There's an old joke that goes: “A guy from Chicago is hopelessly lost in the southern Illinois countryside. Seeing a local leaning on a farm gate, he stops the car and asks for directions to the city. To which the local replies, ‘Well, I wouldn't start from here.'”
The beer pong tables are back on the lawns of university towns across America, college football begins on Saturday, and the next generation of communications professionals are enjoying the best days of their lives.
Once upon a time I really did imagine that by now the halls of America's public relations offices would be embracing a Hatcliffe dynasty as my daughters eagerly walked in my giant footsteps. Alas, a couple of visits on Bring Your Daughter to Work Day plus the occasional signs of the stress and exhaustion of life in the PR business, and the girls are pursuing passions in medicine and social work.
However, many of their friends have ambitions to become communications professionals, and we enjoy a steady flow stopping by Ogilvy for informational visits. I am afraid that for many of them my advice sounds a little like, “Well, I wouldn't start from here.”
Some have graduated and are exploring options; the luckier ones still have a year or two to go in college and at least have some opportunities to gain the kind of experiences that will distinguish them from the pack when it comes to the job search.
Very few of them are just starting out in college when they come to us for guidance. Yet that is exactly the moment when they have the best chance of setting themselves up for a career in communications. Not just in their choice of classes, but also in the activities pursued, the volunteer positions taken on, and how time is spent during vacations. Any experience with the media is gold dust, managing social media platforms for a college club is even better, and helping out with the marketing of your parents' or a neighbor's business during the holidays really helps you stand out.
The colleges could do more. Too often it feels like the topic is raised only when the real world is hurtling towards the graduate. But we in the PR profession have to find ways to begin a conversation with bright and ambitious young people a lot earlier in their college lives.
So let's make a promise to each other this fall. We'll all make one informational visit to a college to speak to freshmen about the opportunities to have a really challenging and enjoyable career in PR.
And we'll tell them now what the route looks like before they get lost.
Mike Hatcliffe is MD of the US corporate practice at Ogilvy Public Relations.