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Trial and Error

Posted At: July 19, 2013 4:40 p.m.
by Gillian Richard

Internships are a crucial component to not only your résumé, but also to growing as a PR professional. These experiences are an outlet to make mistakes, learn from them and become more seasoned at handling crises.

That being said, I’ve been told that you have to learn not only from your own mistakes, but the mistakes of others because you don’t have time to make them all by yourself. Since I have plenty of hours invested in internships, enough to have earned the title of “Internship Queen” from my family, I’ve also gotten quite the laundry list of errors made. These are not all mistakes per se — just lessons learned along the way. Use them to your advantage.

Before you break a sweat, make sure it’s necessary.
One of my internships was covering Friday night football for a local TV station. My part of the reporting was to record numbers and key players to accompany the highlight reels. I spent the first few weeks running up and down the sidelines behind the camera guy to make sure I was doing my job right. By the end of the game, I was soaked in sweat and worn out, and I often didn’t catch the numbers of the players. Halfway through a game about mid-season, the camera guy turns to look at me (I imagine I was doubled over trying to breathe) and says, ”You know, you can do your job sitting in the stands.” The moral of this story: If you don’t know, ask. A simple clarification can save you time, effort and, in this case, sweat. Lots of sweat.

People do not like Vienna sausages in July.
A.K.A. If other people don’t understand, explain. The biggest event I’ve undertaken so far was part of an internship last summer with a Minor League Baseball team, the Huntsville Stars. From conception to the night of the event, I spent several weeks planning The Hunger Games, a game-long eating competition. To surprise my poor, unsuspecting participants, I decided to throw them a few curve balls of my own throughout the game by advertising “Good food with a few surprises.” One such curve ball was the fact that each contestant had to eat two cans of Vienna sausages. This did not go down easy, literally or figuratively.

There was a big disagreement over what exactly the rules said, and two contestants dropped out because “this was not what they had signed up for.” Be cautious when using the element of surprise, and make sure your rules and objectives are clear, especially when people’s stomachs are involved.

Also, be prepared to stand by what you’ve previously stated. People may not like the rules, but that doesn’t mean your rules (or whatever applies here) are bad. Handling situations with tact doesn’t mean automatically backing down.

Wade into the river.
My current internship is all about social networking, and not the kind you do online. My job description includes being one of the go-to people in Tuscaloosa for Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Save Our Water campaign. These participants are bar and restaurant managers all over the city, and trying to convince them to dive into a campaign they get essentially nothing from can be somewhat challenging and, quite frankly, a little scary. My public speaking skills have never been something I’ve prided myself on, but throughout the past few months I know for certain they have improved. Getting out of your comfort zone is part of public relations. I would say it’s one of the most crucial parts of working in this field, actually.

As a matter of fact, getting out of your comfort zone should be a goal you try to obtain, whether you do that by taking a job in a new city, or by starting a project and building it from the ground up. My approach to breaking out of my comfort zone has been to take internships in several different branches of PR: nonprofit, sports, higher education . . . the list goes on. From each experience (and the previous ones are by no means a comprehensive list of the blunders I’ve made), I have come out on the other side knowing a little better how to handle so-called crises, people, but most importantly, myself. And being able to say that is more valuable than any of the other lessons I’ve learned so far.

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