This spring I filled in as an affiliate professor, teaching Intro to Public Relations, at Loyola University in Baltimore. The department chair seemed sheepish at the prospect of asking someone with my experience to teach the basics to freshmen, “I understand this may be rudimentary and not very interesting for you, but we could use someone there.”
For me, though, nothing could have been further from how I felt. I love the fundamentals; revel in them, obsess over them, take long walks on the beach with them – it’s not uncommon to find me and the fundamentals watching the sun set on a forested valley from the comfort of our matching porcelain bathtubs. You get the idea.
The basis for my love of the fundamentals is the same as my love for my special lady – I’m happier, more successful and generally more content with them than without them. And to take the analogy one step further, forgetting they’re there or taking them for granted is what gets me into trouble.
During a guest lecture to public relations capstone students (who just happen to be graduating this week), I was asked what I thought were the most important things to focus on as a new practitioner. This is what I told them:
- Get a Solid Foundation
You’ve studied the theory – don’t cast it aside as you learn the practical application of your craft (though peers and supervisors may insist you should). I’ve found people in this business generally fall into one camp or the other; theory vs practical application. I’ve had a lot of success applying both. One supports the other. They are not mutually exclusive.
- Always Know the “What” and the “Why”
Know what your communication objectives are and be able to explain why those objectives are valid before you start answering the who, where, when and, most importantly, how. If you can’t settle on the what or you’re unclear on the why, your decisions, strategies and tactics will fall off the mark.
- Learn How Communication Objectives Relate to Business Objectives
Business objectives trump communication objectives. Period. It’s not enough to simply grasp this concept philosophically, you need to be able to explain it. Getting an article in the weekly paper about the new facility coming online is great – congratulations; you’re now among the select few who have done something similar (by select few, I mean everyone.) Now be able to tie this placement directly to the operation success of the organization and you’ll be on your way to pro status.
- Be Nervous About Making Mistakes …
… but don’t be afraid to try. When I was training Coast Guard public affairs specialists I would tell my staff I wanted the new graduates to leave the school a little nervous about the job they were about to do, but confident enough in their training to know they could do it. It’s important (read: crucial) to volunteer for things outside your comfort zone. It’s okay (read: normal) to be afraid of failing but the fear shouldn’t stop you. Failing is still one of the best ways to learn. Remember, it’s not the failure that gets noobs fired or relegated to the phone desk, it’s how a young practitioner reacts and responds to failure.
- Read Brandon’s post: 8 Tips on Embracing Your Apprenticeship
Because now that I think of it, his tips are way better.