Unlike engineering, finance or management training candidates, ideal candidates for PR careers do not arrive with attributes that necessarily coincide with any prospective employer's job description for newcomers. A PR director may have plans for several staff additions: two will be young beginners, one may be a transfer who knows something about the company; another may come from a publication with writing experience or from an association's PR with both writing and industry experience.
As in selling, a graduate seldom guesses which employer is the best prospect: he selects several that appeal to him for one reason or another and writes letters asking for interviews. The significant point is that he selects the employer.
He may apply to a company officer with the same result as if he had applied to the PR head or the personnel administrator. In smaller companies he may apply to the president and if he is hired he may go on the president's staff.
The most common symptom of a future PR candidate is an urge to write. That stems largely from PR's own generic ties to publicity and its communicating functions. There is a definite, well established pattern of "writers," from the most embryonic to those with professional skills who find their way into PR. On the other hand, when candidates not equipped with writing skills or ambitions seek a PR position, they most often succeed when their other attributes fit an existing job description. For the purpose of discussing the best ways of entering a PR career we shall assume that the candidate wants to write or already has acquired a certain writing skill.
Racial and Ethnic Considerations: By and large, black candidates, as an example, are not interviewed and handled by color blind executives. However, as their predecessors from black communities know, there are a great many well paid and highly placed black practitioners. Somewhat like baseball's relief pitchers, they are hired and kept for specific situations in business, industry, and even in public service agencies outside the education field.
Black students find their way to an open door most quickly, and most often, by consulting their journalism or other PR oriented faculty member. These often have more requests for black candidates than for "likely" candidates. They rarely have requests where "race is immaterial." Conceivably race may be immaterial to the employer himself, but he has a "public" in mind for each candidate. When it involves black communities the black candidate is mandatory. But he is not an alter ego of his white colleagues.
Ethnic background is a factor for members of minority groups in all communities, but it is not always a negative factor in PR careers.
Evaluating the Community: College seniors busy filling applications and questionnaires tend to follow up potential employers in cities, suburbs or small towns as if there were no material difference. For PR candidates who are older and now employed, whether in another department of the company or on an outside publication, the decision as to city/town location has almost always been made earlier. Even the married college senior has a location choice that he will not have again without changing companies.
For most occupations community size is a matter of taste: the work is the same everywhere. In PR the community is intermingled in the work. PR has a direct relation to its community both as a function for the employer and as an aspect of personal career fulfillment. Even in publicity assignments the procedures and yardsticks vary greatly from city to suburb to smaller key cities.
A newcomer in a large downtown city department store may be given an immediate assignment to get out an announcement on a new department head. While this is often considered one of PR's most elemental functions, it is vital to its subjects; a small error of fact can cause more hubbub than a misprint at the U.S. Mint.
Making the Application: In listing college graduates, organization transfers, publication writers and community volunteers with PR experience as the major sources of PR career seekers, a wide variety of agency type sources were deliberately omitted.
There is a great flow of manpower among a wide variety of communications agencies, but their practitioners usually consider most skills interchangeable, one to another. PR agencies themselves answer to a wide variety of descriptions, but for our purposes they may be defined as groups of PR specialists with perspective on clients' work loads.
These conventional PR agencies very often started life with specialized interests: an industry, profession or institutional field. Graduates with specialized occupational interests can get the identities of such agencies by asking among publications editors and reporters. Whether specialized or not, all conventional PR agencies include publicity services among their major functions. Perhaps the greatest difference between work on the staff of a concern or institution, or with a conventional agency, is that the agency offers a wider diversity of assignments, and more exposure to management levels than is common for staff newcomers.
The PR Ad Agency Connection: From the viewpoint of college graduates interested in communications, advertising and PR may seem interchangeable. In the basic function of each, they are not. But, an advertising agency whose resources may run into millions of dollars usually maintains a PR wing. Some of these are for in house needs, but the big majority work for clients, as do conventional PR agencies. These may be incorporated separately and almost always seek assignments and perform them independent of their parent company.
The number of one and two man advertising agencies and of their counterparts in PR may be about equal. College graduates bent on independence have ways of smelling out these kindred types. In a broad sense: the smaller, independent advertising services are most often ventures of young advertising practitioners who jumped the traces; their counterpart PR agencies are most often hideaways for older practitioners, escapists from staff meetings. There are thousands of well paid and happy dual practitioners advertising and PR in concerns and in agencies.
PR Agencies come in all Sizes: PR agencies have job requirements similar to companies and institutions: whatever their size they offer the varieties of services their clients require. Larger agencies usually have diversified clienteles: business, institutions and associations. This class activity seeks "trainees" from colleges. Many of them sponsor PR studies and scholarships. Uncommitted graduates should make inquiries among these. For agency career information in all parts of the country candidates should write or call their area's chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Differences between staff and agency PR are not great. Most large companies retain an "outside counsel." In many small companies where a single executive or a small staff handles communications, an agency serves all PR needs in a semi staff relation. A majority of the estimated 100,000 PR practitioners work on one or two man staffs in institutions or agencies.
In the largest cities where numerous agencies operate, they tend to specialize in industries or professions. These often reflect the area's economy: financial in New York, governmental in Washington, foods in Chicago and metal working in Detroit. West Coast agencies tend almost entirely toward diversification. Candidates seeking vocational information will find that media people are keen and willing.
Many lean towards agencies for the long term start their PR careers in companies with the intention of changing. The move from concerns to agencies is considered easier than the reverse. Some who leave college with the aim of company careers switch to agencies when they become uncomfortable in staff work, or their salary climb is unsatisfactory.
Graduates with visible capabilities are attractive to agencies that may have two or more clients needing assistance on youth programs. Very few PR agencies, whatever their size or type, are as stable, over the long haul, as average companies in any industry. But agencies generally pay more based on experience and skill than companies, job for job. It comes down to a decision on the type of work preferred. Companies are deeply involved in their industries, almost without exception. Agencies more often become involved after basic decisions.
In career choices the tendency is for those who place economic gain at the top to seek the larger enterprises, in the larger cities. For those who have strong feelings about their environment, or "family" considerations, the smaller communities and smaller enterprises may be better suited. Just about when a practitioner feels that he is approaching his goal of a position suited to his best work, his family needs may demand that he go after more take home pay. In spite of that risk, serious PR candidates should go after the type of job they feel best equipped to do. Financial returns have a way of following.
The Role of Business Associations: Most business associations are essentially PR wings of their industries. While their professional directors may be militant in attacking the industry's foes, staff people in these co operative type agencies seldom develop highly competitive viewpoints common in profit concerns.
PR agencies invariably perform an advisory service in some matters for their clients. Publicity agencies, as well as the more diversified type, may be confined to product support programs in tandem with the advertising agency, but their clients rely on them for decisions on types and modes of media suited. Also, clients often assign the PR consultants to write PR job descriptions and lend a hand in locating candidates.
When a college senior is located close enough to a larger city where diversified PR agencies operate, he can call a principal by telephone or write and ask for an appointment. These senior practitioners are invariably cooperative.
Finding the Good Opening: PR is an attractive profession. There is always a waiting list for the good openings. But openings do occur: this year's graduate becomes a newcomer and next year his maturity makes him a practitioner. In a company, association or agency, he may be assigned to find another alert newcomer from among that year's graduates.
The large associations that serve major industries and institutions are as departmentalized as their largest members with specialized PR and other services meeting members' needs. Except that they cultivate the broad viewpoint, there are only slight differences between these and client organizations. As with PR agencies, there is an active flow of practitioners between these associations and member companies. However, the major trend is from association to company.
Reporters and commentators who are on the lookout for news sources invariably prefer the association over member companies. Awareness of this favored position causes their professional directors to encourage "ideals," rather than exaggerations or other short view attitudes.
Most public libraries have directories of business and other associations identifying them by industries and types of services supplied. Candidates may approach them for interviews, or to learn the names of member concerns that may be in the PR market.
Consultants and PR: There is considerable inter flow among practitioners in PR, advertising, and management and marketing consultants. All of them have experience in spreading their talents over several clients' needs and they understand the techniques for dealing with company and institution managements and with staff members.
In general, PR minded graduates who expect to rise to the higher brackets without abandoning PR find fertile ground for development in these related counseling fields. Their staff function suited to recent graduates often includes communications. Most management consultants provide marketing services such as distribution and communications planning.
Summary: Candidates for PR careers have the opportunity to select their own employer. The first consideration should be geographical location, as related to their personal desires. Cultural background of the geographic location is of nearly equal importance. The size and type of company he prefers to join will be influenced by previous background college, profession, business.
There are always opportunities to move or to change types of employment in PR if the original considerations change.
What considerations govern choice of location for PR application?
What are the advantages of first job with a specialized PR, advertising or consultant agency?