your email address not only makes an impression, but also shows potential PR employers that you want to be taken seriously in the industry. For more email tips, check out the Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog.

For additional resources, check out the article in PR Daily here.

Follow Megan Yoder on Twitter @MeganKYoder

Opportunities in Disguise

By: Erica Sturwold
UI PRSSA President

You need to jump.  No, you need to leap. Yes, leap, at any, and every, internship opening that presents itself on your path through college.  Experience, even if unrelated, uninteresting and unpaid, is still experience; even when a prospect seems to have very little to do with your desired field, it doesn’t mean it should be ruled out.

If your chosen path is in public relations and something like an opportunity to do design work for a university magazine may not seem to have much relevance, does that mean you turn it down? The answer is definitely, “no”.

In the past I’ve sold advertising for two different radio stations, and though I was apprehensive to be involved in sales (for fear I did not possess the skills to smooth-talk), I found the jobs were nothing short of confidence and character builders. Not to mention, they were actually more about listening, than speaking.  When I bring up these experiences in interviews, I find employers are pleasantly surprised with my willingness to work a job where rejection is around every corner and perseverance is key—this somehow has a way of proving my work ethic.

These types of experiences are the ones that set you apart, and, more importantly, mold you into your own brand. Though your past jobs and internships may not all have been for major marketing agencies and professional event planning firms, the other portion, made up of somewhat out-of-the-ordinary experiences, is a very important piece of your background—what makes you “well-rounded” and “cultured”.

Though I can gladly say I have now had two very multidimensional strategic-communication internships, I know I got there by my ability to be open for whatever comes my way. Before these, and aside from the radio stations, I have written for a magazine, done publication design work, organized and programmed an entire office’s files and recently wrote for and edited a summer newsletter.

One good thing to keep in mind is that while certain positions you pick up may not be exactly what you want to be doing now, they can lead you to something, or someone, who can take you where you want to go.

A simple trick I have learned to find new opportunities is to take the initiative to be friendlier with teachers, and more importantly, internship advisors.  These are the people who, if they know you, will set aside prospects they know you will be perfect for you when those prospects come along.

Aside from this, open every email, read every University posting and keep your eyes peeled for any job-opening posters in your class buildings—even if the extra work feels hard to squeeze in your schedule, it usually has a way of fitting itself in and paying off big time in the long run.

Maybe the chance to lead freshmen on tours around campus is what you consider to be a resume-filler, but, to right employer it could prove both your leadership abilities, and, your inclination to leap into any possible role.

7 Reasons a Journalism Major Will Make You Successful in PR

By Colleen Kennedy

When I started college, I knew journalism was the major for me – I wanted to work at a newspaper. However, after taking one of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s public relations courses, I quickly changed my career path.

Since then, I’ve often debated the pros and cons of being a journalism major with students who attend universities that offer a public relations major. When they talked about their various PR courses, I was jealous. But now, four years later, I’m happy for the solid foundation my journalism major gave me as I embark on my post-grad internship at a public relations agency.

Here are 7 ways being a journalist has benefited me as a young PR professional:

Writing concisely and factually—When reporters read media pitches, they want the facts written in an interesting, yet factual way. A background in journalism teaches you how to place important and compelling information in your lead. Additionally, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter—and they don’t want to read lengthy pieces.

Learning how to edit copy and use AP Style—Employers constantly discuss how many candidates’ resumes are not given a second look due to typos or grammatical errors. The same is true for public relations writing: Why would a customer trust your company or brand when your writing has errors? Also, being familiar with AP Style will help you write press releases that reporters want to use.

•  Knowing the importance of accuracy and ethics—During my reporting classes, we learned the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. With public relations scandals hitting the news frequently, defining the ethics of PR is an important issue facing the industry. Thanks to a familiarity with journalism ethics and media law, you will be one step ahead of your peers.

Being observant and knowing what makes a good story—Good journalists know the elements of a compelling story. This skill will help in public relations, because your media pitches and your news releases must be compelling. Being observant and able to gather facts to make a good story will help you write on topics that will interest reporters.

Learning how the media operates and what reporters’ needs are—After taking several journalism classes, I decided to spend a summer working at a newspaper, The Daily Iowan. While working in the newsroom, I learned the process of generating story ideas, and what information reporters need before agreeing to write a story. Now, as a PR professional, I can use my understanding of the reporting process to pitch to reporters effectively. I know that reporters need sources and are looking for different, creative stories.

Gaining the habit of reading global, national and local news—In my first SJMC class, Reporting and Writing, we had weekly quizzes on the New York Times and our local newspaper, The Daily Iowan. After the quizzes, I quickly got into the habit of reading both news outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal. If you work in public relations, knowing what news is happening – and how you can use the news to help your client or company – is essential.

Writing in different formats and styles—In public relations, you can go from pitching media to writing a white paper to creating a media kit. Your writing must be adaptable.  First semester of my senior year, I took a course about blogging. I’ve also taken classes on reporting, writing for PR, and many others. The variety has helped strengthen my writing and made it adaptable – a skill that will help me greatly when I write for different clients at a PR agency.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

Practical Advice from Monica Madura

At our October 28th Chapter meeting, Monica Madura, the Communication Studies Academic Advisor, came to speak.  Monica geared her presentation towards job searching and how to prepare oneself for the “real world.”  She also offered a valuable question and answer session where members got their most burning questions answered.

Monica suggested that the earlier we start looking for jobs and internships, the better.  Not only can you utilize the Pomerantz Career Center’s Employment Expo and Career Shift, but look on the Communication Studies webpage and utilize your network.  Some ways to get your network started can range from attending Chamber of Commerce events to talking with your professors here at the University of Iowa.

Once you find a job or internship that you are interested in, Monica talked about the importance of customizing our resumes and cover letters for the specific position.  It’s a great idea to make a “master resume” where you list everything you have done.  Then once you look at the job description or requirements you can cut and paste on a new document what is most relevant to that job.

The take away message from our speaker was to start job-hunting early, customize your resume, and utilize the resources we have at our fingertips here at the University!

By Shannon Kane

A word from the wise… Caroline Jones

No matter where you are at now towards finishing your degree, there is still plenty you could be doing in your spare time between classes, work and PRSSA.  When I sat down to write this post, several tidbits came to my mind that have been helpful to me during college and my job search and others I wish I would have known about earlier.

Start by thinking about where you are now in terms of your skill set and what you want to accomplish by the time you graduate.  It helps if you first make a list of your long term goals.  What do you want to be doing professionally when you are 25? 30? 40? Make a list.  Next, make a list of your goals you want to complete by the end of college and a list of goals you want to complete by the end of the school year.  You know how good it feels to cross off something on your to-do list?  Make your goals happen by finding out what you know and what you need to know.  You need to be a sponge and absorb as much information you can.

The following are merely suggestions, everyone has to take their own path.  You won’t get land an awesome internship or job after college by being the same as everyone else.

Start early!
When you are a freshman or sophomore, join student organizations that align with your interests and sign up to join committees.  Try to be as active as you can.  You are still learning how to manage your time and live on your own and with roommates.  You want to learn early on what you like doing and what you don’t, especially if you still are unsure what you want to do after college.  Chances are if you are new to a group you won’t get to work on the most exciting projects right away, but you will fill some space on your resume that may help you land your first internship experience.  Find things that motivate you to do your best work and explore them to their fullest.

When I was a freshman, I was told you need at least one internship to get a job when you graduate.  Economic factors aside, this is no longer the case.  You need as much experience as you can get your hands on and you need to be able to demonstrate on your resume and in the interview that you made the world a better place because of what you did.  Visit the Career Center and the lovely peer advisers will assist you with this.  Send your resume to someone you look up to and ask them for input.  Some people may give you conflicting advice, but you have to make it work for you.  Find as many mentors as you can.

There are a number of resources outside of the university that will help you.  I recommend referring to the national PRSSA resources, Careerealism, Entry Level Careers Examiner, Come Recommended, and setting up a Twitter account if you don’t already have one to follow career experts and recruiters at companies you are interested in learning more about.  It’s easy to keep track of a lot of information in one central place and it’s always evolving to include more features that will make tracking information more efficient.

By the time you are a junior or senior you should have at least one or two internships under your belt and have substantial information on your resume from your experience with PRSSA or with another organization.  Some people may think it’s too much to handle working a job or internship during the school year, but I will tell you this:  the semesters in which I took the heaviest class load and worked part time jobs and internships while being active in PRSSA were my most productive semesters and I earned the best grades I’ve had throughout college.  There is always more you could be doing with your time and when you feel ready to take on more challenges, don’t sell yourself short by going the easy and comfortable route.  Nothing worth having is easy to come by.

When applying for jobs and internships, the time you spent tirelessly researching the company by reading their blogs, following their Google alerts and following their company Twitter feed, you will have a wealth of knowledge about their business practices.  Stay on the company’s radar by reaching out to recruiters and HR people along the way.  Demonstrate your active interest and engage them by asking questions about their recent media campaigns. Show them why you care so much about their company and why you would be a good fit there.  When it comes time to write the cover letter and update your resume, borrow language from their company web site.  Should you get a job with them, you will be expected to adhere to their writing style, so your cover letter and resume should be the first indicator to them that you will be able to handle that.

Searching for a job is a full time job in itself.  Always keep your eye out for opportunities on the horizon, and be prepared for any that may come your way unexpectedly.  Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Written by Caroline Jones

Former Firm Director and Social Media and Web Editor

A Word from the Wise…Carla Keppler

I came into my senior year with most of my required course work out of the way, aside from a few classes, so most of my schedule was filled with electives necessary to meet my hour requirement. I’m definitely glad that I front loaded my schedule before my senior year though because I edited at the Daily Iowan first semester and worked fulltime at the Gazette second semester while still taking a full schedule. I’d say that I had a really busy year but was glad that I had two solid internships that I was able to do while still in school. Even if I was a little pinched for time and always on the run doing something for class, PRSSA, work or whatever else, having the experiences and building skills at each of the jobs was definitely worth it- I’d suggest trying to squeeze in some sort of major-related position while in school, especially since internships and jobs will want you to have previous work experience.

I started looking seriously for full-time positions (“real jobs”) in the winter while I was at the Gazette, mostly using Twitter followers (I follow quite a few people/orgs that post jobs, etc) and filling out applications to companies I knew I was interested in. I focused on a PR job rather than newspaper because the news industry was not faring too well. I didn’t get anything that I wanted for summer so I looked around Iowa City and found two unpaid things that I could use to fill my time and that would hopefully boost my resume. Working at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce and Iowa Bicycle Coalition for free, I was primarily doing newsletter article writing, working with communication outreach plans and doing a little event planning; stuff that gave me experience doing a few things that I hadn’t had hands-on experience with in the professional sense and ended up benefitting me in my later job search.

I applied mostly at agencies while looking for a fall 2009 position (GolinHarris, Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard and the like) and wasn’t picky about the location because I knew any of the top companies would open doors for me. I got interviews with FH in St. Louis and Atlanta and ended up taking the St. Louis one before hearing from Atlanta because I knew it was closer and that I’d enjoy being in the headquarters where more things happened and I’d have the chance to be around the corporate heads if I worked there.

The way the job market is right now, I’d say not to be picky about where you go and maybe even what job you get at first, the key is getting the necessary experience so you can work your way up the ladder in the long run. Sending out applications- I sent out at least 50 I know- and keeping in touch with people you’ve met that are in the company are important if you expect to get an offer. So basically: send out plenty of applications early on, network whenever you get the chance- you’ll be walking a fine line between being passionate and being annoying but you have to be, and make sure to load your resume as early as you can.

Written by Carla Keppler

Former Finance Director