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So You Want to Be a PR Professional? Advice from Jack O’Dwyer

Posted At: May 1, 2009 10:22 AM
by Martha Griffith, Contributing Writer

Jack O’Dwyer serves as the editor-in-chief of O’Dwyer’s Public Relations News, which has been covering the field for more than 40 years. In addition to the Web site, the company is most famous for the publication of its directories that keep track of information for PR firms throughout the nation.

We have been hearing a lot about the dwindling economy, and while many are optimistic that we have reached a stabilizing point, Jack O’Dwyer says that our current job-seeking climate might be the most difficult since the 1930s. But with such great experience both in the field and monitoring it, he offers some advice for those wading through the process.

1. O’Dwyer says, “Getting published somewhere is a key to landing a job.” Whether it is in your school paper or publication as a result of an internship, it sets people apart today. Also, never be afraid of pitching your work in order to get it published.

2. Don’t get so blinded by social media that you forget about traditional media. O’Dwyer said, “Social media are important today but clients also want placements in legitimate media.”

3. “Don’t hesitate to start a freelance business of your own,” O’Dwyer said. If you do freelance, though, be sure to spend at least half of your time prospecting for new business. Also, joining local business, charitable, PR and political groups can help in this process. By making friends, you can make business.

4. Don’t let the negative connotations associated with lobbying deter you from exploring this area of public relations. O’Dwyer said, “Many former ‘PR’ jobs are now in the D.C. area as lobbying jobs.”

5. Working for a political candidate is a good way to break into PR (and lobbying, too). You really learn how to influence others through working for a campaign.

6. O’Dwyer said, “The best entry is by working for a news medium.” The contacts you gain with community and business leaders can help you in the long run in your PR career. Earlier in the history of public relations, almost everyone entering the field worked for a news medium. It showed that you knew how to write and think.

7. Learn to create and manage Web sites. Also, know the technology you will be required to utilize like Dreamweaver, InDesign or Photoshop. You might even want to tackle audio-visual technologies or just simple copywriting skills. O’Dwyer reminds students and professionals that PR firms today provide a multitude of services, and if you have these basic software and writing skills, you will be a more valued employee. Further, he said, “PR firms today are very close to being ad agencies.”

8. “If there is no local PR group, you and other recent grads should start your own group,” O’Dwyer said. Elect officers, prepare programs and organize meetings. This looks great on a résumé and can provide valuable contacts in your community.

9. Show interest in a particular field. O’Dwyer said, “You need to ‘build’ a résumé that shows interest in a particular field such as health care, finance or technology, to name the three most popular.” If you want to do PR for health care, do not be afraid to major in the sciences. The same goes for technology, business or any of the other fields that interest you. Build your résumé to match your interest.

10. If necessary, think about adopting a business name. O’Dwyer reminds students that many entry-level jobs require employees to call lots of reporters each day, and it is necessary to make your name easy to understand and spell. He said, “Quite often you will have to leave your name to voice mail and you could spend a lot of time spelling out a complicated name letter by letter.”

11. It is easier to move from agency work to nonprofit work. O’Dwyer warns that it may be hard to move into the competitive world of firm work after a nonprofit stint because you may be perceived to be less competitive than others being considered for the same job, and in many firms, a competitive edge is valued.

12. Do not forget about PR service companies. These companies do things such as design, audio-visual production and printing. O’Dwyer says these service jobs can lead to jobs at PR firms or corporations. He said, “Those at service companies are often paid more than those in ‘PR.’”

By following these steps, it may be easier to gain a foothold in the field. Competition for jobs in this economy is stiff, but that does not mean there is nothing students can do to help them prepare or even alter their outlook on what PR can be.

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