Published on February 14, 2018, at 7:07 p.m.
by Alyssa Comins.
People are most comfortable with the familiar. Perhaps that is why it seems most public relations students hope to represent clients in the consumer, fashion, and sports and entertainment sectors. These industries are most visible to the average consumer.
But the agriculture industry needs public relations, too. So do the logistics, technology and health care sectors. Every company needs communication practitioners, and it is important for PR students to consider all sectors before determining their desired industry.
In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for PR students in these low profile industries. According to Inc.com, the largest U.S. industries by revenue in 2017 were health care, business-to-business products and services, financial services, IT services, and construction. Although public relations in these large industries may not be visible to those outside the PR field, it still plays a vital role in the success of businesses in these sectors.
Faith Peppers serves as the director of public affairs for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. Peppers also teaches in the college’s agriculture communication program. She said there are numerous career benefits for students interested in doing PR work for vocational industries, particularly agriculture.
“First of all, it’s recession proof. Regardless of what’s going on with the economy, people are going to have to eat,” Peppers said. “We don’t normally get the big dip in the economy that other sectors in the economy do.”
Peppers said people may be surprised to learn agriculture students are often the highest paid graduates. Furthermore, these students typically have the lowest unemployment rates at graduation.
Public relations industry data confirms Peppers’ observations. A 2017 Forbes.com article noted PR practitioners working in professional, scientific and technical sectors were at the top of the industry’s salary range.
Learning about unique industries
With all of the documented career benefits, why do students seem so uninterested in these large, profitable industries? For many, technical sectors seem intimidating. While it can be difficult to understand highly complex products and services, many seasoned practitioners enjoy the learning process.
Hartley Suter is a vice president at Fahlgren Mortine, an Ohio-based agency named Bulldog Reporter’s 2017 B2B Agency of the Year. Fahlgren Mortine serves general business-to-business clients, as well as those in the technology, manufacturing and logistics industries. Suter said she enjoys learning about unfamiliar industries.
“I think you take a deep breath, and you just jump in with both feet. That’s really the only way to get into a lot of these more complex industries, and it’s fun,” Suter said. “I think the people who end up doing B2B work enjoy the whole challenge of learning a completely different industry that maybe not a lot of people know about or understand.”
Suter acknowledges technical subject matter can be daunting, but she said the worst thing a practitioner can do is be intimidated by the material. Asking questions of those who work in the industry every day is the best way to learn about a complex subject.
“People in the business are often willing to teach, because they’ve made that their life’s work, and so it must mean something to them. It’s important to them,” Suter said. “They take a lot of pride in what they do.”
The passion employees have for their company’s products and services is often reciprocated by the PR practitioners who work with them.
Paul Maccabee is the co-founder and president of his own Minneapolis-based agency, Maccabee. He has worked with a variety of clients, from Cirque du Soleil to addiction treatment centers, but said he gets excited when he’s exposed to new industries.
Maccabee once served a client that made computers for the trucking industry. The technology was placed inside the vehicle and allowed companies to manage tens of thousands of trucks.
“It was fascinating,” Maccabee said. “And the reason, in your career, to do something that sounds a little less glamorous, like in-truck computing PR, is because you get to be exposed to an industry and a part of the world that you would never be exposed to.”
Working in sophisticated industries is compelling, but there’s another reason why PR students should consider careers in these sectors — the work is incredibly meaningful.
“The people who work in agriculture are such good people. I love my farmers. And the people who work in it are there because they really believe in what they’re doing, and that what they’re doing is very important,” Peppers said. “You know, it determines the survival of civilization — to make sure that people have enough to eat, and cotton clothes to wear — and so people are just very dedicated and are just very kind and faithful people.”
Maccabee had a similar realization while working with a local addiction treatment center.
“I’ll never be a doctor. I’ll never be a psychiatrist. But by doing PR for mental health, it enables me in some small way to do something that’s bigger than just selling something,” Maccabee said. “To serve an addiction treatment facility and help them get more people off drugs is something that I never would have imagined would be part of a job description of being in PR. And it can be.”
Yes, the sports and entertainment, consumer, and fashion industries can provide fascinating work. But students shouldn’t discount the less visible sectors. The work completed for these clients can be even more meaningful — in fact, some would argue it usually is.