According to the Muck Rack State of PR Report 2023, more than half of public relations pros think the term “public relations” needs to be defined more broadly. As public relations practices have evolved past traditional areas of scope, PR professionals are undertaking a variety of roles and functions that surpass traditional reputation management. PR professionals are also tasked to manage stakeholder relations, develop content, manage digital and paid media, track and monitor marketing activations, develop client deliverables and be ready for any crisis communications situation. PR pros are even playing a crucial role in things like strategic planning and managing and shaping Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) initiatives for their clients.
For many aspiring PR professionals, your first introduction to the world of PR can look starkly different from what you learn inside a classroom – often being more reflective of the limited version of PR that is what traditionally comes to mind. In the real world, students are likely to quickly realize that studying PR is not the same as practicing PR.
Misconception #1: Press Releases Are Priority #1, and the more detailed, the better
PR does not stand for press release! During my studies at the Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) program at San Diego State University (SDSU), undergraduate PR students are schooled in the art of the press release. We learn to write our first press release, learn the ins and outs of how the press release is used, and then write many more. While learning how to write a press release is important, I’ve found it’s not a daily or a weekly task for most PR pros. Instead, a PR pro’s day is filled with much more – even in the pursuit of media coverage.
One trend fueling this is the shrinking newsroom. Newsrooms have seen a decline in staffing and many journalists are feeling the impact of these changes. According to a recent study. 22% of journalists stated they switched jobs or made a career change due to a shrinking newsroom and 21% face increased workloads due to layoffs and furloughs (Muck Rack The State of Journalism 2023).
And when you do have the chance to craft a press release, more detail isn’t always the answer. A succinct press release that gets to the meat of the news is far more valuable to journalists than a long write-up packed with every single detail. In fact, a pitch or media alert often goes much further in securing media interest than a traditional press release as these short form options can be easier for time-strapped journalists to digest.
When you write and send your first pitch you realize the majority of journalists focus their attention solely on the initial 40 words. Consequently, we are left with a mere 40 words to effectively capture their attention and make our pitch newsworthy. The ideal pitch length falls in the range of 150-250 words; much shorter than most of the highly detailed mock press releases we draft in school.
Misconception #2: PR Pros Are Limited To a Singular Role
As public relations professionals, we are expected to not only think strategically, but our profession demands that we are constantly learning because of our ever-changing field. A misconception about public relation professionals is that they are confined to a singular role. In the real world, I’ve found PR professionals thrive on being versatile. We rely on our critical thinking skills to navigate the dynamic field of public relations and role with the punches, rising to whatever challenges our clients need us to meet.
Public relations professionals must wear multiple hats to provide the most effective counsel for our client and our internal teams. In classrooms, it’s challenging to simulate crisis scenarios or spontaneous client requests. Many students are focused on a singular task of public relations, such as writing pitches or practicing strategic planning. In the real world having a diverse skill set is what sets you up for success. Students can develop versatile skills by taking classes outside of their regular curriculum, trying out different industries by working in an agency environment as an intern and seeking out new opportunities to learn.
Misconception #3: PR is All About Earned Media Coverage
The concept of earned media is heavily featured in public relations curriculum in school. At NST specifically, our vision is to redefine PR, which means going beyond media relations and the traditional definitions of PR to achieve something bigger and more impactful. Public relations, by its most simple definition, is the management of the relationships between a company or organization and its publics. Positive media coverage is only one piece of managing those relationships. There are many other roles we play and services we offer as an agency that are just as important to the care and feeding of our clients’ relationships as media coverage. This includes everything from branding work, strategic planning, crisis planning, and executive platform development to content creation, social media management, influencer relations, and design.
There is so much more to PR than I realized. For those recent post-graduate students who find themselves at a PR agency, my message is, “Come ready to explore and develop new skills.” The school of JMS provides students with a strong foundation to be successful in their future career in PR. However, it is up to the students to utilize professors as mentors and to put themselves out there to learn firsthand all that our chosen career has to offer
Looking for an internship where you can get the kind of experience that empowers you to take what you’ve learned in school and begin to apply it in a practical setting? Reach out here for one of our intern positions.