I spent a lot of my time over the past year wondering what direction to take when I finish my undergraduate degree this year. My mind was all over the place but in the end, I looked at what experience I have, what interests me, and the logical choice that flows from that.
In January, I will be starting the Corporate Communications + Public Relations post-graduate certificate program at Centennial College. I am so very excited about the program, the experiences I will have, and how it will prepare me for a career that I know is right for me.
What is Public Relations?
It seems that the PR community can’t agree on a definition. The Critical Perspectives in PR course I took last year told me that, but even after roaming around the web I can’t seem to find an exact definition.
The Canadian Public Relations Society defines PR as:
“the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.”
My working (and broad) definition, which will change as I go through the CC+PR program, is:
“the practice of managing strategic relationships between a company or organization and its employees and the public. It is about allowing for a clear communication channel between two or more parties in order to develop and maintain a brand, message, or cause.”
According to Inside PR, there are five major segments of PR: Media Relations, Government Relations, Stakeholder Relations, Investor Relations, and Internal/Employee Communications. Within each of these segments, various PR tactics such as writing, event planning, and image management, are used.
Why Public Relations?
When I flipped through my current resume and a few of my older ones, I found common themes that all pointed me towards PR. The most obvious cues in this direction are my internships.
My first internship through UWO was with Big Brothers of London. There I helped organize the ‘Bowl for Kids’ Sake’ fundraiser and communicated with the media, local companies, and current members to raise funds and find participants. My second internship was with IBM Canada as a Corporate Communications intern. It was sixteen months full of amazing opportunities and experiences that had me creating various communication media, working on two different conferences (one which sent me to Japan), and a lot more. My most recent internship, and my part-time job now, is as a Knowledge Engineer with IBM. It is not directly associated with PR, but I am editing technical documents by adhering to publishing and company standards. I see the impact of my work on the relationships between the company and the customers it needs to support.
My other related experiences include being a communications student-at-large for the University Student Council, acting as a communications officer for a club on campus, and helping organize an orientation event in high school.
The more I dig, the more examples I can find that lead me to believe that PR is what I should be doing.
Why more school?
I may have related experience but I am not a fool. I haven’t learned enough about the various PR functions or tactics. I don’t know how to put together a communications plan or handle media relations or write to persuade. I know that in order to succeed in this industry and to be at the same level as my fellow job hunters, I need to take a practical college program that will equip me with all the tools and knowledge and connections that I need.
Beyond its great reputation for successful graduates and a quality program, Centennial is recognized for its additional focus on social media and online PR.
Not only am I interested in social media because of my technical background, but I have been active in one way or another online since 1997. At IBM, I worked with some great people who are proponents for social media and are enthusiastic about recognizing the benefits of social media practices for companies. From all that I have learned (and I will write about this at another time), I believe that it is a mistake as a PR practitioner to ignore the Internet and its impact on communications. There are many great tools that can be used online and there is an ever-increasing expectation that new PR students are able to use these tools successfully.
To quote the Inside PR team:
“Social media gives us another really powerful tool to use … [as] media relations is tougher now than it has ever been. There are fewer cameras chasing more stories, and certainly in the Toronto market and in other large urban centers, it’s really tough to get media coverage unless you have a really good story. So why not explore those tools that allow us to reach beyond the narrow confines of earned media and take our message directly to the audience that we’re trying to reach … It gives us more control to reach a better-defined audience with a message that we can deliver on our own terms. … In five years, those who don’t know social media in the public relations space will be the equivalent of those, currently, who don’t do media relations in PR”
So now what?
I have been following PR-related blogs for a while now and as I finish off my last undergraduate semester, I would like to start participating in the online PR conversation. I used to write a lot in the past and I think I need to start writing again to document my thoughts and experiences, as well as to participate in these interesting conversations.
I have pulled together some old blog posts from some of my old blogs but from this post on, I will be writing new material here.
Hopefully not all my posts will be as long as this one, but I welcome all comments and suggestions.