What I Wish I Learned in PR School

continuous learning on PR

Memorized Shakespearean sonnets were still echoing in my mind when I decided to apply for a master’s degree, slotted between short texts of Chicano literature and 60,000 words detailing the parallels between modern film and Victorian-era writings.  

Unlike many of my peers majoring in English literature, I didn’t want to pursue a career in academia. Instead, I wanted to write, so I applied to programs focusing on marketing and advertising. A few months later, I was en route to London to study PR and advertising.   

On-the-job Training or a College Education?

One of the biggest deciding factors when it comes to pursuing any degree in higher education comes down to that degree’s value in its field. Essentially, what’s the ROI? Is it worth taking out loans or spending tens of thousands of dollars on a degree when I can save time and money by entering the workforce sooner rather than later? 

While it varies from job to job, studies have shown that more education generally leads to a higher income. I knew from my time spent interning that I wanted a career in marketing, but I realized this later on in my academic journey, so I didn’t feel prepared to start working right after graduating. By getting an MA, I felt better about my future, knowing I could learn more about the topics that interested me while getting additional work experience. 

In the end, I decided to study in London for three reasons: 

  1. I loved the city. I had previously studied and worked there as an undergrad, so I already had friends in the city and knew the lay of the land.
  2. A shorter term. In my research, I found that MA programs in the U.K. were one to two years shorter than in the U.S. Not only would this save me money in the long run, but it would put me into the workforce sooner.
  3. The right program. I loved marketing and journalism, but I knew very little about PR. My program focused on PR and advertising, which was exactly what I needed.

You got the degree. Now what?

My MA program was split into three sections, and in one year, I took 12 courses, worked three jobs, and wrote a lengthy dissertation. But even after all of that, I didn’t feel prepared for my first day as a publicist post-graduation. 

One reason for this was a focus on theory over practice in my coursework. We wrote one press release and spent the rest of the time analyzing campaigns or constructing our own. While valuable for the creative aspect of PR roles (content creation, outreach planning, campaign building), I lacked the ability to translate ideas into deliverables. 

Another obstacle I ran into was finding internships that solely focused on PR instead of social media or digital marketing. I didn’t know how to build a media list, reach out to journalists, or structure a thought leadership piece for a business publication, but I did know how to design an infographic and write for SEO. 

Despite my efforts, it came as no surprise that my first job was as a marketing and design specialist for a local company. But, after a year of applying, I landed an entry-level role at a B2B PR agency. 

In-house vs. agency

One common thread linking marketing, PR, and advertising roles comes down to who you work for and which audience you serve. In-house typically means a smaller team dedicated to the needs of one company. Agencies can also work in small teams, but they balance their workloads between several different clients.

For me, the difference between the two was night and day. I had more time on my hands when I worked in-house, so I took advantage of online certification courses and volunteered to help other departments with copy editing and design work.

Working at an agency was like stepping onto a high-speed conveyor belt. Having multiple clients meant I was constantly pulled into different projects with various deadlines. Each client had a unique voice and vision that I was required to match. It could have been overwhelming, but it meant I had to learn at a pace that matched the workload. This was the ideal setting for quickly teaching me much of what I needed to know about PR. 

B2B vs. B2C

Since graduating, I have worked with clients serving both audiences, but focusing on B2B early on was instrumental in developing my skills as a young marketer and publicist. There’s a general consensus that working in B2C is easier or more fun, but that’s what makes B2B exciting. You have to be more creative in your marketing and PR efforts because you’re dealing with industry experts at every level of the buyer journey. Plus, you can always take a page or two out of the B2C handbook to refresh your B2B strategy and stand out against the competition.  

Applying Classroom Teachings to Any Role

On-the-job training set me up with the foundation I needed to begin my career in PR, but the theories I learned from my MA program have helped me take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When brainstorming, I lean on the creativity of campaigns I studied to guide my ideas and look for new ones. One example my team came up with was finding a clever way to insert our client’s AI-powered features into a conversation about the Barbie film’s marketing success.

This level of creativity is especially helpful in a fast-paced agency setting. Often, we’re going from one project or client to the next with little time to reflect on our achievements or discuss the latest impressive campaign. But taking the time to understand the success of one campaign is fuel for generating more fresh ideas in the future.  

Whether you decide on higher education, work experience, or a combo of the two, these are the terms and skills you’ll need to understand for a successful first day in PR:

Press releases, media alerts, and pitching

Press releases and media alerts are two ways to share news with an audience. The difference lies in the formatting and distribution. Press releases are typically longer than media alerts and often follow a template with an intro paragraph addressing the 5 Ws. The following paragraphs include quotes from spokespeople, additional information related to the news, a boilerplate, and the publicist’s contact information.

A media alert is shorter, focusing on the main facts and high-level details. Media alerts are usually sent to relevant press or influencers via email and work for smaller news updates, newsjacking opportunities, or tight deadlines. Press releases are also emailed, but they can be posted to PR newswire distribution sites to reach wider audiences. 

Pitching is another term for reaching out to the media. Email is overwhelmingly the medium of choice for pitches, according to 94% of PR pros and journalists, and press releases are the most trusted sources of information. Drafting the perfect pitch varies by industry, topic, outlet, and journalist, but a good pitch will be short, catchy, informative, and enticing. Everything you need to know about securing media coverage can be found here.

Newsjacking and rapid responses

When news breaks, PR experts will move quickly to get brands in front of journalists. This is called newsjacking, or forming a rapid response, and is most successful when brands have relevant, pre-approved messaging ready to share or when spokespeople are available for interviews at the last minute. With newsjacking, your PR team is responding to the latest trending topics to add your brand to the conversation. 

Media monitoring 

One practice essential to PR is media monitoring. This requires you to look up the latest industry news and keep track of coverage about your client or organization, their competition, and any other relevant players. This is also helpful when building media lists as it helps to familiarize yourself with the right outlets and journalists for any topic. 

Media list

Media lists are a publicist’s lifeline. They contain all the necessary information to contact the relevant journalists, influencers, and other media professionals in your industry. Each agency or organization will follow their own structure, but media lists generally contain an outlet’s name, point of contact, email address, and a few notes to help with personalizing outreach. These can be shared across team members and updated as often as necessary.

Media tracking and reporting

Just like media lists, tracking and reporting varies between organizations and campaigns. Essentially, you’ll need to keep track of the date a piece of coverage was published, the outlet it appeared in, the author, the outlet’s readership (if available), the topic, and a link or copy of the published work. Reports will take this information and quantify the value of your PR efforts to clients, so it’s important to be thorough and celebrate your wins. 

Thought leadership

Thought leadership is how industry professionals share their expertise with others in their particular field. This can be accomplished through written work either drafted by a spokesperson or ghostwritten by PR professionals. These pieces are pitched and placed as op-eds or bylines. Awards, speaking opportunities, panel discussions, and other networking events can also fall under thought leadership. 

One goal of thought leadership is to establish credibility for the brand or individual. By sharing valuable insights and offering guidance, thought leaders aim to empower other individuals in their industries to grow, embrace change, and become leaders themselves.

Crisis comms

Unfortunately, crises happen, and if they’re not handled correctly, they can potentially create long-term damage to a business’s reputation, operations, or overall stability. Our crisis communication guide for B2Bs outlines detailed steps and reaction instructions. With a clear plan in place, your PR team will be better equipped to get you through challenging times. 

Media and client relations

What’s a PR pro’s most important role? It’s all in the name. Establishing, maintaining, and leaning on relationships with media and clients is the bread and butter of every PR team. Just like relationship marketing, PR pros leverage media and client relationships to share news and information when the time is right. More relationships leads to larger audiences and forming established relationships with certain outlets can yield greater results for a brand. 

PR Tools

Whether you’re working on content creation, copywriting, pitching, or reporting, tools are a PR pro’s best friend. Not only can they help to streamline processes, they can enhance content and provide necessary, detailed information to improve outreach goals. We recently launched Snooze or News, a first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence PR tool that determines the newsworthiness of a press release. Check it out here

Just like the new arsenal of tools we can expect to shake up the industry, PR is all about learning something new, even several years into your career. Whether that happens in the classroom or on the job is ultimately up to the individual. Both settings offer unique opportunities to grow, so it’s all about finding a program or job that’s right for you. 

Interested in learning more tips and tricks to improve your PR strategy? Read our ultimate guide to B2B PR.


Don’t miss!

Expert-level insights direct from our CEO’s desk.


Explore the latest in B2B PR and marketing

Let’s talk.

Our clients are smart, thoughtful, & forward-thinking.

Sound like you? Get in touch.