The Gong Blog

Changing Careers to PR: A Tactical Approach

I talk to a lot of young people who are interested in finding a job in public relations. They typically fall into two buckets. There are the recent graduates, wide-eyed and earnest, who really just need to catch a break and find that entry-level opening. If they’re lucky, they have some PR-related internships under their belt, and I have a personal prejudice toward those who wrote for their college newspapers, although, sad to say, that is a rarity these days. But between their degree in communications and some extra-curricular experience in public relations, they ultimately just need to find that sometimes elusive opening.

The more challenging candidates are those who have found themselves headed down a career path where they don’t recognize themselves. They may be five years or so out of college and are waking up each day to a job they hate, most likely because it is not tapping their skills and interests. But public relations, if they could just get a job in public relations, that is really their true calling, they’re just sure of it.

They could be right. We look for people who are creative, detail-oriented, who have solid interpersonal skills and can juggle a lot of balls at one time. And in public relations, we need writers and those who understand and have a keen interest in the news media. But even if someone does have all those skills, the extra hurdle they must now cross is that they are now competing for PR jobs against people who have five years’ experience and a track record of doing a lot of those things already.

That said, there are ways to overcome this hurdle; it just takes a bit of extra effort. Here are some strategies to consider:

Look for internal opportunities

If you’re interested in public relations, let the folks in your company who are doing PR or marketing know of your interest, and ask them to give you an assignment – perhaps it’s writing some blog posts or articles for the employee newsletter. You’ll likely need to do such work after hours so as not to interrupt your current responsibilities, but many PR departments would be happy to have extra arms and legs. By doing this, you’ve now rebranded yourself as someone in marketing, and you have experience you can shout about on your resume.

Become a freelancer

There’s not a job in public relations that doesn’t involve needing solid writing skills, so find places to showcase your talents. One of our staffers does food reviews for local publications, which not only gives her a regular byline but helps reinforce her public relations skills because it forces her to think like a reporter. Find something you are interested in. Maybe you can cover high school sports or have a passion for the outdoors or have caught the political bug. Whatever it is, find a place to show off your writing talents, even if the pay is negligible (hint: it likely will be).

Go online

Along the same lines, consider starting your own blog where you can regularly express yourself and demonstrate your understanding of social media. I used to be on the marketing committee for the Biotech Park, and a young scientist also on the committee asked me to lunch one day where she confessed to wondering why she was in a job where she stared into a microscope all day. She needed to reinvent herself, and so she started a Tumblr page that focused on all the fun things to do around Richmond for Millennials. That became her dominant identity, and so when she applied to a local marketing job that targeted Millennials, she was a shoo-in.

Change universes

I always tell young people, “there’s your perfect job, and there’s your next job, and it’s a rare occasion when they are the same.” In other words, you may be aspiring to land that perfect job in PR, but it may be more realistic to find a position that is simply within the universe of public relations, say in marketing. It’s important to start thinking of yourself as a marketer, and so throw a wider net over those kinds of opportunities and don’t limit yourself too narrowly.

Volunteer

Most nonprofits would welcome help in the communications and marketing field. Find a group that you have a passion for and connect with their PR person (if they don’t have one, then the executive director), and tell them you want to help them get the word out about them. Help write their email newsletter or contribute regular blog content (since most say they don’t have the resources to afford to do it on their own). If you’re local to Richmond, check out the job board at ConnectVA.org to get an idea of the kinds of marketing experience that nonprofits are looking for.

Socialize

Start to think of yourself as a marketer or a PR professional, so make it appoint to attend local PRSA and AMA lunches and Richmond Ad Club happy hours. Get there early and get to know people. Be curious. Ask young people how they got their start. Look for opportunities to take on a project here and there. Even better, get involved from a leadership capacity and help plan events.

The hurdle may be high, but I see young people making career changes to public relations and marketing all the time, largely by adopting one or more of the above strategies. Good luck.

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