People keep telling me my job sounds “so great.” I have been doing it long enough that now they want my advice. I have had a couple of people approach me about the PR field – from college grads wondering what to do next, to established career people looking for a change. In each case I was brief – who am I to give career advice – but with the economy still shaky, it may seem easy to declare yourself a PR Consultant and join the ranks of the self-employed. Couple that with what seems to be a zillion “PR pros” online, people must think it’s the easiest career move of the century! It may seem like a good idea, but if you want my opinion, I would make sure you are clear on what will be expected of you before you create that clever online profile.

Public Relations is not social media and it’s definitely not just hanging out on Twitter. Clients want strategy that moves brands, tactics that move the bottom line and conversations that move customers.

Ok, so you still want to work as a PR consultant? Maybe you are looking to launch your own agency or work as a freelancer until the economy picks up. It’s a great profession, and I know it looks fun, but there are a few key skills that you need if you expect to have a chance at success.

But before I let all the trade secrets out of the bag, let me tell you that if you can get a PR job in this economy, take it! Going solo is scary! No fear? Ok, you asked for it!

Or, maybe…let me ask you:

  • Can you write? I mean well? Are you a good writer who can quickly write accurate, interesting pieces free of typos, errors or the need of editing?
  • Do you have the ability to deeply understand each of your client’s businesses? Meaning, you have one job – PR – but do you have the ability and time to understand the industries of each of your clients? Can you get yourself up to speed and remain ahead of the curve for more than one company?
  • Are you direct, succinct and able to get your point across quickly and effectively? If you have 10 seconds to make a phone pitch, can you do so without making the journalist mad? For example, did you research this particular journalist so you know you’re not calling them on their deadline? Can you get journalists to take your calls? If you haven’t done it before, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • Are you able to come up with new ideas? You will be expected to lead the client, not simply execute their plans. Can you stand before an executive team and get them excited about your ideas?
  • Do you understand all the other aspects of PR other than press release distribution and social media? If those are your only areas of interest, can you offer the broad background clients are looking for?
  • Are you willing to baby sit your clients? Respond to their internal quirks and issues? Cheerfully? Are you prepared to be so entrenched that you alert them to industry news before it becomes common knowledge and advise them of next steps before their competition takes those steps?
  • Can you lead and support, rather than wait to take orders? Do you know what the CEO’s vision is? Can you communicate within that vision to the entire C-suite? Can you communicate that vision to clients, customers, the media, employees and relevant politicians? Can you do it in 140 characters and in a case study?
  • Do you understand the difference between buying a media list and building one? Do you understand how your targeted media want to be pitched? Have you built relationships with journalists? Do you know the difference between a managing editor, publisher, features editor, producer and blogger? Do you understand that media relations in only a part of a comprehensive PR plan?
  • Everything peachy so far? Great! You must not be one of those PR newbies I keep finding online!
  • Are you aware that there is often tension between journalists, the media, news outlets, writers and PR people and that a great deal of ethics, transparency and professionalism is required to manage these issues and succeed in PR?
  • Are you extremely deadline-driven, detail oriented and skilled at multi-tasking? Now multiply all of those by ten. Still yes?
  • Do you understand how to charge for your services? Like any business, are you able to find clients who are willing to pay for your services? If not, are you willing to do it for free until someone does? Budgets, billing and reporting are a big part of managing communications programs on behalf of clients. Are you able to research, measure and report ROI?
  • Are you looking to make money or do something you love? Because in this economy, you probably won’t make as much money as a consultant as you think you can. Are you comfortable with the idea that working solo means zero security?

If you answered yes to all of these, then let me be the first to suggest that you start a career as a PR consultant! Welcome and good luck!

If not, email me. We need to talk.

9 thoughts on “You too can be a PR consultant! All you need is a Twitter Account.

  1. Jules this is so spot on that after reading your post I added a line to the blog that I was just about to publish regarding why it is so easy for non-PR people to be confused about PR —

    Most of my friends think my job sounds great and easy. Just sit at a desk writing and talking on the phone all day. Piece of cake. Right? But a few weeks ago I was out with some friends and I was (as I do too often) checking my BlackBerry for email a couple of these same friends were asking me why I was so ‘worried’ about checking email. They just couldn’t understand that sometime work needs to be done at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night.

    I tried (half heartedly I must admit) to explain that I’m checking email to see if there was any email from not just my boss, but also my teamates, any editors working on deadline, any of my several clients (most with several different contacts) and I was reading the newsfeeds to see if there is breaking news in any of the four or five represntitive industries in which my clients serve.

    Nothing happened that night that required my attention, but it did convince those two folks that maybe PR wasn’t as easy as they thought. Me, personally, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Next time someone asks me what I do all day, I’ll just point them to your blog.

    1. Great points Tony and thanks for the comments. The thing that I fear others under-appreciate is that you not only have to be fully up to date in your own profession, but also fully up to date in your client’s industry. Get a couple of clients and it soon begins to feel like 4 full time jobs! But, as you said, there’s nothing I would rather do (except be fabulously wealthy and volunteer!).

  2. PR is anything but glamorous! It’s a lot of behind the scenes hard work and doesn’t even pay that well. If you like being the ugly step child who chases after editors to get coverage on your product, than PR is for you.

    1. Jay ~ Because the behind the scenes work is just that, so many newbies don’t get the major efforts that go into pulling it all together. That’s why I am so offended when someone who has never worked in PR announces that they are launching a firm or becoming a freelancer. Learn the behind the scenes first, please. And the only reason is that bad PR practices reflects poorly on all of us.

      Thanks for the comments.

  3. Julia, this post should be a must-read for any young person thinking of getting into public relations.

    I’ve had my own small agency in New York for 20 years and before that was a senior manager at two of the biggest agencies here. Over the years, I’ve been constantly amazed at the generally poor level of writing that many young people show. Knowing how to text or tweet does not make you a writer.

    There are many agencies — especially those who specialize in beauty and fashion — whose senior people either don’t know how to write well or don’t care enough to train their young employees. The poor writing makes the rest of us in p.r. look bad and it annoys and frustrates journalists.

    But for those who are comfortable putting words on paper, public relations can be a fun and rewarding career. It’s hard work, but it can be very interesting.

    1. David ~ I agree! Writing is an essential skill, but I would add (as I outlined above) even if you graduate with honors and are an excellent writer, there is so much more to the field of PR. Just like those who feel that understanding social media tools makes them a PR guru, those who believe that being a good writer is all that is needed in PR will have a higher likelihood of failure or frustration.

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