In preparation for some of today’s PRSA Jumpstart attendees’ likely visiting my blog after meeting me, I’m writing two back-to-back posts on how my expectations of public relations as a student in 2008 differ from my work experience so far in 2011. I’d like to highlight not only my predictions when I was a student, but lessons and skills agency work exposed me to.

This post is on the public relations industry as a whole. The next post is on my job duties. These two posts aren’t meant to make me seem highly knowledgeable or opinionated on public relations, but rather provide insight for people who are in the same place in their careers that I was a few months ago. Note: I didn’t work or intern in public relations for the two years following graduation, hence the time gap.

The industry:

It’s possible to do entry-level public relations for something you know nothing about.
I think this may be a big difference between public relations for the arts versus business to business technology. It can be pretty difficult to get even an internship at a prominent arts organization without a major in the same arts discipline – for example, a theatre arts major if you want to intern at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival – but no one expects an intern on a Microsoft account at a worldwide public relations firm to have studied computer science. Decision makers on the account must be familiar with the business, products, industry, and target media, but not interns starting out.

A big part of public relations is knowing what not to share.
I’ve observed my supervisors and their corporate clients decide to approach company news either proactively or reactively and draft a plan for communicating with media regardless of which they choose. Business relationships, competition, and what people have already decided are key messages can all influence the proactive versus reactive decision.

Social media use is not prolific, and its relationship to public relations is not yet standardized.
When I was learning how to blog and use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook in class in the winter of 2008, I expected that social media would be much more widely adopted in general and much more integrated into public relations in 2011 than it is now. There are still media professionals without Twitter or LinkedIn accounts, and people still email press releases that are not the least bit interactive and result in media coverage.
Who should manage a brand’s social presence: someone whose job is entirely digital in nature, a team in the digital department of a public relations agency, or someone who is also skilled in traditional media relations? Should community managers get free content reign or do they need to draft tweets for approval? Answers to these questions still vary quite a bit within the profession.

Public relations internships and entry-level jobs are more competitive to land now than they were in 2008.
I’ve observed that this is for two reasons: companies made long-term cuts to their junior public relations positions during the recession, and three to four graduating classes are now competing for the same jobs. The top two students in my graduating class and major spent the summer of 2007, between our junior and senior years, interning at San Francisco offices of worldwide public relations firms, and neither of them are from California. Now, this is so much less likely to happen, because a full-time public relations intern almost always has a college degree, if not a masters or public relations work experience, and is already living in the same city as the job.
The good news is that the industry, while still recovering, is very visibly growing instead of shrinking. It’s much less likely that an account coordinator will get laid off now than it was in late 2008.