From initial impressions to the key moment when that first job is in sight, Durham College's Andrew Chapados offers a firsthand glimpse of a PR student's experience.
Stepping through the door, I thought, “I have never seen anything like this.” A bevy of professional-looking people and a professor who made it all sound too good to be true. This was my introduction to PR at Durham College, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, where I would embark on a two-year journey to obtain a Public Relations Advanced Diploma (the Canadian equivalent to an undergraduate degree in the US).
Much was thrown my way, but my desire to be a PR professional was quickly confirmed.
While public speaking can terrify some, whether it be a pitch presentation or a speech to a large audience, it never scared me. It was also an aspect of PR that jumped off the page at my orientation.
Additionally, there were promises of writing. The prospects of that were constantly reinforced as an early attempt to weed out those in the student body with any apprehension. It worked to a certain degree, but the real weeding out would happen later.
The realities of a PR pro's life were soon highlighted to us, such as deadlines and multitasking. I remained undeterred, but many fellow students had that “What did I get myself into?” look.
With orientation complete, the actual program was set to commence with a variety of courses focusing on a broad swath of communications skills that truly covered both the traditional and new: photography, digital publishing, history of PR, marketing, writing for PR, and even literature.
Getting to class
Having a mountain of projects thrown our way at the start of the semester turned out to be ideal preparation for a life in PR as the industry requires people to manage several projects at once.
Of all my takeaways from the first semester, I really appreciated the introduction to digital design, something I spent hours honing my skills at as I knew it would benefit me in my future career.
In the second semester, we began identifying the skills at which we would excel. Courses focused on copywriting, corporate management and structure, digital imaging, general PR practice, and more. It quickly became apparent to me that writing would join design as one of my strong suits.
This is one area where Durham professor Paul Welsby cemented his status as a mentor to me. A published author and longtime PR consultant, he taught me many lessons on topics from literature to copywriting. In particular, I appreciated his insistence on spelling and grammar. I know a lot of aspiring PR pros don't focus on this nearly enough, but I fully intend to avoid being among them.
The focus turned more to media activity, as well as fundraising campaigns in the second year. Each student was given a monetary goal to achieve by early fourth semester and were tasked to plan and execute fundraisers to meet this objective.
Events are a prevalent part of the profession and I soon learned that preparation is truly the hard part. The events themselves are only the icing on the cake. To prepare for these events, our lessons focused on media-kit generation and, perhaps most valuable, marketing to ensure attendance, which served up takeaways that would benefit any would-be PR pro. There was an obvious emphasis on social media and we were encouraged to think outside the box. However, this is where today's generation of PR practitioners has the upper hand, as we have grown up using social media extensively.
The final chapter
Unsurprisingly, the final semester turned out to be the busiest. Among the assignments were memorized speeches and freelance writing pieces. However, the biggest event was the mock gala for an awards show we were to hold. This meant generating media kits, obtaining quotes from venues, and putting it all together with a communications plan, a real 360-degree PR exercise if ever there was one.
We were also tasked with preparing social media plans for real-life clients. This was easily the best learning experience at Durham. Nothing prepares you better for client work than actually doing it.
Internships are a key part of the curriculum at Durham and I was able to land one in the marcomms department at the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology. There, I learned key skills including industry standards for copy, interviewing, and writing, specifically for online.
Currently, I am interning at Bell Media in the news section's publicity department. Daily tasks include drafting news releases and accompanying talent on various assignments. It's a position that is helping me hone and put into use the skills I learned in the classroom, as well as teaching me new lessons that can only be acquired in the field.
Once this three-month internship is complete, I will be on course to graduate and enter the job market. I'm confident my two years at Durham will serve me well in my future career. I only hope my first day in what will be a new job will give me the same feeling as when I first started at Durham: excitement, apprehension, but immediate verification that I did indeed choose the right profession.
The next step
Though it often takes longer than most would like, landing a PR job quickly after graduation is possible. Molly Madlock proved that in 2010 and shares her game plan and experience with PRWeek.
Landing my first job after graduating from the University of Arizona was a product of my diverse internships while at school, constant networking, and willingness to take risks.
From program enterprise with MTV to media and entertainment at Ford Models to street marketing for ESPN, I learned as much as I could from every internship, believing that breadth of skills would boost my value to potential employers.
Another constant focus was networking. I always asked for business cards, sent follow-up emails, actively sought guidance, and never shied away from approaching senior-level executives. In fact, a former CEO was very happy to counsel me nearly three years after my stint there. Networking, a vital resource for all PR pros, helped me land my first job.
You also must take risks. Perhaps my biggest came right after graduation, when I moved to New York City with only a friend's couch to sleep on and a desire to break into PR. After leveraging contacts, I accepted my first job at a smaller, less established company, PLV Studio. At first, I was hesitant after interning with several big brands, but the experience was invaluable as it forced me to think like an entrepreneur.
Today, I manage my own consulting venture and am PR director for two companies. I'm excited about my future, but never forgot that first job, which I only landed so quickly because of my internships, networking, and risk-taking.
Molly Madlock heads PR at digital branding firm Socialyte and Indie, an online collective of fashion/luxury influencers.