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It’s Not Just About Being a PR Expert — Become an Industry Expert

Whether you are just getting out of college or looking at breaking into a new sector, it is important to develop a thorough understanding of a specific industry or two and how to position yourself in this competitive field.

Did you know that the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgina Spencer, (who is known as the great, great, great aunt of Princess Diana) is recognized not only for her marital arrangements, sense of fashion and love of gambling, but as a pioneer in political campaigning? During the 18th century, she campaigned for Charles Fox, a British statesman, whose career spanned more than 30 years in the British Parliament.

Utilizing the means that have become recognized as traditional public relations, media relations, grassroots, word-of-mouth and celebrity campaigning, much of her success could be attributed to her understanding of the ins and outs of politics, which brings me to the point of my latest blog post — A highly successful public relations professional isn’t just an expert in PR, but an industry expert.

In school, we are taught the basics of writing a press release, how to write the perfect pitch and basic research techniques, but what we fail to learn is that successful public relations professionals know the ins and out of their industries and are able to develop strategic public relations campaigns (long- and short-term) to help their clients differentiate themselves. Like Spencer, who understood how politics work and was able to alter people’s perceptions.

Whether you are just getting out of college or looking at breaking into a new sector, it is important to develop a thorough understanding of a specific industry or two.

Here’s a good example:
When I interviewed for my first position at an agency in Charleston, S.C., I remember my interviewer reviewing my resume and saying to me, “You really don’t have that much experience.” I was 25 years old and believed I brought exceptional knowledge and skills, including a marketing position with a national nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., and working in marketing and development at a local art museum in Charleston; but he was right. I did not have specific knowledge around any industry, i.e., travel and tourism, nonprofit, health and nutrition, etc. And, by not having industry background (media contacts, key relationships within the local industry, etc.), I was a less attractive candidate. Of course, I got the job, and it helped launch my career, but imagine if I knew this stuff before?  My career may have taken a different path.

What makes you highly qualified:

“A highly qualified public relations professional possesses knowledge of the industry that he or she is working in, NOT just the ability to craft a well-written press release within minutes and who is proficient in AP style.”

How can you position yourself in this competitive field? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Find your niche. Public relations is a large field, and by far the most competitive.  So, you need to find your niche, whether it’s in health care, food and nutrition, or nonprofit communications, focus on understanding the ins and outs of specific industries. In addition, hone your public relations skills by developing relationships with media who cover your industries; create partnerships with key organizations, community leaders and partners that will help elevate your client‘s position within the specific industry; and seek out opportunities to expand your thought leadership by getting published, speaking and getting involved with organizations that will be of value to your clients and your career.
  • Seek out opportunities to enhance your knowledge. You will never stop learning, especially in today’s world where the explosion of social media has changed the way we communicate with each other and the media, and also has allowed people to share an enormous amount of information in just minutes. In addition, take advantage of volunteering your knowledge and skills with local nonprofit organizations, because you will be able to learn from the experience and utilize these skills at work.
  • Network beyond your professional circle. We all network within our professional societies such as PRSA, but look beyond your professional circle and reach out to specific organizations and individuals, and be sure to attend events that you feel would be of value. Also, thanks to social media, we are able to converse with people in our industry, network beyond on-site activities and events, participate in Twitter chats and Linkedin discussions — just to name a few things.

While many of you may feel that this is just common knowledge, the truth is, in today’s world, we focus on getting the job done, rather than the long term impact we are making daily, which we should keep in mind every day. What are your thoughts?

Sherrie Bakshi, communications maven, Matrix Group, and co-founder, Stylee PR & Marketing, which is now run and managed by its co-founder, Vladia Jurcova Spencer. Bakshi has more than 10 years’ experience in the field, working with a variety of clients. She specializes in everything from traditional PR to now working with clients on effective social networking and online strategies. Follow Sherrie on twitter @Sher_32 or connect on LinkedIn.

Join Sherrie along with other members of the PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) at the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, October 16–19 in Washington, D.C.!

About the author

Sherrie Bakshi


  • Really good points all around, Sherrie. I think you are spot-on with your comment that, “A highly successful public relations professional isn’t just an expert in PR, but an industry expert.”

    To me, this gets at what I believe is the broader strategic value of PR: having enough business knowledge and acumen where you can provide strategic counsel to your clients within their own industry, market or sector. Merely providing PR or marketing insight is great, to an extent, but in today’s hypercompetitive business world, that simply is not enough. For PR professionals to really show their value, we must go beyond the surface of what we think a client wants to hear, and actually ask them the tough and deep business-related questions pertinent to their market or industry, as that relates back to a broader marketing and communications spectrum. That, IMO, is what will truly help clients build their business and is where our strategic value in PR lies.

  • Keith,
    Thank you so much for your comments. I felt that it was very important to touch on this topic as PR professionals can be stereotyped. I feel as if this is one of the things college grads should know before going on the job search. Industry background is definitely part of the experience.

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