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What to expect in a Public Relations career

A career in public relations is not for the faint of heart - requiring immense poise under pressure, a diplomat's touch, and the ability to juggle several tasks at once, while working to meet deadlines.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   16-06-2011
Lavanya DJ, Vice President, Gutenberg Communications in New York

Lavanya DJ, who has over nine years of public relations and global account management experience, says a career in public relations is not for the faint hearted as it requires immense poise under pressure, a diplomat's touch and the ability to juggle lots of different tasks in one go, while working to journalists' and clients' deadlines.

Public relations (PR) specialists usually have a college degree in communications with a specialization in a related field such as PR, journalism, marketing or advertising. Public relations is a very broad field and you could work with companies or individuals; government or the non-profit world. There are two distinct areas of PR in which to work — in-house for an organization, or at an agency, where you will be handling a number of clients. If you work within a company’s PR department then you will play a key role in shaping a company’s communications strategy and maintaining positive relationships with the media, public and investors.

On the other hand, in a mid-sized PR agency you are likely to be working on two or three accounts so you need to be very organized — individual clients need to feel you are always there for them and they are your No 1 priority. You can also be a PR specialist handling publicity for a movie star or celebrity. Then there is the non-profit world which is very removed from the corporate world.

I tell people who want a career in public relations that it is not rocket science. What you require is a lot of common sense, enthusiasm for learning new things, and the confidence to successfully sell a clients product to journalists or pitch for new business. You have to be a Jack of all trades. You may not been an expert in a particular field but you need to get smart about the industry your client is in very quickly. You need to have great research skills. Separately, the media is an extension of our industry so we need to be passionate about media. To get the right publicity for your client, you need to connect the company you are representing with the macro issues.

"I tell people who want a career in public relations that it is not rocket science. What you require is a lot of common sense, enthusiasm for learning new things, and the confidence to successfully sell a client's product to journalists or pitch for new business."

In the United States, especially New York and the Silicon Valley, every trick in the PR book has been done with varying degrees of success. This means you need to be ahead of the curve and avoid the pitfalls of being too gimmicky. A PR person’s job is to create positive visibility for a company and reinforce positively what a company does. Dealing with the media is an essential function of PR and may require you to structure press releases and suggest story ideas to journalists.

Then we do something called thought leadership which centers on positioning your client as an expert in the field. We help clients get speaking engagements at business conferences and other speaking forums.

We also encourage clients to write byline pieces which we pitch to trade and industry magazines. We can’t ignore social media and use it as an extension of traditional media like newspapers, magazines and broadcast television.

"In the United States, especially New York and the Silicon Valley, every trick in the PR book has been done with varying degrees of success. This means you need to be ahead of the curve and avoid the pitfalls of being too gimmicky."

Most activities in PR constitute logistics whether it is a new product launch or setting up an interview between your client and a newspaper reporter. We advise our clients on whether they should host a particular event. Will it get them positive publicity? Will the event promote their brand?

As a PR person you will be juggling lots of different tasks in one go, while working to journalists' and clients' deadlines. You have all these stakeholders that you have to satisfy at any given point in time. Naturally this can be stressful — a lot of recent studies have indicated that it is the second most stressful job. You also have to get into damage control mode if a company gets any negative publicity.

"Of course, a PR person can never get stressed and must remain calm and incredibly diplomatic. You have to get your point across without ruffling feathers so diplomacy is essential to the job. You also have to work towards deadlines and manage your time well."

Of course, a PR person can never get stressed and must remain calm and incredibly diplomatic. You have to get your point across without ruffling feathers so diplomacy is essential to the job. You also have to work towards deadlines and manage your time well.  

During the recruitment process we assess a candidate’s cultural fit because we are a global agency that works in three different markets. We look for people who are at ease with working with people from different cultures and backgrounds. We also look for team players because it is already a high-stress work environment. A good PR person understands it is not about her but meeting the company’s objective. We also like people with plenty of enthusiasm, confidence in short we are looking for great soft skills.

"The basic PR skills we are looking for include knowledge of the media industry, good writing skills, fast learners who can grasp new topics. Our writing tests are geared towards evaluating how quickly you can identify what a company does."

The basic PR skills we are looking for include knowledge of the media industry, good writing skills, fast learners who can grasp new topics. Our writing tests are geared towards evaluating how quickly you can identify what a company does. We are primarily a tech PR agency so we have a lot of information technology clients. Clients always expect us to be the experts so there is a lot of learning on the job about new technologies and the industry.

It is always helpful for a PR person to take some finance courses in college because it gives you a better understanding of your client and their business. It goes without saying that you should understand how markets work across the globe.

As told to BrainGain Magazine

Lavanya DJ has over nine years of public relations and global account management experience. She has developed strategic PR campaigns for international technology products and services companies. She has been instrumental in setting up and staffing Gutenberg's offices in London, Bangalore and Mumbai.

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