One cannot emphasize too strongly, from a vantage point of having watched the situation for over half a century, that a young aspirant in public relations-or any other vocation, for that matter-should do what all foresighted institutions do: develop a long-range plan. A 20-year-old graduate should decide on what he or she wants to be 5 years from now, 20 years from now, 40 years from now.
A 40-year plan may seem preposterous to the 20-year-old. But unless one harnesses imagination, desire, and ambition to a long period, one may find many years wasted in jobs that have not led anywhere. Frustration of real goals and values results.
Know what you want to get from your professional career and from life. You must be frank with yourself to arrive at such a conclusion. What do you want from life-a peaceful home life, power over people, fame, doing good for humanity, money? Once you know where you want to go, you can plan intelligently to reach your goal. But only objectivity will make planning worth anything. Pay no attention to those who say self-study leads to egotism and neurosis. Self-knowledge makes it easier to reach your goals. If you understand yourself you will have greater understanding of what the world means to you and what you mean to the world. A well-adjusted person harnesses his or her drives to function and directs them constructively. If you understand them you can use them in every facet of a well-rounded career.
If you are unable to gauge your personality traits, tests are available to measure them. Organizations such as the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation measure intelligence and determine enthusiasms for all kinds of matters: commercial, legal, athletic, academic, social, and so forth. These tests help you to determine where your talents lie.
Public relations offers scope for the most diversified aptitudes and personality traits. Choose that field in which you can use them to the best advantage of yourself and the world you live in. If you ignore your own desires and needs and strive for goals that mean little to you, you will fail in your own eyes and be unhappy besides. If home and family are your final happiness, you will not find it in a public relations activity that keeps you traveling. If you dislike exerting power over people, you should not become a public relations spellbinder. If you hate big cities, don't plan for a career that will keep you in one. To avoid error, know yourself.
The second essential for advancement of a career in public relations is to understand other people. This is more than knowing friends and being sympathetic. As an applied social scientist you will be dealing with people and groups, and you will have to know and understand why and how they behave. You will have come to public relations with an understanding of the social sciences and how to apply them. But since this in itself is a science still in the making, you will continue to study periodicals and current books on the subject.
Increase your knowledge of people through personal contacts with all kinds of people. When you speak with others, encourage them to talk of their own interests. Talk to people beyond the confines of your own social, community, or special-interest group. Get their points of view. When you travel, see the entire town and how it lives.
The Way In
It would be logical to assume that if your ambition was to be the head of the public relations department of a great department store you would apply for a position as an assistant in that store's public relations department. Yet you will find that in life matters do not necessarily follow logical sequences. The store of which you want to become the public relations head may have a policy of choosing its new personnel from among employees of a large department store in another city. Your chances would have been much better if you had started there instead of in the store of your choice.
One large corporation I know of had a policy of choosing members of its public relations department from among its brand-name salesmen. If you had wanted to become head of that public relations department, it would have been wiser for you to make application to the sales department and be a salesman for a time.
There are, of course, conventional ways to get a position in public relations, but I would explore them only after I was reasonably certain that the job I obtained through such means led where I wanted to go. One conventional way is through an employment agency, private or public. Another is to advertise in the publication that reaches the public of your choice. The third method is to advertise for the specific job in the specific field that will lead where you want to go.