Four years ago, I was sitting 500 miles away from Alabama in my high school newspaper class with dreams of becoming a sports reporter. I had no idea what PR was — all I knew was that I wanted to end up with a career that combined two of my favorite things: writing and sports. When I got to college, I quickly discovered that there were many more opportunities within communications than I once thought. I learned what public relations meant, and I realized that I wanted to be the one to shape a company’s story rather than just tell it.
I had no clue what lie ahead of me as a result of that one decision to change my major. I did not know what PRSSA, Platform Magazine or Capstone Agency were yet, and I certainly had no idea what a press release, content calendar or RPIE were either, but I would soon learn all of this and much more. It’s safe to say that I’ve had my fair share of highs and lows within Reese Phifer (home of the University of Alabama public relations program), but I’ve emerged with countless lessons in both life and public relations that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Here are a few of my favorites.
Year One, Lesson One: You can’t get very far without a support system.
Whether you’re moving hundreds of miles away from your hometown for the first time or pitching a new idea to key stakeholders in your company, you have to find people who are going to be there to give you constructive criticism, advocate for you and celebrate your successes. That said, the earlier you can find a mentor in this industry, the better you’ll be in the long run. Your professional mentor can become your biggest ally and can help shape the course of your future career. Public relations is built on relationships, and that is something that will withstand the test of any advancement in technology or mass communication.
Year Two, Lesson Two: No one’s going to know how you feel or what you want unless you voice it.
One of the first things you learn in entry-level public relations classes is that you need to find a way to make sure that your message cuts through the noise of the media and reaches your audience. Essentially, you need to find an effective way to make the voice of the company you represent heard. The same goes for your own voice. When you have an opinion on a project you’re working on or are looking to get a promotion or a leadership position, you need to make sure you cut through the noise within your organization and communicate with the right people. You have the ability to control what doors open for you, and not communicating well enough should not be what stops you from reaching your goals. After all, you are in a field that is centered on good communication practices.
Year Three, Lesson Three: Never overlook the details.
When you’ve spent days or weeks working on the same project, it’s easy to want to send it off the second you’re done. However, you never know what you could have missed unless you take the time to edit it. Pay special attention to grammar, AP Style and spelling because even Microsoft Word’s spell check makes mistakes sometimes. Furthermore, it’s always better if you can get multiple people to review your work. Even if you do not think it matters that much, one misspelled or misused word could cost you a client. In writing as in life, the details make a difference between what is good and what is great.
Year Four, Lesson Four: Don’t forget to leave white space in your calendar.
Even though you may hate having nothing to do and love challenging yourself to see how much you can fit into each day, it is extremely important to schedule time for yourself. If you don’t, you’re likely going to experience burnout, which can quickly overpower all of the enthusiasm that you once had for your career. The surefire way to avoid this problem is to leave time in your day for the things that make you happy. Whether that is a lunchtime yoga class or a late afternoon happy hour with your friends, you will never find time for these things if you don’t leave any space in your calendar. And if you happen to not use that white space one day, it will likely be quickly filled by another meeting or unexpected crisis.
Whatever you decide to do while you’re in college — and with your career — make sure you absolutely love it. You only have four short years in college and you never know how long you’ll work for a company, so it is important to go into every experience with a positive mindset, give it your all, and learn a lot. When you love what you’re doing and who you’re surrounded by, it’ll make even the hardest tasks somewhat enjoyable.
Written by Halle Russo, VP of chapter communications.