Life lessons can help you in PR

Sometimes, the most useful PR skills aren't learned in a classroom, says Aubrey Quinn, MD, Clyde Group.

Spending time on stage can help your PR career, says  Clyde Group MD Aubrey Quinn.
Spending time on stage can help your PR career, says Clyde Group MD Aubrey Quinn.

The question I receive most from interns or college students interested in PR is, "What can I do to prepare for a career in PR?"

As I approach my 20th high school reunion (I don’t want to talk about it), I've revisited that question and reflected on the early opportunities that served me best as a PR pro.

Working in a newsroom. For me, it was BYU's Daily Universe. My time as a reporter and an editor helped me understand the media side of the PR equation. I experienced the pressure of deadlines and the efforts that go into getting the scoop for a story. And, yes, I experienced first-hand how annoying PR people can be.

Many of my friends from the Daily Universe became journalists and I have a deep respect and appreciation for what they do. I understand their perspective because I spent time in their shoes; it helps me to navigate reporter relationships today.

Perform on stage. My passion for musical theater and my on stage experience prepared me for the many speaking opportunities in my career—from guest lectures to new business pitches to presentations and beyond.

I was trained on what to do with my hands, how to make eye contact with an audience, and to be comfortable speaking to groups of all sizes. Nothing I've encountered professionally has been as intimidating as auditioning for a solo in front of a panel of judges. You can get this exposure on a debate team, a mock trial team or in anything else that puts you in front of an audience.

Work in direct sales. Learning to be comfortable making cold calls is invaluable, and something our text-heavy culture doesn’t emphasize enough. Working in direct sales for a semester, I became accustomed to calling customers only to be yelled at, and having to shake it off before dialing the next number.

It didn’t feel great, but it helped me develop the resilience and confidence required for pitching media. If there isn't a call center nearby, work as a customer service rep or something comparable. I certainly didn’t love it, but nothing else prepared me in quite the same way for pitching journalists.

Use social media. I started my career before even MySpace was online, so I’ve had to learn about digital channels throughout my career. I'm always skeptical of PR people who say they don't have a Twitter account.

If you want to know what journalists are working on, or their interests beyond their beats, Twitter is an incredible place to start. Also, clients expect PR consultants to be fluent in LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Read. People don't read enough. Not only does it make you a better writer, you become more informed and worldly and a better conversationalist.

Seek out viewpoints you aren’t exposed to in your daily life. If you often find yourself in the fiction stacks, branch out. And, of course, read the news.

Have a few go-to sources as well as those that challenge your worldview. You’ll always have something to talk about and next time you’re asked "what are you reading right now?" in a job interview, you won't have to lie.

Many universities now offer PR majors and there are many professional development opportunities available for PR pros. That’s great, but one of the most rewarding things about PR is the diverse set of skills it incorporates, some of which can’t be taught in a classroom.

Even if I didn’t realize it at the time, my life experiences were preparing me for a PR career. The experiences equipped me with the foundational skills I’m proudest of and on which I rely on the most.

Aubrey Quinn, is managing director at the Washington D.C.-based public relations and public affairs firm Clyde Group.

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