Public Relations is often made out to be an easy job that anyone with a flair for language and a knack with people can smoothly sail through. But good PR professionals know what it takes to be outstanding versus just another person in the business. How does one know what is good and what is not? And what is it that these hardworking, intelligent and ambitious individuals have in them that sets them apart. I think it is the right training and great education.
Several PR firms have programmes that help them identify potential leaders early on and put them on a fast track career path. Some of these chosen ones are able to ride the wave and some others just drop out. What happens to those who are not fortunate enough to be tapped early on? How do they get a second chance at making the cut? And what does it take to be able to get on to a fast track if you have missed the bus once?
I was fortunate to be part of a group of 13 who were hired on campus as management trainees by a leading PR firm nine years ago in an innovative and enriching programme. While few cribbed about being bound by a three year contract most of us cherished the input and care we got that laid a strong professional foundation. Fortunately today there are several online and offline options to get trained and these must be embraced in a structured manner for career development. Besides these, another way to get trained and educated about the profession other than learning on the job is to get mentored by one or two people in the initial phase of one’s career. Reading books and attending conferences on the profession also help a great deal.
Going back to the basics, what is the best way to get educated to excel in the profession? While there are stalwarts across the world who did not have formal training in communications or PR and made it big we need to realize that it was then and in present times the way hiring works is different. I am of the opinion that when one chooses humanities and the arts over sciences it is good to have two related but different subjects of specialisation at the under graduation and post-graduation level. This broadens one’s horizon and helps get a sense of two worlds at least in theory. For example, I had decided in Grade 11 and 12 that I would do my under graduation in Law and keep the option of Human Resources or Communication for my Masters and the rest is history.
I have a set of advice for those making important career decisions: My advice to those doing their under graduation in media studies and allied subjects is to work for a couple of years and then do a Master’s in Business Administration or a different subject from what they did in their undergraduate course and then opt for PR. My advice to those still making plans and are in class 12 or below but intend building a career in public relations is to do their Bachelors in a subject other than PR and focus on PR during their Masters. For those already doing their Masters in PR or already in a full-time job my advice is to undertake the following plan in the first five years of shaping your career:
1. Become the member of a professional development organization in the first year and identify a mentor or two you can gain inspiration from;
2. Attend at least one national or international event in the first two years;
3. Read at least ten books on public relations in the first three years;
4. Write at least 100 blogs in the first four years and;
5. Travel to at least one Indian and one foreign city all by yourself for a week each in the first five years.
These are not mantras cast in stone but tips to be a life-long student of a very special field and excel by continuous self-development. When you have crossed the five-year mark it is time to be prepared to pay it forward by being a mentor to as many fellow professionals. Because we all need to inspire before we expire.
Amith Prabhu is an Indian professional who is currently based in Chicago and employed by a leading PR firm. He is the founder-catalyst of The PRomise Foundation which is organizing PRAXIS2012, arguably India’s first weekend summit by and for professionals. The views are the author’s own and do not represent those of his employer or the Foundation. He can be reached on Twitter at @amithpr.