When I landed my first job in public relations, I was coming right out of the television newsroom. While I had transferable skills, this was my first foray into the industry. If you are just starting out in public relations, here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
1. When a reporter asks you a question, never say yes or no, or repeat the question. For example, if you are dealing with an issue at your institution and a reporter asks if anyone is hitting any panic buttons, don’t simply say no. Because the reporter can then write “Cristal Steuer says no one is hitting any panic buttons yet.” (True story. Kristine, I told you I would never let this one go.) Instead, rephrase the question to let the reporter know how your institution is dealing with a certain issue.
2. Grow thick skin. When I first started pitching stories to reporters, and I would get turned down or they didn’t respond, or even worse – they responded rudely – I would get upset. I’ve since learned how to pitch better and also to not take things so personally. But even though my skin has grown a little thicker, it’s still easier to win people over with kindness. If I receive a rude e-mail, I wait until the next day to respond (so I don’t write something I will regret) and thank them for the information or update.
3. Building relationships outside your state (even city) is hard. I started in local media relations and building relationships with local reporters was easy. I could easily meet reporters in person, invite them to campus, and give them stories their audience wanted. When I entered national media relations it was harder to build relationships with people not down the street. It’s important to make sure you know a reporter’s beat, read their work, and engage with them on Twitter. If you are traveling for work or are at a conference take every chance you can to meet some of the reporters/editors you work with frequently in person.
4. Take chances. I once answered a “cloaked” ProfNet inquiry about iron. I exchanged a lot of emails with a producer (and I still didn’t know where this was going) and had numerous phone calls with a faculty member, but it paid off. The “cloaked” outlet was the History Channel and the professor was featured on Modern Marvels: Iron. They sent a crew to campus to interview the professor and film him performing experiments.
5. Let it go. I know. It’s hard. Especially for me (as you can see in No. 1). Maybe it gets easier with age or at least experience. It doesn’t help you grow to keep festering on an issue or thinking about something that happened. If it’s something you did wrong, own up to it, apologize and move on.
Do you have a favorite memory or lesson you learned from when you first started working in public relations? Share it with us on Twitter!