Image from Niuton may used under CC license.
After 20+ years in public relations, I still have trouble explaining what I do to my family, friends, and others among the un-initiated. Yes, Don Draper and MadMen helped, but that awesome TV series was about an advertising firm, not a PR firm. I tell my parents—yeah, it’s sorta like that…
Unlike so many students starting out today that plan careers around becoming a PR person, I did not—I kind of discovered it along the way. I had never even heard of the term “public relations” in high school. My guidance counselor suggested that I look into becoming a forest ranger.
Instead I went to college (URI ’85) and became a journalism student, mainly because I was really into Hunter S. Thompson and two of his books—Hells Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 —blew my mind. I really did not have a career plan when I graduated, but I was inquisitive, liked to write and had romanticized being a foreign correspondent.
And so I became a cub reporter. I had two first jobs as a reporter—I was weekend stringer for the legendary-but-seen-better-days United Press International (UPI) in Providence. I re-wrote wire copy and local stories for radio and television newsrooms that subscribed to UPI. I also worked as a town reporter in Colchester, Connecticut for a twice-a-week town newspaper called the Regional Standard (RIP) that was part of the Shoreline Times, an ABC/Cap Cities-owned company. I also had a third job as a pizza maker and short order cook at the local pizzeria. I made more money making pizzas than I did writing stories.
I eventually found a job at a trade magazine called Printing Impressions in Philadelphia after following a girl there. And that’s how I learned about public relations. I’d get calls from firms and press releases sent to me announcing different executives, products etc. Back then they sent press releases via mail—(like Post Office style, not email). I got pitched on story ideas and cajoled by PR people. What was this all about I asked?
And then I was eventually asked to come interview at a PR firm in Boston. I was hired at the legendary tech PR firm, Sterling Hager, Inc. (Version 1.0 in Lincoln, MA). Most people that worked there smoked and drank coffee straight from the pot. Drinks in the afternoon of the alcoholic variety were not uncommon. In many ways, it was a lot like Don Draper’s office.
And that’s how I found PR and my career. I liked what I did. It provided opportunities to learn, to write, to meet new and interesting people and to play with technology. And I liked the salary too. Despite some toe-dipping in other careers (law), I came back to PR, again and again.
I truly enjoy the collaborative experience of working with clients and agency teams, as well as the new tools and approaches to connecting and communicating with target audiences. And I love the PR industry’s newly found stature at the center of integrated communications--earned, owned shared and paid media. These are exciting times to be a PR person and every day brings new challenges and tools to the mix. Every day is different—it’s full of variable experiences. It’s what I love about my job.
My current agency, PAN Communications, which I have worked for cumulatively for about 11 years is now celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And just like the PR industry, our agency has changed, matured and grown. And like the industry, we are still growing…
PR has gone mainstream. It’s the smart career choice of many college students and I envy those that have had an opportunity to study it and pursue a focused career in it. Unlike in my college days, PR is now has a clear career track. And PR is even talked about and understood by those not in the profession.
But I still can’t explain it to my parents.