It’s hard to believe I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary here at Airfoil. As I look back and reflect on the last year – my full first year in the public relations field since graduation – I’m happy to see I’ve never stopped learning.

While it’s quite common to think you know everything there is to know about whatever your major may be upon graduation, and while that may be true for some fields (probably not, but I’ll take your word for it), it definitely isn’t true for public relations. Regardless of the theories, inverted pyramids and storyboards you learned to build through your college experience, there are millions of things you don’t learn. 

Here are the top few key insights I’ve discovered in the past year that might encourage the next inspired college public relations major to reconsider signing up for Underwater Basket-weaving 101 and taking something that may get you ahead of the crowd.

1. Business environment – One of the smartest things I did in college was making sure I had a decent background in the business field, not because I had a ton of free time, but because public relations is not just about writing all of the time. And I’m not talking about just marketing tactics. It’s good to be familiar with accounting, management, information systems and even law. It’s far too common that practitioners are focused on primarily the tasks deliverable from a writing or creative perspective. Hopefully at some point in your career, you also will be tasked with the responsibility of budgets, managing teams and understanding (and fulfilling) contractual agreements.

2. Getting “smart” on a client or industry – Whether media monitoring and finding your client in the news, or identifying significant trends that may affect your client’s industry, there is never enough time in the world to read more and “get smart” on clients. Not only is finding these nuggets of information a step in the right direction, but knowing how to use the information is even better. “How is this information relevant?” or “How does our client fit in?” are good questions to help you get started; then you need to decide the best plan of action for your new found intelligence. What works best with this information when paired with my client’s initiatives? A pitch, rapid response to a reporter or keeping it in the “evergreen opportunities” folder are just some of the ways pieces of intelligence can be used to your clients benefit. While it may be difficult to practice this ever-important exercise when not actually in the public relations environment, it’s definitely a mindset to prepare yourself for when you enter the field – not to mention the habit of always reading and learning what’s going on in the world will definitely be to your advantage when it comes to client service.

3. How to pitch – It doesn’t matter how many journalism or public relations theory classes you take, learning how to formulate and execute a successful pitch is the unsung hero of the public relations field. While it would be nearly impossible to teach students how to pick up a phone and call a reporter (and to know how annoying it may be to the reporters) – it’s never too early to learn about how to formulate a pitch. Unfortunately for most, this doesn’t happen in the classroom; as it happened for me, it will most likely take place at your first desk at your first job in the field. There are no predetermined rules on how to best formulate a great pitch other than to offer a solid hook or lead to get the writer interested in what your client can contribute. Most of that is dependent on (a) what the topic is and knowing how much to offer upfront and (b) your relationship with the reporter – that is, if one even exists. With the objective of not getting too deep into the process, I recommend asking either a practitioner you know or journalism/public relations professor you trust to offer up guidance or samples to get you off to a good start in learning this process before it’s your job.

If you are fresh into college or fresh out, be prepared to continue learning even after you have that diploma in your hand. It’s always easy to shrug off the suggestion that you never quit doing homework, but I can’t reinforce enough how true it is.

Prepare yourself in any way you can, whether it takes place during internships (which are highly encouraged in this field), in the classroom, or in your free time. “Learn more” about fields outside of public relations; you never know when you’ll have the seemingly impossible task of balancing a budget, pitching the latest interactive promotion by a highly visible company or the importance of data backup for small businesses during hurricane season, or representing a company working specifically in the underwater basket-weaving field.

— Megan Martenka