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Ask An Expert: How To Make The Switch To PR

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Thinking about transitioning into PR? You should be.

Last year The Holmes Report released their 2014 World PR Report, which indicated a significant anticipated growth of 11 percent within the public relations industry in 2013, the first increase since the global recession in 2008. The industry’s outlook is also bolstered by projections from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) which forecasts industry job growth at 12 percent through 2022.

With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that some people are deciding to drop their former careers in favor of joining the world of public relations.

But, is it possible to jump into the deep end of the PR pool if you’ve had no experience? For mid- and senior-career veterans, it can seem like a daunting, almost insurmountable task to transition into an industry as multifaceted as PR without first getting your feet wet in the kiddie pool. Experience in related fields such as journalism, marketing and advertising will help and a traditional PR education can’t hurt – BLS indicates that “Public relations specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism, communications, English, or business” – but what are the true possibilities?

We spoke with Sandy Charet, a Public Relations industry recruiter about what it takes to transition into PR from other careers or get back into the business after an extended break. She offered some sobering insight as well as a few tips that might help get you hired.

Q. What is the number one skill you look for in a person transitioning into PR from another career?

Sandy Charet> Writing. Writing is the backbone of PR.  Whether it is an article, speech, press release, blog post, pitch letter, client memos or a proposal…it all involves writing.  So being a strong and versatile writer is the base that all the rest is built upon.

But one has to understand that the written piece is reaching an audience and be aware of who that audience is so that it is written accordingly.  The reporter needs a different angle than a client.  The consumer requires quite a different focus.  So with all the writing, it’s important not to get too hung up on your own prose but to consider the viewpoint of who you’re writing for, what they need, what their obstacles are, and understanding what else they are hammered with in an average day.

Q. What’s number 2? 

SC> People skills. I’m guessing here, because as a recruiter, it is near impossible for me to place someone who is transitioning.  I am hired to find someone with proven experience doing exactly what they are looking for.  I’m not saying that making a transition is impossible… just that using a recruiter for finding you the job is impossible….well, nothing’s impossible so I will say ” near impossible.”

Q. We know that it can be a pretty simple to transition from journalism, marketing or advertising into PR, but are there any other careers that we might be surprised to know make for a good PR pro? 

SC> An analyst can transition easily into an IR role. I have placed research and equity analysts into IR jobs.

Q. Is it necessary to start from the “bottom” or at a junior level when transitioning into PR from another career? 

SC> I don’t think so.  Not if you have developed a knowledge base of a certain industry or developed a skill useful in public relations.

Q. What are a couple of key points that new PR entrants should focus on in an interview when transitioning into PR from an outside field?

SC>

  • Don’t pretend you know it all.
  • Don’t put all the attention on yourself.
  • Unless the person interviewing really asks for a detailed explanation of what you do, don’t go into detail about it.  Be succinct.

Try to describe everything you do succinctly in terms that would make sense to a PR person.  Practice this at home so it is natural to you.  Use the lingo a PR person would use to describe your tasks.

Q. Is there an expiration date on PR skills? How would you respond to someone who says they can’t get hired because they haven’t practiced PR in several years – whether they left to teach, raise a family or just try something different? 

SC> Everyone needs PR today.  So get out there and start doing stuff.  Have a blog and promote it.  Do some pro bono work and list it all on your resume.

Q. How do mid-career professionals with limited PR experience, but a great background and valuable skills in another field separate themselves from a hungry young PR professionals looking to advance? 

SC> Go after the right potential companies.  A large agency for example, filled with young upwardly mobile AEs is not the right place.  Go to a smaller agency where the owner needs someone mature who can be all things.  A nonprofit, hospital, start up, small agency or association could provide a wonderful environment and they are not wading through tons of resumes of young PR pros.

Q. Bluntly, what does it take for someone without a communication background (PR, marketing, etc…) and no PR experience to get hired in a PR position?

SC> Stamina, tireless networking, willingness to build up some experience in the field, professional learning, such as courses and webinars offered by PRSA.

Q. Are there any specific positions someone transitioning into PR or new to the field should pursue? 

SC> It really depends on their background and what they are coming to the table with.   They should use their knowledge or love of an industry to get a PR job in that field.

Although formidable, it’s not impossible to transition into a mid-level PR career from another industry. With findings from the Holmes Report indicating that “hiring Senior and Mid-Level staff as the biggest challenge PR companies are facing when comes to talent,” having some experience will obviously help, but if you’re willing to go the extra mile to learn the key points of the profession, you can likely land the job you’re looking for. As shown through the Ask an Expert series, if you’re able to realistically and effectively link tangential experience to the position you’re interviewing for and also have skills that can transition to PR, some companies and hiring managers might be willing to take a chance on practitioners who don’t have a traditional PR background.


Sandy Charet has been a recruiter for the Public Relations industry for over twenty five years.  She has worked with major corporations, PR firms, startups and consulting firms, helping them find talented communicators in all disciplines of the field.   Her firm, Charet & Associates has offices in the NYC metro area and Los Angeles.  Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/charet/.

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