I think it’s safe to say that the first year in any major is stressful for most students. It’s a time of navigation, and learning just what classes, skills and extracurricular activities you need to truly set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. It’s hard to figure things out right away, but from someone who has been there, here are a couple pieces of advice to help you along the way as you enter the world of public relations.
1. Learn the basics.
Learn the basics and learn them as soon as possible! You might not know what I mean by the basics, but you will soon realize as every public relations student does, that the basics usually refer to your AP Style and Adobe Creative Suite skills. Sure, every University of Alabama student has to take APR 300 and APR 332 at some point in their PR coursework; but trust me, the sooner you immerse yourself in learning these essential skills, the better you will be at them. Take some time to create simple designs in Photoshop or InDesign. Use AP Style even when writing emails or informal assignments. These may seem like simple practices, but looking back I wish I had known just how important these skills were at the start of my PR journey.
2. It’s never too early to get involved.
“I’m not ready” and “I don’t have the qualifications” were just two of the many excuses I would give myself to justify not getting involved my first year in PR. I was overwhelmed by the students around me who seemed to have the best internships, the best officer positions in clubs and the best résumés. But looking back, I realize that you don’t have to be the “best” starting out. You simply need an eager spirit and a willingness to learn. Don’t think that just because you haven’t had an internship or you are only in your second PR class means that shouldn’t apply for something. Go for it! Take a chance and you just might be surprised at what happens.
3. The title isn’t important.
This was one of my biggest misconceptions starting out in PR. I thought that if my job and officer positions didn’t have the words “public relations,” “communications” or “intern” in the title that they were basically useless. Let me just say that I was so very wrong in having this viewpoint. It only took me a short amount of time to realize that any experience you can get as a student is valuable. Focus on finding any opportunity you can to write, enhance your design skills and perfect your overall communication skill set. Potential employers want to see that you adapted to situations and used your skills in settings that weren’t specifically PR positions. It truly isn’t the title that is important. It’s all about the work and practice you are getting.
4. You need a mentor.
Out of all the things I wish I had known, this one is certainly at the top of the list. It wasn’t until my second year in PR that I realized just how desperately I needed someone to guide me — someone to answer my questions, to give me advice and to simply just be a friend. Whether it is through the UA PRSSA Peer Mentoring program, the Oakley Society or any other mentoring program, I can’t stress enough how invaluable it is to have someone guide you. Having a mentor will not only help you while you’re still in school, but it also can lead to future job connections, recommendations and relationships that are vital to your future success.
Although I could go on and on about the things I wish I had known when first embarking on my PR journey, I would say that these are the most important. Don’t be afraid to take chances and never stop perfecting your skills. If you can do these things, you’re already headed down a successful path as a PR student.
By Anna Claire Toxey, VP of Chapter Communications
With its star-studded cast, catchy soundtrack and less than favorable reviews from critics, "The Greatest Showman" has become one of the most talked about movies this awards season. The original musical paints P.T. Barnum as a idealist visionary who, while dangerously ambitious, provides a community for social outcasts in his quest for success. At its core, the origin story of “the greatest show on earth” is a feel-good family musical rather than a historical biopic, which has led to criticism that its message of empowerment comes off as empty.
Whatever your thoughts are of its message, "The Greatest Showman" appeals to communicators by portraying not only the complicated P.T. Barnum’s insatiable need to entertain, but also how he spreads messages, deals with the press and attracts audiences. Here are just a few examples of what public relations students can take away from "The Greatest Showman":
Evolving communication methods and skills
At the beginning of the film, Barnum advertises his “museum of curiosities” on the streets of New York City by passing out flyers to people who proceed to throw them on the ground. After adjusting his business model, Barnum’s first success comes when people quickly seize his flyers calling on those with odd features or talents to audition for his show. Barnum understood these flyers attracted attention because they were different, and for the rest of the story he strives to present his show as one-of-a-kind. He takes this lesson to the extreme by exaggerating the truth, leading to criticism from the press. As he gains success and attracts audiences from differing socioeconomic classes, moviegoers get to see Barnum’s public relations skills evolve from doing whatever it takes to get attention to trying to navigate communications pitfalls and manage the narrative surrounding his show.
Identifying a need
Barnum has an epiphany when he realizes all people have a natural yet hidden desire to look at unusual people. While there is an ethical dilemma over Barnum’s ideas on exploitation, in offering those cast off from society a chance to control the narrative and stand before those who stare at them in secret, Barnum simultaneously fulfills a previously unmet need for his publics. In general this idea of identifying a need that is not being met and then meeting it is an important principle in public relations and a crucial skill in helping clients gain business, traction in the media and more.
The relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists
While Barnum is not in the public relations business by practice, he serves as his business’s primary communicator. When his show gains traction and attracts the press, we see a budding antagonist in James Gordon Bennett, a journalist who criticises the show for being fake and low-brow. Throughout the film, Barnum and Bennett bicker back and forth. Bennett strives to deliver an unbiased account of a show he finds ridiculous, while Barnum, who sees all publicity as good publicity, keeps inviting him back to shows. They share several conversations throughout the film that humorously depict the relationships between journalists and those trying to utilize earned media.
These three broad takeaways highlight how many of the themes explored in the story reflect issues and skills important in the public relations industry. Amidst the hype and theatrics of the film, public relations students at the very least can expect to be entertained at how much they can apply from "The Greatest Showman" to their own lives and future careers.
By Emily Hillhouse, VP of Diversity and Inclusion
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.