Editor’s Note: Throughout May, we will be offering helpful tips on transitioning into the PR industry and shifting from PRSSA to PRSA. As college seniors begin their move from the classroom to fulltime practitioners and undergrads search for the perfect internships, industry leaders will answer pressing questions, address concerns and provide general advice for establishing a strong foundation for a positive PR career. Whether you’re a new pro or veteran, this is information you can use.
I was born in a time of shag carpet and avocado green appliances. I remember the Cold War era that led to drills during school in the event of an attack – I am still trying to figure out how crouching under a desk would have saved us from a nuclear blast. I have too many photos of big hair, I mean really big hair. And I remember the dire predictions leading up to Y2K – I recently had to explain the reasons to my 13 year-old daughter. Some might consider me old, others look at me and remember their youth. At this point in my career I have 18 years under my belt; that is a lot of lessons learned.
Last September I took over as Vice President, Public Relations of PRSA which meant many different things. I now lead a team of professionals, make decisions with far reaching effects, mentor and teach young professionals while building on the skill sets of those who are already seasoned professionals. With so many young and new professionals pursuing public relations, I wanted to offer some thoughts and impart six key pieces of advice to those who hope to one day occupy the chair I sit in – or at least one similar. My hope is that I can help others by sharing insight about my struggles and success and also highlighting some of the more pressing issues I’ve seen with junior practitioners.
- Work hard
It should go without saying that hard work will lead to success. The more time and effort you put into your job means more knowledge that is imparted upon you. I am not saying that you should work 18-hour days slaving away, but you should bring your A-game every day. Managers take note of those who go the extra mile and put in the extra effort. If you are on Google chat all day or texting every time your boss walks by they will take notice and they won’t like it.
- Never have a sense of entitlement
Work hard but don’t think that just because you put in a lot of hours that you are entitled to more than others. Decisions on promotions and accommodations are based on a number of factors. No, those reasons don’t always seem fair but there is usually good justification for them. You may think you are ready for an assignment or a promotion but your supervisor has a better idea of the landscape you would be walking into and they may simply feel that you are not yet ready. Yes, this is a blow to the ego but you should continue to work hard and prove yourself for the next opportunity – trust me, it will come.
- Never burn bridges
I’m sure your mother taught you this from the moment you were able to plot revenge on others, I know mine did. Seven billion people in this world and it is still small. I was recently contacted by a former colleague who was the CFO at a company I worked at 13 years ago. Not only did he remember the work I had done then but he was impressed with my success in the years since and wanted to get my opinion and assistance on a new project. 13 years and a 2,000 mile move across the country and he found me. Burning a bridge may feel good at the time and it might not haunt straight away, but it will come back to haunt you at some point in your career.
- Don’t think you know it all
You don’t. Seriously, you really don’t. Being book smart and being business savvy is not the same thing. Pleasing a professor with a smart campaign is not the same as giving a client what they want, or what they think they want. An experienced PR practitioner knows that business considerations such as time, budget, bandwidth, IT all have to be considered within every decision. It will take you time to learn that what might sometimes seem simple to do or fix may be much more complicated when all factors are considered.
- Listen to those with more experience
You may not call a person with more experience a mentor, but that is most definitely what they are. If you can recognize that fact, you’re already ahead of the game. By listening to those with more experience you gain the ability to learn both good and bad ways to make decisions, interact with people and conduct business. Not everything you hear from those with more experience will become part of your repertoire but you will draw from it at one time or another as how not to handle a situation.
- Take responsibility
This is a biggie for me. Always, always, always take responsibility for your actions. If you are comfortable accepting the good then you should be comfortable accepting the bad. Your superiors will respect you much more if you admit your mistakes and work with them to fix the problem. Yes, your stomach may turn over multiple times in doing so. Yes, you may get fired. No, it will not be fun, but you will survive. That mistake will be a valuable lesson that you will take with you throughout your career, don’t miss out on it by passing the blame onto others. Additionally, not taking responsibility could lead to a violation of point three which could haunt you at some point in the future.
If you have started your professional career thinking it will be easy and climbing the corporate ladder will be a piece of cake, I am here to tell you that it won’t. I’m also here to tell you that by following a few simple rules it will happen in due time. I am the classic overachiever who thought I should be leading a company by 25 but in hindsight I am glad it didn’t work out that way. I am in the perfect place for me right now and on the days that I have to make the hard decisions I am glad I have a lot of years of experience behind me that can help guide me to making the right choices. On the days when I feel as though I haven’t yet accomplished enough, I remember that I have at least 25 more years of work ahead of me. I am not even half way through my career and I look forward to what I’ll have the opportunity to accomplish in the future.
Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations, Public Relations Society of America