What PR Is (and Isn’t): Advice for Aspiring Professionals

Jean Serra, Co-founder and Partner, Version 2.0 Communications

Olivia_Pope_-_ABCFresh out of college and without a clue what PR was all about, I decided I wanted a career in advertising (because who didn’t want to be Heather Locklear’s character from Melrose Place). I was lucky enough to land an office admin position at a local agency. Of course it’s no surprise that the enterprising, resourceful and short-staffed PR department quickly enlisted me to help distribute news releases (by fax and snail mail back then) and make press calls in between answering the phones. It’s there that I got a glimpse into the business and immediately realized that PR would be the perfect way to blend my interests in business, writing and journalism.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many young women and men who are considering a career in PR, or are just getting started with their job searches. Some have only a faint impression of what PR is all about – a telltale sign is when I hear “I really like people.” Others have spent considerable time on internships working in agencies or corporate communications departments, or taking a bunch of communications and PR courses. No matter your internship experience or what you’ve majored in, a good PR person has strong writing and verbal skills, an innate curiosity and, most importantly, a good head on their shoulders and common sense.

Don’t be fooled by images of pop culture PR mavens like Scandal’s Olivia Pope, Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones or Ab Fab’s Edina & Patsy, who paint a glamorous, party-filled world of public relations professionals. While it may make for enthralling and hilarious television, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what we do all day, every day. Communications is an important, strategic function in any organization – business, academia, government – but it is also hard work that takes a lot of persistence. And, as I often joke with my colleagues, it’s a career that our parents will never quite “get.” We all still get asked “so what is it you actually do?”

So, to young women (and men) about to embark on a career in PR, my biggest piece of advice is to get your feet wet at an established, well-run PR agency. A firm is great training ground for the fundamental skills needed to grow and succeed in communications. You learn how to work as a team and how to manage up and down within an organization. You build multi-tasking, time management and efficiency skills by working on multiple clients. And you’re exposed to a wide range of industries so that you can figure out what’s most interesting and exciting to you. And, don’t be discouraged if after a few years you decide to make a change. This is the time to figure out what’s most interesting and engaging – whether it is a certain industry (consumer, fashion, technology, health care) or a communications specialty (social media, content development, media relations).

So enjoy the journey, learn from everyone you have the pleasure (or even displeasure) of working with and don’t forget to celebrate the successes.

About the Author:  Jean Serra, alongside her co-founder Maura FitzGerald, founded Version 2.0 ten years ago to create an organization that would provide a valuable, strategic service for clients and an environment where employees could learn and grow professionally. Since then, Version 2.0 has grown into an award-winning agency that is led by an all female management and executive team. Prior to Version 2.0, Jean was a senior vice president at leading tech PR agency FitzGerald Communications. During her decade-long tenure at FitzGerald, Jean developed award-winning strategic communications campaigns and managed her teams in their flawless execution.