PR was always my dream. When I was in high school, I worked part-time doing promotions for unsigned bands (which is a fancy way of saying that I sold CDs, handed out fliers and enthusiastically tried to promote the band on sidewalks). In college I majored in PR at Seattle University and worked as a promotions director for a small internet radio station. We had almost no budget and I spent most of my time at small-scale events. It was key to learning the importance of working hard at what you do, especially with minimal resources. I loved music, and I loved radio. But I knew there was more out there. I wanted to see more. Do more. Learn more. And the exciting thing about PR is, you can work in any field you want!
After college, I started an internship at Weber Shandwick. A fellow classmate of mine knew about an open technology intern position with the agency and passed it along to me. I applied and went from being simply a college grad, to a college grad with an awesome paid internship. I had always worked small groups, and tried to focus on the big picture, but at an agency you have a team and it’s the details that really matter to ensure the success of a client or brand. It was time for me to learn and I found myself, a tech-challenged chick, knee-deep in tech PR. And that my friends is where our story begins. And by story, I of course mean the following post where I provide my two cents about how to go from uninformed novice to an industry expert.
Now that I am sure you have your pens and paper (or styluses and tablets) ready to absorb my words of wisdom, here are three recommended steps to expert success for college grads just entering agency life.
1. Connect the personal with professional.
Within tech PR, I looked for those things that would or could potentially have an impact on my life. By creating that personal relation it becomes easier to learn a new practice area. I saw the advancements being made in the tech world and how they could benefit me and other consumers. I shared the same level of excitement that consumers did around products I was marketing.
“Wait, did you really just say I can buy a single device that will let me watch a movie and open my garage door – at the same time!? That’s exciting!”
Or…“I can sync my phone to remind me of my nutritional goals whenever I get within Wi-Fi stealing distance of a doughnut shop? Sweet!”
By finding this connection I actually started to care about the technology, the industry, and its developments. I had to break down the mental wall I had built up over the years. The mental wall was that voice that said, “tech is a field for someone else, someone who understands complex formulas, rebuilds computers for fun and who can figure out how to set the alarm on their clock radio.” I had to stop separating myself from the field, and realize that I too, have a legit place in it.
2. Read blogs related to the field.
Blogs have proven to be a great resource. Some of them really gave me a feel for the world I was entering. They allowed me to become familiarized with the industry, those working in it, and those who care about it. Blogs represent a window into your audience. If you are unsure of what blogs to read, I’d suggest asking your colleagues which bloggers they find influential in your practice area. Another reason blogs are helpful is that they tend to be written for non-professionals, so you don’t need to be an expert to make sense of them the way you would with a deep trade article.
And finally the most important piece of advice that I can bestow on you is the following:
3. Ask as many questions as you can, from everyone you can.
It doesn’t matter if you work with tech experts or not, asking everyone questions has been a life saver to me.
What you need to remember is that everyone was once new to this field. The best teachers are those who have had to struggle for the information before finally grasping a concept. Naturally, they know the best way to break down the barriers and create understanding.
I also found it extremely beneficial to ask for examples. When I was first asked to write or research something, I would immediate refer to an example as a reference. An example serves as a skeleton to add on to and frame your own piece of writing and style. It was also beneficial to set up coffee/lunch meetings with co-workers as it’s a more relaxed environment where you can approach others about sharing their experience and advice. I’ve realized there are some things you need a person to explain to you, in order to feel confident, and that confidence makes you a better employee and member of the team.
There will be a time in your life when you are given an opportunity to work in a field where you have little to no experience. Don’t shy away. You too, can master it, and improve your skills set. Just look at me. I was a technology novice. Now, I love what I’m doing. I have learned so much already and I can actually carry on an intelligent conversation about the impending industry crisis of 4G spectrum availability, and a shortage expected to take effect within the next five years. Lost ya? It looks like someone needs to explore steps 2 and 3.
Post by Caitlin Joyce.
(Image via Helga Weber)