Tips from the Trenches: Making the best of a PR education (Part Two)

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Although there are limitations to what can be taught in a classroom environment, a formal education in public relations could provide both a foundation and framework for a successful and fulfilling career. Once a student enters into a program, much of the onus lies on them to properly engage with their instructors, classmates and even the outside world to make the most of their time in school.

Part one of this series shared some tips on what to keep in mind when choosing the right public relations education for you. With the start of term upon us, this installment suggests six best practices for maximising your investment into your public relations education.

1. Treat every assignment as a prospective portfolio piece.

If you are in an industry-taught program rather than a more academia-focused degree, assignments can be the foundation of your first professional PR portfolio – a body of work that contains work samples and proof of your ability for prospective employers.

Pay special attention to industry-relevant skills that will be invaluable later on.This includes talking to reporters, preparing communications plans with clear objectives, assembling media kits, writing for the web, search engine optimization (SEO), and tracking your media hits and website traffic for analysis and reporting. Oh, and put some time into studying the Canadian Press style guide and get very friendly with resources like Grammar Girl.

2. After each assignment, request feedback from your instructors and implement it.

Your instructors are a resource. The classroom offers guaranteed mentorship, so don’t waste the opportunity. PR is a fast-paced industry and your future supervisors will be busy with their own work. While you will learn on the job, it is important to have a good handle of the basics from the get go. Don’t wait to get into the workforce before taking on things like planning, pitching, and other fundamental PR techniques that you can learn in school.

3. Learn what success looks like – and how to report it.

Measurement is one of the biggest challenges in the public relations industry. Some organizations have helpful (and expensive) monitoring and analytics tools, but many do not. Do your best to identify what success looks like for your client and how PR and communications tactics can support their organizational objectives. Are they looking for increased sales? Brand awareness? Positive earned media coverage? Knowing this will help you prepare reports for your clients. Keep an eye out for the best practices and tools in this area, many of which should be covered or touched upon during your program.

If you can, find a way to run a small campaign that you can report on. This may be exceptionally challenging to juggle on top of the heavy workloads in shorter programs, but the objective of completing a campaign for a client during your program is worth striving for. PR industry organizations such as the CPRS, as well as big PR consulting firms, regularly hold webinars and conferences on the topics of measurement and evaluation – keep those on your radar.

4. Apply your homework in real life.

Most people underuse the networks they already have. If, for instance, you have a family member with a business about to launch a new product or service but they can’t afford to hire an agency, offer to work on a communications plan for them. Create a schedule of deliverables; write the first draft of a news release or advisory; offer to help them research a media list or help them with event planning. If you can add real life work samples to your portfolio before leaving school, you are at a great advantage. However, be sure you are able to deliver on your promises!

5. Become a student member of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CRPS) Vancouver

In addition to an annual professional mentoring program, CPRS also holds the popular Open Door to PR event series, which brings students and new grads into PR workplaces to engage with active industry practitioners and prospective employers. Note also that CPRS has a Director of Student and Education in charge of student-facing programming. Take advantage of these offerings and feel be sure to provide feedback on on programs or events you want to see.

6. Apply for the Canadian Public Relations Society Student Scholarship

Another reason to join the CPRS is that it make you eligible for student scholarships. Once you have portfolio work samples in hand, use them to apply for the CPRS Vancouver Student Scholarship ($2000). The call for applications usually begin around the New Year and are judged during the spring by a panel of industry professionals. The Torchia scholarship ($1500) rewards a student in PR whose first language is not English.

If you’ve played your cards right, your application will require some additional work on your part, including seeking a letter of recommendation from a client, but otherwise, it should be a matter of submitting a project sample. Just keep in mind that not all scholarships are offered or awarded every year, so check back frequently and note the requirements for submission as soon as possible.

I wish you the best of luck in your studies! I’m always happy to answer questions or hear from people looking to join the public relations field, so feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn with any questions or comments.

About the Author

Ingrid Valou is a writing and PR professional with a special interest in local and sustainable business, emerging technologies, and LGBTQ issues. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and creative writing from the University of British Columbia, is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s public relations certificate and was awarded the CPRS Vancouver Student Scholarship in 2016. She runs a jewellery design business out of her studio in East Vancouver.