Why do public relations professionals choose the careers they do? How do they know it’s the right fit? Is there an “aha” moment, an epiphany when they know what to do with their lives?
I’ve been pondering such questions since attending the Council’s annual Internfest, held July 24th in New York City at NYU’s Kimmel Center. As almost 200 eager interns listened to presentations from industry leaders like Council Chair Andy Polansky and Euro RSCG Worldwide PR North America CEO Marian Salzman, I couldn’t help notice a certain look on their faces—that mix of excitement, curiosity, and reassurance that comes with realizing you’ve made the right decision.
I remember my own excitement during my first days on the job at the Council, the heady sense I got that I now had a bird’s-eye view on an industry that fascinated me, as well as a chance to use my communications and thinking skills in interesting and meaningful ways.
One thing that’s different about my experience, though, is that I didn’t have the good fortune to gain initial exposure to public relations through an internship. We survey our members’ interns every year, and strong majorities “strongly agree” or “agree” that their internship experiences “influence me to pursue a career at a public relations firms.” This year, over half—54%–strongly agreed. If I had to bet, I’d say a lot of “wow, this is for me!” moments are taking place each and every summer in our industry. At the very least, interns are coming away seriously intrigued and eager to learn and experience more.
I asked around among friends and colleagues, and here’s my theory: Many factors contribute to a successful career in PR, but the most crucial underlying element is the P-word—passion. Megan Hunsicker, an Account Coordinator at M Booth, recalls that the thrill of seeing her first major media placement and TV segment from a pitch she helped write cemented her belief that she was in the right industry, fulfilling her passion to “make a difference in the lives of small business owners, budding entrepreneurs, and healthcare IT professionals.”
Nick Light, another young Account Executive at Peppercom, told me that he didn’t really know PR was for him until he was actually working on the job. At that point, what solidified his love for PR was “realizing that I hadn’t actually made a switch as large as I had originally thought. My passions and hobbies (higher education, history, international politics and cycling) inform ideas that I can contribute to brainstorms, help me write with different brand voices and give me points of connection with members of the media.”
Matt Shaw, my colleague at the Council, recalls that his magic “aha” moment came when his boss at a PR firm in Boston knocked on his office door and asked him to manage the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards account. Now, as everyone who knows Matt can attest, he’s a baseball fanatic and grew up in a family that was, in his words, “sports obsessed.” Matt told me that he “couldn’t believe I could mix my vocation with my avocation and still get paid for it. That was a great feeling and a real revelation.”
Passion swings both ways; firms, too, are looking for PR professionals who have had that “aha!” moment, or who seem to be leading toward it. Steve Seeman, Senior Vice President at Makovsky+Company, reports that his firm looks for professionals who are passionate about their work, display a thirst for knowledge, and ask to take on new challenges. “This ambition and drive are what truly tips the scales in one’s favor.”
If you’re a student considering a career in public relations, an internship can be a fantastic way to gain exposure and also to land a seriously cool job once you have that “aha!” moment and decided that PR is for you (large percentages of respondents to our poll list their internship as a valuable asset to have when looking for a job). I can’t guarantee you’ll find your professional home in public relations, but the energy is palpable.
If you’ve recently started a career in public relations, or if you’re well into your career, then summertime is the perfect time to sit back and recall what we love about our jobs—what gets us excited, perhaps not everyday, but at least most days. If we can tap back into that passion and even remember our first “aha!” moment, we’ll recover enough positive energy and enthusiasm to keep us going all year long.
(PS. Anybody out there have some surprising or fun stories about how you first realized that PR was for you? Please share them in our comments section!)