Let’s get one thing straight. Public relations isn’t marketing, it’s not advertising, and it’s not social media. It’s not all about media relations and it’s not just for businesses. The PR I practice is all of these and not just one. The PR I practice is not spin, but is truth and honesty in a truly transparent manner. The PR I practice is both everything and nothing like I was taught.
You go to college for four years, or more, expecting to learn it all — how to write, how to speak, what to say, what not to say, how to reach the media, how to write a press release … you get the idea. And in some ways you do learn it all, and in some ways you don’t, you can’t. Here’s the breakdown.
We write; it’s what we do. It’s what we were taught to do. No matter how good the story, or pitch, or topic, if you can’t write it, what’s the use? That much is true and always will be. What we’re not taught is how to write well outside of class. All the time. 24/7. PR, as a profession, is not just a 90-minute class with a take-home writing assignment. It’s your job, for eight hours, every day. My advice: find your zone, get in it, and never leave.
Now let’s talk style. Where I come from, it was AP Stylebook do or die. Where I currently reside, it’s AP Stylebook do or don’t die, depending on the client, plus or minus a few things. Do I still reference the AP Stylebook almost every day? Absolutely. Do I experience inner conflict every time I have to go against it? It would be wrong not to. But at the end of the day, I was forced to learn one giant lesson: we all have to make sacrifices. And yes, unfortunately, that sometimes means using the Oxford comma (cringe).
Now we get to transparency, the characteristic that seems to get in everyone’s way, but which is really the simplest of them all. During my four years as a PR major, every PR class promised three things: an ice breaker, a mock campaign, and a lesson on transparency. What I could never figure out is why transparency, the most important characteristic, was also presented as the hardest. Don’t get me wrong, the correlation between the two is certainly not lost, but there’s a reason they call it lying between your teeth — because it’s hard, or at least it should be. Okay, so that’s not the reason, but the logic isn’t bad. Look around and you’ll find that the most confident speakers are those who know what they are talking about. When it’s the truth you’re speaking, there’s no lies to remember or stories to cover up. Just facts. Confronting the truth may be hard, but speaking it will be the easiest thing you’ve ever done.
The biggest thing they don’t teach you is that school is never over. No matter your education, there are always going to be lessons that are left out or can’t be taught. These are the lessons that you must seek, find, and hold onto for dear life.
Article originally appeared in the Great Falls Tribune.