Career Counseling: Years of Advice for PR Professionals

May 1, 2017

In keeping with the issue’s career development theme, we collected words of wisdom from Profiles in PR features published in Tactics through the years. (Job titles reflect the subject’s position at the date of original publication.)

The sage advice from these communications professionals remains as relevant today as it was at the time of these interviews.

“Learn how to tell a story in a variety of formats (videos, text, lists, Q-and-A, photos, podcasts). Practice your writing skills. Be curious about what’s around you. Use internships to get experience, make contacts and test the water to see if public relations is what you want to pursue.”

— Carolyn Martin, associate director of public affairs, Smithsonian Institution (Sept. 2015)

“If you’re looking to break into the PR profession, then you need a unique offering. Think about how your experiences can be assets for the role you’re seeking. I recommend young professionals get exposed to the many functions of business and public relations early on, and pursue an internship at an agency or company to learn the ropes.”

— Netta Conyers-Haynes, internal communications manager, Facebook (Aug. 2015)

“My advice would start with: Be flexible. Be willing to do new and different things and, above all, take risks. Study your craft, the industries that interest you — and the ones that don’t. You’ll be surprised where you’ll get your first big break. Know what’s happening in your community and around the globe.”

— Terri Hines, vice president of global PR and communications, Converse, Inc. (Dec. 2013)

“Be passionate. Communicate with intent and purpose. Don’t just get a job — build a career.”

— Maria Brous, director of media and community relations, Publix Super Markets, Inc. (May 2013)

“My advice has always been to ‘follow your heart’ and do what you love. I’m fortunate that my career reflects my personal and professional interests, and it makes me that much more effective and the job a lot more fun.”

— Scott Gediman, assistant superintendent for public and legislative affairs, Yosemite National Park (June 2013)

“Intern and read a lot. I want to see that a young professional has both hands-on experience and opinions on the industry, and is up on best practices and new innovations in our profession.”
— Erin Allsman, APR, vice president, public relations and social media director, Brownstein Group (Oct. 2013)

“Take whatever job will get you in the door for the profession you are trying to pursue. Then navigate to where you think you may want to eventually land.

Join and network with organizations that will help connect you to that profession, but do it strategically and make sure you can point to how it is helping you. I’m a big believer in intellectual curiosity and you can never know too much. Especially in communications, where things are changing every day and being relevant is crucial, it is imperative to stay on top of best practices and learn what is working for others.”

— James L. Anderson, senior vice president of communications, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (July 2016)

“Learn to read with purpose and fall in love with information and news consumption. You cannot do this job well if you don’t love to read and you cannot write well. Get an internship as soon as you can — preferably at an agency. Agency years are like dog years; one year’s work is equivalent to seven years of experience and exposure.”

— Andrew McCaskill, APR, senior vice president, Weber Shandwick (April 2014)

“In addition to having strong PR skills, make sure you learn about the issues that are important to the CEO and the organization: strategic planning, budgets/funding, personnel, etc. You add the most value when you are knowledgeable of, and can add value to, these discussions.”

— Paul Kincaid, APR, Fellow PRSA, chief of staff and assistant to the president for university relations, Missouri State University (March 2014)

“Think of yourself as an important contributor of any business. Don’t see public relations only as organizing media events or talking to journalists, but as a critical role within the organization. Know your business numbers; be quick to respond to crisis.”

— Vivian Kobeh, communications director, BlackBerry Latin America (Nov. 2015)

“Expect change and embrace it. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

— Marlow Daniel, director of PR and communications, Francis Ford Coppola Presents (Sept. 2013)

“Beyond honing your written and verbal communications skills, the most important bit of advice would be to find an area in which to work that he or she is passionate about. The best PR practitioners are those who can immerse themselves in knowing the ins and outs of an industry, not because they have to but because they want to.”

— Keith Nowak, director of communications, Travelocity (Dec. 2015)

“Read, paying special attention to good writing and important current events. Be a news junkie. Always continue to improve your writing skills. Be active in professional organizations. Build your network. Develop your skills in social media and design. Write. Get published. Collaborate. Volunteer. Document and quantify your accomplishments.”
— Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, associate professor and chair of the department of public relations, Belmont University (June 2014)

“Learn to write — please! Be willing to start at the bottom, just get in there and do some work. Learn and look for opportunities that present themselves where you can grow. While I never strayed too far in my 34-year career, it was definitely not a straight line to where I am. I took chances, pay cuts, risks. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it in the end.”

— Karen Hamilton, director of communications, Lagunitas Brewing Company (Sept. 2016)

“Write as much as you can. Write for work. Write for pleasure. Like any other activity, the more you do it, the better you become. If you have a certain profession in mind, understand the economic drivers, consumer needs and reputational pitfalls.”

— Gene King, director of corporate communications, H&R Block (April 2015) 

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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