Published on April 8, 2021 at 11:58 a.m.
by Rachel Breeding.
The public relations industry is often referred to as broad, with so many different fields and career opportunities to choose from with a public relations degree. For many high school and college students, the idea of having so much flexibility in their future careers is what draws them to studying public relations.
However, after beginning college coursework and expanding their networks, many of those same students find themselves being pushed into a career at a PR agency or firm. From more publicized internship opportunities being at large agencies to agencies and firms dominating career fairs and events, the “agency life” is constantly being sold to students planning their futures as the quintessential PR career, but that is just not true.
The truth is this: The PR industry truly is as broad as people say, but so many of the jobs and career opportunities that fall under the PR umbrella fly under the radar for stressed students looking to secure promising internships and jobs after graduation as quickly as possible.
Two industries that require public relations work but are rarely presented as options to communications students are local industries involving community organizations and the manufacturing industry.
Industry professionals working in these fields can help shed light on more “unique” PR careers by discussing their journeys from college to career, covering the PR skills they use daily and sharing advice for current communications students looking for a career beyond the agency.
Helping communities thrive: PR at a local chamber of commerce
Olivia Bradford, director of communications and events at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, said her job varies daily, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Sometimes I’m out in the Shoals visiting businesses that are current or prospective members of the chamber, and sometimes I’m behind my desk doing everything from writing press releases and promotional materials to planning events to doing primary and secondary research,” explained Bradford. “I deal directly with the local media and elected officials, constantly communicate with people on behalf of the chamber by email and phone, and monitor the press for any mentions of the chamber and its affiliates every day.”
Bradford graduated from Auburn University with a B.A. in public relations in the fall of 2012. The summer before her final semester, she interned at a large PR agency specializing in the music industry in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and she quickly realized she hated agency work.
“I just knew I was meant to work in the entertainment industry in Nashville, and I was so excited to get that internship at such a respected agency,” said Bradford. “It was a great way to gain experience, but it also helped me realize that I did not enjoy the agency work I thought I was going to do for my career. Since then I’ve been on a non-stop career journey.”
Bradford worked in the entertainment industry in Nashville for a few years before finding herself in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, after her husband, a Shoals area native, felt called to return home.
Upon arriving in the Shoals, Bradford worked in administration for the University of North Alabama, eventually becoming an administrator for the university’s president, before she was asked to be the director of communications and events for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.
“I never saw myself working the kind of communications job I do now. I’m not in the entertainment industry. I’m not at a large agency. I’m not in Nashville, but I love where I am and I know it’s the right place for me,” said Bradford.
Bradford’s advice to current communications students is to remember that the opportunities are endless and to not be discouraged if their careers don’t go in the direction they’d initially hoped.
“More than anything, professionals need to remember that if they have good interpersonal, leadership and conflict management skills with a carefully curated personal brand, there is a communications job out there in virtually any industry,” explained Bradford. “Do as much research as you can, network and ask thoughtful questions, and you will find the right PR career for you.”
Factories need a public relations professional too: PR in the manufacturing industry
Savannah Vickery is the communications specialist for Constellium Muscle Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Constellium is an international aluminum manufacturer, and the Muscle Shoals facility is one of Constellium’s largest plants in the world.
When asked about her day-to-day responsibilities at Constellium, Vickery said, “I am responsible for ensuring our workforce stays engaged and informed, and considering we have 1,200 employees with a little under half who don’t have access to company email, this can get complicated.”
Many of Vickery’s responsibilities at Constellium fall under internal PR, maintaining communications and relationships within her organization rather than with external publics. Internal PR is another area that’s often glossed over or simply not mentioned when discussing PR careers, but Vickery’s vital role in her company shows just how important internal communications are.
To ensure important communications reach all plant employees, Vickery develops creative ways to communicate to operators on the floor, including plant-wide TV communications and direct communication through media like print-offs and banners.
Vickery’s college to career journey is proof that what one studies in college or does at an internship is not always where he or she will end up.
Vickery graduated from Auburn University in 2019 with a B.A. in journalism rather than public relations, but she gained valuable PR experience as an intern for Auburn Athletics during her college career, serving as a media relations assistant for Auburn’s football and baseball teams.
Describing her current career, Vickery said, “I truly never imagined myself working in the manufacturing industry, but I love it. I never see myself getting ‘burnt out’ because I literally do something different each day, and you can’t say that about all careers in PR and communications.”
Vickery said her advice to current PR and communications students struggling with their future careers is to get experience in any way they can.
“The experience you get while in college will make all the difference when you are applying for jobs after graduation,” Vickery noted. “I am a prime example of this — I had no real professional experience in the industry I’m currently in, but my résumé was stacked with my intern experience at Auburn, and that was impressive to Constellium — the rest is history.”
These industry professionals are proof that there are successful communications careers far beyond the walls of a PR agency. It’s easy for many students looking ahead at their futures to get lost in the idea of the “expected” PR career, but the fact of the matter is that the opportunities truly are endless in the world of public relations.