Advice for students entering PR and communications in the digital era

This item was filled under [ Public Relations, Social Media ]

This post is prepared just ahead of my return as a guest panelist at Humber College. I outline how my career has evolved since graduating and close with some parting advice. What advice would you offer to the next generation of communication professionals?

I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 1992 with a B.A. in Communication Studies and followed it up with a one-year post-graduate certificate program in PR at Humber College. My experience at university taught me how to think, while my year at Humber really taught me how to apply my thinking and do something with what I knew.

I entered the workforce in 1993 and landed my first full-time gig at Fleishman-Hillard (FH) Canada, an international PR firm that had just launched a Toronto office. I was hire #8, if memory serves me correctly.

I was keen. Energetic. Learning all the time.¬†You know what. I still am, largely because of the path my career has taken. When I started at FH there was this “new thing” called the Internet. I was “voluntold” to go learn about it at our world headquarters. What a cool opportunity for a 24-year old. I got hooked. The early Internet adopters in the PR industry were far and few between. By age 28, I was a true Internet PR pioneer and had some incredible perspective and expertise.

The pace of my career development hasn’t slowed down. I left FH to work at Canada’s largest PR agency at the time, NATIONAL. The PR industry still wasn’t ready for the Web, so I spent a couple of years on the ad side of the business where interactive was rocking. I learned so much in that experience. I learned that I was ultimately a communications professional, not an ad guy. I migrated back to PR, working at NATIONAL again and then iStudio, a web communications agency. I found my home.

After six years I left “home” for the streets of New York where I returned to FH after more than a decade. I was given the opportunity to launch a digital, social and emerging media practice in the most marketing-savvy place in the world. I rocked NYC. I think there’s an old Sinatra song about it.

When I arrived a battle royale was taking shape on Madison Ave over social media. “Who owns social media?” My team was the powerhouse, scoring many truly exciting accounts and world-class projects. We were the winning team, educating the marketing world about social media. We still are.



So why am I writing about this today? Well, the kind folks at Humber College (actually, the students that occupy the seats I did 17+ years ago) have invited me to join a panel exploring the future of PR and social media. It should be fun. [photo: I am on the far right in this picture. Click on it for more images of the era].

My advice to the professionals of tomorrow?

Never stop learning

The next generation of PR professionals is entering the industry at a time of great turbulence and opportunity. It’s exciting and unpredictable.

PR is being reinvented

It’s not just PR that’s changing. Marketing is going through unprecedented change too. Chances are what you’re discussing in the classroom today will be a solid foundation but not necessarily a road map for your career.

Be courteous and creative on the job search

Last year at Personal Brand Camp, one of the comments I suggested was to deliver “personalized introductions and creative thank you’s.” There are many people competing for jobs and employers are becoming more specific in the desired skill set for new employees. A personalized introduction shows what you know about the company and the person hiring and effectively communicates why you’re a great fit. Be passionate. Be smart. A creative thank you reinforces your strengths, shows what you can do and catches the attention of the person making the hire.

Stay connected

Your classmates will do some exciting things. Social platforms allow you to stay connected and continue learning from each other. Share your experience. Ask your friends for advice. Introduce each other to new connections and invite each other to cool events.

Stay current

In turbulent times you need to keep your ear to the ground. Figure out how to stay on top of the trends relevant to where you are working or want to work.

Work is life, but work to live

If you’re working in social or digital worlds, it’s a 24/7 world. People struggle to find work life balance. Some argue that there’s no such thing any more. There is, but you need to figure out how much you’re willing to work and learn, and when you need to make time for yourself. You’ll figure it out. Ask others how they manage it.

So, those are some thoughts. Careers can be totally predictable or completely unpredictable. It depends on your personality. I like mine to be predictably unpredictable, especially leading the charge in digital and social. Predictability results in complacency.

How do you react to this? What other tips or advice would you offer? Leave a comment below.