“You’ll Remember Always…Graduation Day!” Okay, Now What PR Graduate?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This month, tens of thousands of kids — no disrespect intended — will reach the summit of one of life’s greatest plateaus: They’ll have earned enough credits to graduate from college, and consequently have earned the right to use that education to make their mark in the world.   In the not-so-distant past, many college graduates could look across that plateau with optimism, envisioning prospects of landing a fine job with a commensurate salary that paid the rent and car note, and left sufficient funds for some good beer.

You know what’s coming next: Many graduates today face a bleak future, one with few job prospects in their chosen field, possibly a five-figure line of debt and few discretionary funds left  for even cheap beer.

But take heart graduates!  Yes, like the song goes, you’ll always remember graduation day — as the day the realities of life stared you right in the face, and the day you got to toss that cumbersome mortar board hat in the air and shed that shed that antiquated gown.  Now it’s time to be decisive and act.

So, what now?

If you’re fortunate enough to have landed a job in your field, or in some other field, perhaps you’ll want to stop reading now.

But if you’re pursuing public relations and are searching for that break, that opportunity to join the profession, keep reading.  Hey, The PRDude likes readers.  Everyone, keep reading.   The following thoughts are designed to provide some direction for anyone who hopes to land that first gig in the public relations industry or any honest line of work.  Hopefully, it’s a job pays a fair wage for your talents and skills, will help reduce the college loan statistic and, of course, leave a few dollars in your pocket for good beer.

Goal: Land a job in public relations or a communications discipline within one year.  Unreasonable?  Maybe, but set 12 months as a target.  Each quarter, analyze what you’ve accomplished to reach your goal. Make adjustments quarterly.

Strategy: Define yourself to others as a public relations professional.  Before you ask, “Well, how if I’m not working in the industry?,” here’s the answer: Get involved in some way. Volunteer. Take on freelance assignments. Start your own consultancy.

Objective: Build awareness for yourself, your skills and your desire to enter public relations.  Employ word-of-mouth. Start a blog.  Join a group that’s affiliated with public relations or the communications industry.  Seek out others — alumni are a good start — and build your network.

Tactic: Turn off your laptop and put your handheld in your pocket.  Get out of the house and meet people.  Save the online and social media stuff for after dinner.

Want more?  This piece from Forbes offers some excellent commentary and advice.  Still want more?  Reply to this post, and I’ll get back to you.  New rules are being written and fundamentals are getting tossed aside. The world needs new communicators to convey key messages about the direction we’re heading.  Become a public relations practitioner and be among those at the forefront.

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My “Other” First Time

Two posts ago, I recounted a pivotal, make that breakthrough, occurrence in my life:  My debut experience earning money to communicate through writing.  (For the record, I got one hundred bucks from a veteran’s group for drafting an essay on something to do with attending college.  It’s a stretch, I know, but technically it’s accurate.)

Now, I’m going to chronicle my “other” first time:  My first “real” communications-related job after graduating college.  There’s a lesson here, one that especially holds true today — to me and lots of others in public relations and just about every other industry.  I’ll even provide a link to a post from a nationally-known public relations leader that puts it all into perspective.

But I digress.

After graduating from Illinois State University during the very cold winter of 1976-1977, I was stymied as to what to do.  I knew what I wanted to do: Become a reporter here in my native Chicago.   After all, I wrote columns and covered student government for the ISU student newspaper, the Vidette.  I was convinced I had the right stuff to be a reporter.  Chicago still had three daily newspapers at the time, the leading wire services maintained bureaus here and community newspapers were probably at their strongest.

There had to be a slot for me somewhere.  Attempts to break in with the dailies and community press proved futile, although I did secure an interview with the Associated Press, thanks to a referral from a guy who once worked there as a copy boy.  (Talk about a position that went the way of the horse and buggy! When did newspapers and wires stop using copy boys?)

Despondent, I scanned the help wanted ads for something — anything — related to communicating through words on paper.  I found an opportunity with one of the largest, best-know, most prestigious media companies in the world — Time-Life!  But, no, I was not given a staff editorial position with one of the magazines.  Didn’t even make it to the copy boy level.   I landed a part-time job making out-bound calls for Time-Life Libraries selling books like “Foilage Houseplants.”   To my credit, I sold two books.

However, an opportunity surfaced — thanks to a referral from the guy who was my scoutmaster.  He referred me to a man who staffed a small financial advertising agency office on LaSalle Street, our financial district.   That man could not hire me, but he reached out to a friend in the advertising department at the Chicago Tribune for advice.  The Trib guy recommended the City News Bureau of Chicago, the renowned local wire service.  I never heard of it, but I learned they hired kids with little to no journalism experience, worked you hard and paid $100 a week.

The Trib guy made a call, I secured an interview with the managing editor and flat out asked for the job — something my ad agency friend instructed me to do.  Imagine how I felt when I road the elevator down from the seventh floor of the 188 W. Randolph St. tower, knowing I got a job as a reporter.

I’ll save my City News stories — and there are a lot of them — for another day, another post.  The lesson, of course, was that I used my network to break into the news business.  When I thanked the ad guy and asked how I could repay his thoughtfulness, he replied: “Someday you’ll have the opportunity to help someone in the business world.  Repay the favor that way.”

I’ve kept that directive close to heart, and I hope I’ve done enough to help others get that proverbial foot in the door.   Last week, I read a post by Gerard Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA,  the Secretary of the PRSA Board of Directors and CEO of Redphlag, a consulting firm in California.

Mr. Corbett pointed out that especially now, when jobs are scarce, public relations professionals should support each other through referrals and requests for advice and direction.  He states it very well in this blog posted on the PRSA blog site.

Let me conclude with this musical suggestion for any job seeker — whether it’s public relations or another industry — who’s feeling a little beat up.  It’s the gospel chestnut, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” performed by two titans of country music.