Teaching as an adjunct at Marist College this semester allowed me to spend plenty of time with the next generation of aspiring public relations and communications professionals. Some showed skills that said “I have what it takes,” while others needed to study up. Here are five of the must-haves agency owners look for in candidates:
1. A healthy respect for deadlines – This is a Must. Yes, with a capital “M.” Public relations jobs are filled with timelines to meet for journalists, clients and the direct reports you work with. Not meeting a deadline could seriously jeopardize your working relationship and, quite possibly, end it. Understanding the importance of staying on or ahead of deadline is essential for success in this fast-moving field.
2. Self-sufficiency – Being internally motivated is an enormous asset. The ability to see a task through from start-to-finish and to seek out answers independently helps one candidate stand out from the next.
3. An understanding of what journalists want – Want to be a brilliant publicist? Get to know what members of the media are looking for and what their days are like. (Hint: it’s not about what your client wants, it’s about what best serves readers and viewers.) This will give you invaluable insight when pitching, submitting news releases and managing clients’ expectations. A great way for wanna-be PR pros to do this is to visit a local newsroom, broadcast studio or maybe even several of them.
4. Super sharp writing skills – Never underestimate the value of great writing. Stories abound of journalists who delete poorly written pitches and agencies that don’t even give an applicant a foot in the door if the introductory email to apply for a position has typos in it. In an age where content is king, newsrooms are shrinking and stories are posted at the speed of sound, publicists need to have writing skills akin to their journalist peers.
5. A next-level work ethic – Busy agency owners want to work with interns who are willing to dig in and work hard. That means extra time spent on key research and effective writing, along with occasional evening and weekend work and a constant awareness of hot trends and PR opportunities.
And one last bonus a quality, ever-aspiring PR pro should possess: resiliency. PR is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to share ideas and tolerate rejection—even after investing your and your client’s time in an unrealized opportunity. You also have to manage clients with lofty goals and not-so-gigantic budgets. Some days are not easy, but many are a million times more rewarding. For all of you about to start a summer internship, or that are ready to apply for that first job as an account coordinator, we salute you. Public relations is an in-demand field and if you have all of the above and a can-do attitude, you already are well on your way.