I hire lots of people who are fresh out of school for my PR team. Below are the job specific things that I look for in new hires.
A sense of what news is: PR pros are not yet glorified community managers. We still ‘do’ news and pitching. The latter requires a keen sense of the elements of a story and the news gathering process. Good flaks know what information to play up and what to downplay when they pitch a journalist. Moreover, they realize that this may change from outlet to outlet and reporter to reporter.
Knowledge about what constitutes news is also critical for managing expectations. Clients, colleagues and bosses tend to think whatever their firm or department is up to IS news. Part of PR’s job is to manage internal stakeholders so that relationships with media are not ruined. If you approach a journalist with news that isn’t news just because the boss tells you to, you will eventually destroy the relationship. Guaranteed.
So how does one learn about news? My advice is simple: consume lots of it. When you are reading or watching news, try to observe the style in which the content is delivered. What are the key elements of it? How long does a news piece last? How many real points does it make (i.e. – in most op eds there are 3-4 real points)?
In terms of learning about how news is gathered, knowing someone can really help. If you know any reporters or former reporters ask them about what their average day was like and how PR people helped or hindered them. Visit a newsroom if you can to see the what the buzz is like and how the other half lives.
Writing with clarity and brevity: They spend a lot of time teaching writing in PR schools. While it’s important to know the particulars of AP or CP in a world where the press release is becoming more important, there is no substitute for clear, succinct writing. Getting to the point is as important for intra-company or intra-departmental communication as it is for external communications. At my shop we plan on testing new hires on their ability to write news releases and internal messages including email.
How can you learn to be brief and clear? Twitter is a great way to forcibly encourage brevity in writing. The changes it has fostered in the way we communicate do not represent the death knell of language. If you’re new to the game and aren’t on there get an account and play around. In addition, it’s the flavour of the month social media tool so you’ll gain some valuable knowledge.
There are a number of smart folks who publish regularly on business writing. My current favourite is David Silverman – his stuff is really worth a read.
The “new tools” are getting old, so you better demonstrate some knowledge about them. A year and a half ago if you wanted a job in PR and had knowledge about ‘new’ media you had a leg up. This has changed and now some familiarity with these tools is expected.
So, if you are not on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin get going. The rules of these spaces are still not written in stone so you can learn a lot by doing. Read some books and some blogs to find out what has worked for companies and what the experts say about best practices. Mostly though, in terms of social media, be humble – no one knows everything yet and the space is full of snake oil salesman.
If you blog or produce content it needs to be good, but wow if it is! PR is becoming a centre of content production (and not just press releases) so any knowledge about podcasting, making videos, or other multimedia is a bonus.
Hopefully this helps. It’s a really interesting time to be getting into this business because things are changing rapidly. Still, PR pros continue to rely heavily on the age old skills of writing, relationship building and understanding news. In fact in the current fragmented media universe these competencies are perhaps more important than ever.
Here are some other useful links:
Coming up PR – PR from a beginners perspective
Inside PR podcast – a great regularly recorded audio program on PR with Canadian flavour