Shelley Spector is the president and co-founder of Spector & Associates, (spectorpr.com) a public relations firm in downtown Manhattan. She also teaches Public Relations in the Communications department at New York University’s School of Continuing / Professional Studies.
Public relations (PR) is one of the nation’s fastest growing fields. It’s also one of the most competitive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects not only rapid growth in the next 3-5 years, but also significant competition for entry-level positions as an increasing number of colleges establish undergraduate and graduate programs in PR. As the market becomes crowded, students should look for ways to stand out and gain a competitive advantage.
The best way to do this is by interning at a PR firm. Choosing the right firm to start your career can make all the difference in building a foundation that you can grow from personally and professionally. Many PR firms use internships as a way to “feel out” and train potential hires before considering them for full-time positions. Getting recognized as having “employee potential” is easier at a small firm because of increased responsibility and recognition.
With regards to the firm that you choose, there are several decisions you need to make about size and areas of specialization. The most important factor is to work in an environment that allows you to thrive, learn and get a sense of your strengths and talents in a real-world environment.
Many intern candidates limit their search to global agencies, believing that having a well-known name on their resume will be the key to quick success. However, most students I have advised tend to have more fulfilling experiences with smaller firms, ones where they can be both noticed and nurtured — firms where they are considered a real part of the team.
Look for firms that will help identify your unique talents and engage you in meaningful projects. Seek out managers who will expose you to a wide variety of clients, industries and situations. Find an environment where employees are encouraged to take creative risks and get out of their comfort zones. Remember, this is the one time in your career when you can experiment and explore with very little downside.
The public relations jobs with the most potential for advancement are not necessarily the ones that are the most popular. In my experience, PR students tend to seek out firms that represent pop culture industries, such as sports and fashion. However, the fields of technology, healthcare and financial services can provide opportunity for public relations students looking to get involved in fast-paced firms with high growth potential.
Public relations can be an incredibly rewarding field to work in, and no matter where they start, I advise interns to be diligent about keeping up to date on industry news and trends and to take initiative on projects. Building a solid foundation of industry and media knowledge is essential to success in any facet of PR.