What comes to mind when you hear PR? Celebrities? Spots on guest lists? A ton of money? Supergluing the headphones of your iPhone to your ears because you get THAT many calls? That’s what a job in PR looks like on TV: from Samantha Jones living in her Los Angeles mansion on the beach with her model-boyfriend to Ari Gold driving cars that cost more than the combined college educations of you and me.
But what does PR really look like? Cortney Collins, a 2010 graduate of Ramapo College in New Jersey fills us in on the real world of her PR job at Honeywell.
Many schools don’t have puublic relations majors. What did you major in at Ramapo?
I majored in communication arts, with a concentration in journalism, because my school didn't have a PR-specific program and I figured journalism would still provide solid experience in writing and media, both of which are key components of PR.
So did you go into college knowing you wanted to do something PR related and thought journalism would help you the most?
I actually didn't always want to work in PR. I originally wanted to be a journalist, because I love to travel and hoped to be a foreign correspondent or at least get the opportunity to travel on a few stories here and there.
When did you change your mind?
I ended up with an internship at CNBC and realized I wasn't crazy about the pace of journalism and the lack of solid interpersonal relationships. I like getting the opportunity to work on projects with a long timeline, really getting immersed in materials and background, and building strong relationships with a core team and that usually isn't possible in journalism careers.
What attracted you to the PR world?
My first internship was pretty late in my college career, so I didn't have the option to switch majors. I thought I'd give PR a shot and see how I felt about it. Ended up loving it, because I still get to write and deal with the media, but I can work on long scope projects and really get my mind around topics. I also love the creativity and I feel like there is always an opportunity to meet new people, which is a great perk for me. Love getting to hear people's stories!
It sounds like a journalism degree could help you do all of those things. How well did college prepare you for working?
My program gave me a strong foundation for journalism, so I feel that I walked away with great writing and multimedia skills. The writing competencies I built in college have been invaluable to me. However, basic PR knowledge, like what 'b-roll' is and how to build a pitch, was never explained to me. I had to learn that all on the job, and having that knowledge would have helped me acclimate and succeed much quicker in the work place.
Is your job as fun as it looks on TV?
I went into PR thinking I could be like Samantha from Sex and the City. I'm now convinced she wasn't actually in PR, because she never worked! PR is exhausting, long hours and little recognition. It's not always glamorous; there are days I'm running all over the state of New Jersey looking for a helium tank or helping executives find their golf bags. It's also the first area to get budgets cut, which is frustrating because sometime you'll work for months on a project only to come into work one day and find out that there is no more funding for your project.
I never saw Samantha Jones looking for golf bags…
Despite this, it's a lot more fun than any other career I can imagine. I'm constantly meeting new people, learning an incredible amount about products, various industries and society as a whole. PR really lets you see what makes consumers tick; it's fascinating. I also love the myriad tasks involved in PR – event planning, project management, media outreach, writing, pitching, public speaking, relationship building, social media. It's never boring, that's for sure.
What makes you want to stay in PR?
The best part about my job is the breadth of tasks I get to do. Sometimes I'm helping to develop a social media standard operating procedure and other times I'm writing talking points for a CEO interview or gathering b-roll of product coming off the factory lines. I get to be creative and learn about things hands-on, which is a win-win. I've met some fascinating people in PR too. And the best feeling in the world is seeing your stories get picked up by top tier media or seeing the fan count on a Facebook page hit 50,000. It's so exciting!