Surprise! You’re in Public Relations.

October 19, 2011  | By Ketner Group

“Surprise!” is what should be written on your diploma upon college graduation. As is the case for many careers, public relations is one thing taught and another in practice. Earlier this month, I accepted an invitation to speak to the University of Texas’ student-run Tower PR group and was brought back to my college days—days of hope, dreams and eagerness to start a fabulous life in PR.

After meeting such wonderful, enthusiastic future PR professionals at UT, I started comparing what I thought a career in PR would look like at 21 to what it actually is after nearly 5 years of going from internships to account coordinator and executive roles to senior account manager. Now I love my job and I’m sure I chose the best career for me, but one thing is certain: At 21, I had not even a clue what I was in for.

“PR is glamorous.” SURPRISE! It’s not. At all. PR professionals get no public credit for the good work we do, and that’s the way it should be. You work hard all day to win positive publicity for your clients (hardly ever for yourself), and a job well done may or may not be met with praise. PR is very much a “behind the scenes” or “backstage” role, so people who crave being the star of the show should think twice about choosing this underappreciated career.

“PR is all about party planning.” SURPRISE! I wish I could plan parties for a living. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been approached by someone wanting to get into event planning. Party planning is a large, successful industry and is mastered by event planners, designers, caterers and others. It’s a whole other tamale. In fact, it’s on a whole other plate. In PR, you’re immersed in activities such as crafting a corporate message, managing client relationships with media and analysts, and writing case studies, press releases and articles. On the rare occasion that a client throws a party and needs your help, they will likely be looking for your assistance in promoting the party to a targeted community.

“PR is only about press coverage.” SURPRISE! It’s so much more. In college PR classes, they tend to focus heavily on promotion techniques, but hardly spend the appropriate amount of time on teaching students the importance of good writing and truly understanding your journalists. While securing press coverage is a main goal for PR professionals, there are many other aspects to a PR campaign that are rarely touched on in classes. Many PR graduates have never heard of an analyst and analyst relations are a good portion of what we do every day. Professors should also teach PR students how to become fluent in different industries and underscore why being able to intelligently discuss a client’s product, service or industry is important when communicating with press.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who had my glamorous PR bubble popped upon starting my career. Check out what other Ketner Groupies had to say about their biggest surprises.

Catherine Seeds: “I thought there were several basic parts of PR and that was it. Boy was I wrong. I thought PR was all press releases and pitches. I didn’t know what analysts were, we never really focused on learning to write effectively and one of my professors talked about event planning a lot. My biggest surprise is how deep public relations actually goes. Over time, I’ve learned how important it is to develop great relationships with media and analysts that go beyond your client requests—this is the kind of thing that experience alone will teach you.”

Jeff Ketner: “Well, I was an English major, so I didn’t know a thing about PR. In fact, I guess it was all a surprise to me. I was a journalist in the beginning of my career, then made my way into the PR world over time. Something that surprises me every day is the fact that there is never a shortage of bad writers on the client AND PR side.”

Brittany Johnson: “As many PR agencies do, we bill by the hour so I try to work as efficiently as I can and accurately budget how long any given project will take. It came as a surprise to me how often what sounded like the simplest tasks could take so much longer than first anticipated. Imagine you’re assigned to set up an interview. Sounds simple enough, right? Then you find out you’re trying to coordinate six very busy schedules–some attendees are traveling and not checking email, some are five hours ahead in Europe, etc. Suddenly what you (I) thought would be quick has strung out all week, and even that’s only if it doesn’t need to be rescheduled for some reason a week later! Two years in, I know what sort of small projects to watch out for and am able to plan and budget accordingly, but some of the shock at how time consuming some of the “easy” projects are has yet to wear off!”

Eric Pulsifer: “As a journalist prior to joining Ketner Group, I found some companies’ unawareness of the value of PR most surprising. I would have thought every company considers PR a must-have strategy. Someone intelligent enough to start and run a business should have thought of PR as an absolute necessity for growing a successful business. I never before thought I would have had to advocate for the value of PR.”

Are you in PR and have other surprises you’d like to share? In fact, if you’re in any industry and have a good “surprise!” story to share, let us know in the comments!