This post is part of our intern blog series that aims to help young professionals land and make the most of their PR agency internships. For the next few weeks, our whiz-bang team of interns will give you some insider information on What They Didn’t Tell You about careers in PR.
My fellow English majors and I get a lot of grief for choosing a major that is supposedly “useless.” I’ve heard all the jokes: “So your most marketable skill will be being able to say ‘Do you want fries with that?’”; “Everyone speaks English, why would you need to go to college for it?” and my personal favorite, “So you want to teach?”
Well, the joke’s on you, Mom, because I’ve found that my English major is actually very useful in PR. During my internship at Weber Shandwick Seattle, I’ve consistently used a number of skills I learned from my English major and outside a PR class.
Here are a few of the key skills that I’ve found especially useful:
1. Write Concisely
Before starting at Weber Shandwick, I had editorial internships at several regional lifestyle magazines; including Seattle’s own Seattle Met. The writing skills I learned in those positions have been crucial during my time at Weber – with the most important being conciseness. Writing concisely is a skill few have mastered, as it requires being brief enough so people will read it without being so broad that you’re not saying anything specific. In both magazine internships, I was responsible for writing 30-word event descriptions for the calendar sections. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, because it requires very specific word choices, and you’re limited to nouns and verbs (Pro tip: adjectives are almost always extraneous). This skill has proved invaluable to accurate, effective and meaningful communication with other team members and clients.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of proper grammar. A wise team member at Weber once told me: “Your work should always be client-ready, even if the client will never see it.” Meaning it should be error-free. Always. Proofread it. Then read it again. Then have someone else read it. And always keep your AP Stylebook handy. Proofreading is especially important for any communication you have with a journalist. Trust me, journalists will notice if you use “then” instead of “than” in an e-mail pitch.
3. Know Your Resources
One of the joys of working at an agency is you have a lot of variety in your work. However, variety also means you may end up working in an industry that you know very little about, one that you’ll have to learn quick. I’ve done work for a number of accounts in my time at Weber Shandwick Seattle, and all of them required I do some research to get up to speed. Knowing how to find what you need is far more useful than simply compiling knowledge. Read a lot, especially the outlets that your client cares most about. Review some of the previous coverage reports your team has done for the client. Know the experts in the office, and ask them questions. The more you actively practice researching, the better you’ll get.
For more great tips on becoming an industry expert, check out fellow intern Caitlin Joyce’s blog post on Learning the Ropes in a Brand New World.
4. Speak Well
A degree in Theater gets you even more grief than an English degree. However, Theater majors have a skill set that is increasingly difficult to find in today’s digital world: they are excellent public speakers. Why? They are well-practiced at organizing their thoughts quickly and expressing themselves convincingly with little to no preparation. Good oral communication is crucial to PR. For example, I did some media pitching for one of our pro-bono clients and although I prepped an answer for every question I could think of, the reporter asked a question I didn’t think of. In these situations, you’ll need to organize your thoughts quickly and express yourself convincingly with little to no preparation. Think on your feet.
5. Plan Ahead
Meeting tight deadlines is inevitable in PR. Thankfully; I had a job after college that taught me to manage tight deadlines: shipping assistant at a holly farm. (No, I’m not kidding.) The holly farm I worked at received up to a thousand orders a day. All of those orders needed to be sorted, built, packaged and on the FedEx truck by 4pm, no exceptions. It was critical that I worked quickly and accurately. A single mistake could spell big-time trouble for the company. In that experience, I learned some serious time management skills, the most important of which is this: “There are due dates, and there are do dates.” If you have three projects that are due at 3pm, assign personal deadlines to finish one at 1pm, the second at 2pm and the last by 3pm. That way, you don’t end up scrambling to get all three done at once.
The Moral of the Story: Use the Skills You Have
When I started at Weber Shandwick Seattle, I didn’t have experience in PR. What I did have was a skill set that applied to PR, which has served me well over the last few months. The best advice I can give to PR hopefuls, with communications degrees or without, is figure out what your individual skill set is and use it at every opportunity. I did, and the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve found that my “non-PR” skills are, in fact, essential.
What skills from other majors have you found the most useful?
Image courtesy of stevendepolo.