Once upon a time, I was a public relations intern with no experience besides taking food orders and serving cocktails at a restaurant. This was terrifying because I was about to have a job that I knew nothing about with people relying on me everyday.
Fast forward four months and I was hired on full-time as an account coordinator. This was the happiest moment because I knew I had mastered enough skills to be a full-time employee in a public relations firm and I was beginning what I hope will be a long, successful career. Fast forward a bit more after a few promotions, and I still used these skills every day.
Looking back, I remember thinking, I need to learn basic skills and fast. In public relations specifically, there are a few skills you should focus on in the beginning of your career to build a strong foundation for years to come. If you are starting as an intern or as an entry-level, full-time employee, take time to master these four skills.
Writing a press release (in AP style)
Writing may come easier to some more than others, but in public relations you have to master writing certain types of content early on in your career. One of the most important types of content is writing a press release for your client.
Press releases are used to communicate company news that is of importance to the client. Your client could distribute a press release to communicate executive moves to different companies, mergers and acquisitions, product announcements, awards and certifications, customer wins, etc.
As for writing the press release, basic format will always be the same. When I was just starting out, I referred to this blog post on how to write a press release so that I didn’t miss a beat. Be sure to get as much information on the announcement before writing it. This will save you a lot of back and forth with the client and your team members.
If you graduated with a communications degree or focused on public relations in school, you were most likely taught AP style. In my case, I was a marketing major in the business school who only wrote in MLA style. Like many styles of writing, AP style rules are changing constantly and it’s impossible to keep up. Make it easy on yourself and always refer to the AP stylebook. Press releases will mostly be written in AP style, so keep that guide close by when whipping your next release together.
Building a media list
Whether you have done this in college or not, building a media list comes down to just being a creeper (but not in a weird way). Growing up in the age of social media will help our generation and generations to come with this task (don’t act like you don’t fall down rabbit holes of Facebook/Instagram creeping on friends of friends).
Building a media list starts with determining who you think will be interested in your news. Which reporters write about the news you will be pitching? Which reporters have covered your client in the past? Has that media contact changed their beat recently and might be covering a different topic? All of these are questions you should ask yourself as you are looking up media to add to your list.
Most companies have databases that contain information on reporters around the world. But don’t rely on this too much as no program is perfect and updated constantly. Do an old-fashioned Google search on the person to find their LinkedIn, Twitter and recent articles they have written. Take notes in your list on specific pieces of knowledge you think will be helpful, such as “this reporter only covers product news.” This will give you more insight on if the reporter is a perfect match for your pitch.
Writing a media pitch
This is a hard skill to enter the workforce with because you likely haven’t had to execute media outreach in college. This is actually tricky for everyone no matter what level you are in your career. But having knowledge of why media pitches are so important and what should go into them will be crucial for your entry-level position.
So you have client news to share and a strong, targeted media list. Next you will need to write a pitch. Some best practices for getting the bones of a good pitch started would be to include:
- A subject line that is informational and eye catching—but keep it short.
- An intro that pulls the reader in and is relevant to their interests. This is also a really great place to show that you did your homework and read their articles.
- What the news is, who is announcing it or being the expert for the topic (aka your client).
- Offer a call to action, such as an interview with an executive or a contributed article.
In short, give them the details but not too many. Give them a hook or an angle to be interested in and offer a spokesperson who can discuss further.
Researching client opportunities
An important task that most entry-level public relations specialists own is research. Finding opportunities such as company awards, speaking opportunities and editorial calendar topics that clients can submit for is an important ongoing process. To be successful at this, you need to know the client and what their products/solutions are.
For awards and speaking opportunities, find out which awards the client has won in the past or conferences they attend every year and start making a list to keep on your radar. After finding those, look at competitors to find which awards they have won and which conferences they attend regularly.
For editorial calendar opportunities, look at your media list and see which publications provide these calendars. Reach out to editors to ask for the calendar if it’s not posted on their website. Collect these and look through all of the topics the publication plans to write about. If some of the topics look like a good fit for your client, reach out to offer a spokesperson.
I’m sure the communications majors reading this know most of this information. But if you are like a younger me, looking to start a career in an area you aren’t necessarily an expert in, I hope this helps you grow as a professional in public relations!
What other skills do you think are important for the entry-level PR professional to master? Comment below!