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Which Path Shall I Take?

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You should know the answer to that one now. Initially, the best career path is one offering a variety of choices. In the example above, we cited the conglomerate as a good example of a company offering a broad-based experience of what public relations work is all about. In other words, a general background in many public relations areas is the ideal foundation for building a career that can ultimately take off in many different directions.

Many college graduates try to secure jobs with one of the many large public relations firms where the opportunities for advancement are virtually unlimited. Not everyone knows what skill-area they'd like to pursue. You might be interested in two areas - writing and working as an account executive. If you're working for a large agency, you stand a good chance of doing both.

Keep in mind that there are also advantages to working for a small firm. In a ten-person firm, for example, you'll get the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. When you're not preparing press releases and media kits, for example, you'll be working directly with clients and planning promotional campaigns. In a small firm you have little choice but to wear many hats.

Ultimately, however, your long-range advancement potential is limited. Or, technically speaking, your vertical mobility is restricted by the size of the company. If you're a junior PR worker involved with our fictitious ten-person staff, it's going to take a lot longer for you to move up the career ladder.

Since there are other junior PR writers and account executives who have seniority over you, you'll have to wait your turn before advancing to the next career notch. Not so with a large public relations agency. In a PR firm employing hundreds of workers, the path to the top is wide-open and clear.

Companies like that are constantly taking on new accounts, and there is a perpetual flow of new workers coming and going within any given year. If you're unsure of what area you'd like to concentrate on, you can get your feet wet by sampling different departments. There is no better way to understand how a PR agency works than by working for a number of major departments.

Many junior PR workers start off in the research department and then eventually move into the editorial and publicity departments. And others wander through several departments before settling in to the account executive or administrative end of the business. Generalist versus Specialist.

Many PR workers, for example, prefer to work on a variety of accounts. They enjoy working with a clothing manufacturer part of the time and dividing their attention among paper products, food and toy companies the rest of the time. They enjoy the challenge of working with companies in different industries, while others would rather concentrate their energy on one particular area.

In the technical sector, you might want to spend the majority of your time working exclusively with engineering companies. Here you're limiting yourself to a specialized area, yet your chances for advancement are excellent as long as you confine yourself to this field. Specialists in any field are usually well paid.

Formulating Sensible Career Goals

Only when you've gotten a taste of public relations work can you formulate realistic career goals. Some people know exactly what they want after working for a company for a couple of years, while others need at least four to five years before they can formulate realistic career goals. There is no time limit for setting these goals.

It depends upon you. The idea is to create goals that are compatible with your personality, motivations and emotional constitution. Not all of us are going to own PR agencies and not everyone is going to earn $100,000 a year either. Goals are relative and personal and it's important to be aware of that from the start.

It takes a special blend of talent and drive to own your own agency. Aside from having a solid understanding of how a public relations firm functions, you also have to be ready to make the time investment. As we said in prior chapters, PR workers rarely work conventional hours. But as owner of your own agency, you can realistically expect to be working around the clock until your company is launched and functioning on its own.

Your goal should be to find that special niche within public relations that allows you to work to your full potential. Most established PR writers, for instance, couldn't imagine doing anything but concentrating on honing their writing skills. And, as you already know, the writing spectrum within the PR field is quite broad. Take PR writers specializing in annual report or speech writing. Both of these areas are highly specialized and require skilled practitioners. Annual report writing, for one, requires a deft writing style, a good financial background and an understanding of editorial production. And speech writing is a skill all by itself. Corporate and political speech writers can name their price. It's not uncommon for a speech writer to earn $50,000 a year, and sometimes more.

They perform an essential skill and it's common practice for one company to bid for a favored speech writer in order to lure him or her from one corporate camp to another. Corporate speech writers enjoy the unique position of being able to leave one job and walk right into another.

Most speech writers, along with most highly prized PR practitioners, are content to remain where they are and perfect their talents and skills to the best of their abilities.

It's important not to set unrealistic goals for yourself. Keep in mind that everyone moves at his or her own pace. Just as we all walk at different speeds, we all move up the career ladder at a pace that is comfortable and compatible with our own natures. It might take your best friend two years to move from the position of junior writer to that of senior writer, while it might take you twice as long.

Time is not the crucial factor here. Your long-range goal should be to be totally proficient within your career area. If you accomplish that, you are realizing your career objective.

A workable suggestion is to set approximate goals for yourself. This way you can tailor your goals to your job situation. Once you've gotten a feeling of what PR work is all about, set up a goal chart for yourself. Two possibilities are the vertical and horizontal charts.
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