A - I studied journalism in school, and I didn't really think in terms of public relations. I had some misconceptions about what public relations really was, and I kind of fell into it. I worked for an advertising agency and got into PR from that side. Realizing that I had the wrong idea of what public relations was all about and that it really was work, a lot of work, and very rewarding work most of the time, I decided that I was very happy in the field.
I had worked for a weekly newspaper. I came to this job as a feature writer in the public information office. So my first public relations job was to produce features as opposed to hard news, to go out and beat the bushes and find interesting personalities. So I came into a sort of specialized area. My background was well-suited for it, because I had been writing features for quite a few years, both for the newspaper and tor free-lance outlets. There is a real demand for journalism skills; just look in the want ads. In public relations I'm dealing with the press so much that they want to make sure you understand it. If you have any practical background in the press and know some the frustrations of news gathering, it's a plus for you. I am skeptical of hiring people who have no writing background or no news training. I feel like they're not "in touch." It's one thing to just have a degree in public relations, which I'm skeptical of too, and to be a newspaper expert. It's another thing too to be able to put that in writing. I've had students of public relations so "Oh, I don't need to write, I'm going into public relations." That's a very frightening statement.
I wanted to get my experience with one of the major, top public relations firms. I had done some preliminary research and contacted the personnel department at the firm I was interested in. I got the correct name and title of the person to whom I should write and send n resume. I sent the resume and a cover letter explaining my qualification and indicating my travel plans, which called for a visit to the city which the firm was headquartered. I had a difficult time securing i interview but persisted through a series of phone calls until I final received a confirmation. When I went in for an interview, I asked tl director what he looked for in an entry-level candidate. He explain* that he wanted a good writer and that he considered media experience plus. I had interned at newspapers, radio, and TV stations during college and also had taken a plethora of writing courses. Since I passed the initial qualifications, the interview progressed to the next level-a writing test including writing a financial release, editing copy, writing brochure, writing an industrial product release, and writing business correspondence. Following my completion of the test are another series.
Many people in PR, particularly the older practitioners, have started out with a background in journalism and primarily newspaper reporting. Yet today, as public relations departments and agencies are asked by top management and clients to be more accountable to the bottom line of business, candidates possessing a knowledge of marketing and business as well as fine writing skills are increasingly being hired. What does the career path in a public relations agency look like? Here our structure consists of account groups headed by vice-president, who is in charge of account management, client contact administrative functions, and budgeting and billing procedures. The vice-president oversees an account group, which is staffed by people with such titles as account supervisor, account executive, and assistant account executive. The account supervisor is the primary liaison between the vice-president and the other team members. The account executive is usually the one who implements.
As an assistant account executive, I handled a lot of internal agency functions in addition to clientele work. Some of my first assignments included an internal newsletter to be distributed throughout the agency and an external publicity program to be implemented on behalf of the advertising agency that owns our PR firm. I was given five hours a week to research and write the internal newspaper. I had seven hours a week to do the external trade publicity for our advertising agency, which included writing press releases and articles, cultivating contacts at the various trade publications, setting up photography sessions, and holding planning meetings with advertising agency executives. Then, I had assignments within two major accounts ranging from national media contact work for a client's sponsorship of a TV series to coordinating local and national publicity on behalf of a client-sponsored youth sports program. Both easily consumed twelve hours weekly apiece. My remaining time was then spent on everything from pitching new business to producing videotapes to writing industrial case histories to delivering news releases at bureaus of the AP or the UPI. As I moved up within the ranks of the agency, I began to concentrate my time and efforts on severs accounts. Today I am responsible for managing staff and projects of three accounts, all of which amounts to about a sixty-hour workweek.
Q - What do you dislike about public relations work?
A - Public relations is a nebulous sort of job. This is a corporation with a great deal of hierarchy, and there are a lot of departments that go out on their own and do what they want. I think the greatest frustration is not being consulted enough. People tend to forget that you are there o: that this is your job. A lot of people think that a public relations job is just promotion. They want to know where you are going to fly some helium balloons tomorrow. They don't necessarily come to you for the strategic things. There is a lot more appreciation on the outside sometimes than on the inside.