You sat through countless classes, wrote intense research papers, actively participated in campus events and then proudly walked across the stage to receive your degree. This piece of paper in your hand, however, does not mean that your schooling is complete. In fact, topics like new media have progressed so much recently, unless you are a recent college graduate, you still have a lot to learn. With such rapid advancements in social media and other industry trends, how does one keep up with change? Here are ten ways to continue your education on a budget:
1. Seek out free Webinars. In this economy, free educational sessions via the Web are abundant; you just have to know where to look. Start with the PRSA free public relations webinar series. The PRSA website includes an archive of previous free online training sessions which cover topics ranging from measuring public relations campaign ROI to communications career development. Previous free public relations webinars can be played back on demand.
2. Take a class at your local community college. When I received the latest catalog outlining the courses at the county college, the quantity of options floored me. From budgeting and event planning to HTML and Twitter, the local school offers hundreds of options to continue education, all reasonably priced and conveniently scheduled.
3. Attend an event or conference that allows you to learn and network. Do not let the cost of an event deter you from attending. Ask what you can do to help in exchange for free or lower cost admission. Where could your local Chapter use an extra set of hands? Whether you volunteer to fill sponsor bags, assist at the check-in desk, or help organize speakers backstage, ask what you can do to assist in the affordability of a “can’t miss” seminar.
4. Find a mentor. From personal experience, the guidance of a knowledgeable colleague has been invaluable to my career. One of the best ways to understand how to improve is by turning to a skilled professional for advice. Seek out a trusted counselor who has the wisdom to answer tough questions about your work, your career or your interests, and then pay it forward by becoming a mentor yourself. To find a mentor, a great place to start is the PRSA College of Fellows.
5. Conduct an informational interview. No, these face-to-face meetings are not just for job seekers. Rather, they can provide insight into a particular field, company or occupation. Maybe you want to meet with someone in academia to stay aware of what today’s students are learning in the classroom. Perhaps you can schedule time with someone who has your dream job or someone in the public relations field that you have always admired. An informational interview will not only help you to grow your network, but also aid in your understanding of an industry or topic.
6. Read industry journals. Staying on top of developments in public relations is an important aspect of any practitioner’s job. For the latest advancements in communications, check out articles in scholarly journals, many of which can be found online, through Google Scholar and oftentimes at your local library. Titles include, Public Relations Review, American Communication Journal, International Journal of Communication, Journal of Communication, and PRSA’s open access academic journal, Public Relations Journal. The National Communication Association also produces specialty publications for topics such as health communication, intercultural communications and media relations.
7. Give your library card a workout. Books pertaining to public and media relations, employee communications and social media have exploded in the past several years. Buzz surrounds books like Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge; Engage, by Brian Solis; Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith; and Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Books by marketing strategist Al Ries are also always a great read.
8. Volunteer. Nonprofit associations are operating on strict budgets today. Step in and offer your expertise in writing, media relations or event planning. Better yet, step out of your comfort zone and learn something different from the finance, education or development department. Pro bono work allows you to gain a unique perspective, build your knowledge and perhaps develop your portfolio. PRSA has volunteer opportunities at both the local and the national level. You can get involved by filling out their volunteer interest form.
9. Join Twitter if you are not already a member. Twitter is more than updating your account with “What’s happening?” in 140 characters or less. With numerous weekly chats — more than a dozen alone in the public relations realm, ranging from internal communications and measurement to integrated marketing communications and blogging — users have the opportunity to learn more about hot topics, events, blogs and industry trends, while expanding their network with like-minded individuals.
10. Read up on award-winning case studies. PRSA houses an online database of past Silver Anvil Award case profiles. This showcase, acknowledging best practices in public relations, can teach you how to execute a campaign professionally and creatively. Recognizing the components of a flawless campaign can help your daily job performance and provide you with a solid foundation to serve as a judge for local PRSA Chapter awards.
Of course, employers expect public relations practitioners new to the field to have a solid understanding of current events and trends. While one of the easiest ways to continue your education is to read newspapers, blogs and industry publications on a daily basis, switch up your routine by considering these tips. Whether you are a new professional or seasoned pro on a tight budget, it pays to save.
DeAnn Baxter, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner seeking her next great opportunity. During her time in transition, she has strived to continue learning in a fiscally responsible manner. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @DeAnnBaxter.