As my undergrad students’ at Curry College first encounter with public relations as a possible career choice, I’m often asked “What do I need to do to get started?”
My response always has these three parts:
- Learn as much as you can while in college…take the required courses for the concentration, and take as many specialized courses as you can to beef up your “book learning.”
- Complete as many internships as you can fit in…to gain hands-on, real-life experience and to figure out, if possible, what you like best and seem to be good at.
- Join PRSA and get involved in your local PRSA chapter. Go to meetings. Volunteer for committee work. Be an active member.
The first two answers get an almost immediate “okay.” The third sparks an inevitable “why?”
Why indeed? Why belong?
For starters, membership is your entrée into and connection with the “real” world of public relations. You are connected to a global community of 23,000-plus like-minded professionals to whom you can turn for advice, guidance, and the occasional “reality check.”
When I joined PRSA, I was new in a bazillion different ways…
- New to the profession in general (I was an English major in college…never studied PR…didn’t know what it was back then.).
- New to the geographic area (my first permanent job took me from the familiar surroundings of Virginia and plunked me down at Ft. Devens, Mass., as Public Affairs Officer (intern to start) for the US Army Intelligence School…didn’t know a soul).
- New to civilian, albeit government/civil service, employment (eight years in the Air Force post-graduation).
My internship supervisor had always championed the “Public Relations Society of America” (he never referred to it as “PRSA”) and urged all his advisees to join and get involved.
I did what he said. Made valuable professional connections; got involved with the Boston Chapter.
- Found my first private sector job through a PRSA Boston job listing…it wasn’t listed anywhere else.
- Made a successful move to Hawaii thanks to connections I made there through PRSA…now long-time, dear friends and colleagues.
- Made the transition from “public relations professional” to “public relations professor” thanks to my PRSA connections and involvement.
Next, membership is your professional continuing education opportunity. Again, my students hear this over and over… “never stop learning.”
Comes the quizzical look and…“But you have a diploma from the Defense Information School certifying that you passed their Public Affairs Officer course. You have three degrees. You have your APR. You’re in the College of Fellows. Why do you need to ‘keep learning’?”
Because, grasshopper, our field changes on what seems like a daily basis. New challenges pop up that demand our response. New technologies spring up overnight that both challenge our ability to “control” the message and add a new dimension to that ability to communicate.
PRSA offers a variety of educational opportunities ranging from local chapter meetings to online webinars to regional on-site seminars to the mind-boggling array of breakout sessions that are part-and-parcel of each annual international conference.
I am celebrating 33 years of active, engaged membership this year, and I look forward to another 33 (give or take!). And I will, at this year’s International Conference in Washington, D.C., reconnect with scores of friends and colleagues who I never would have had the pleasure of meeting had it not been for my PRSA membership.
Why join? So that you, too, can become a contributing member of an organization that, for more than half a century, has devoted itself entirely to advancing the profession and the professional.
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