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November 4, 2008
Standing Out
How to get ahead in today’s difficult job market.

With financial markets collapsing all around us, a real estate crisis of gargantuan proportions and an economic environment similar to – if not worse than - the Great Depression era, it is no surprise that the job market today is extremely competitive. Companies are tightening their purse strings and learning quickly to do more with less, and as public relations professionals we must respond to these needs with streamlined processes, well-executed plans and clearly proven return on investment.
At a PR agency nothing makes this more possible than having the right team. More importantly, nothing makes it fall apart more quickly than having the wrong one. It is critical to an agency’s success to identify individuals who fit well with its culture, but also possess the skills necessary to properly service its clients. PR is a broad field and these criteria can vary greatly from one agency to the next – what works for event planning may not translate to a healthcare-specific shop. How can a job seeker appeal to the broad range of skills that fall under the umbrella term ‘PR’? It may be impossible to be a fit for every agency, particularly those that specialize in one industry or discipline. But there are certain skills that apply across the board, and every job seeker at every level should expect to have to deliver on these in the interview process:
Strong Writing Skills: This is the most basic and core skill in public relations. I have interviewed individuals who have told me they actually do not like to write. Strike one, two and three – you’re out. PR pros are expected to write at a very high level, and we must deliver on this core service every time we present work to a client. Nothing is more embarrassing than a client correcting your grammar! This includes email – every touch point counts. This holds true for the interview process as well; think of the potential employer as your client. Before hitting that send button, proof, proof and proof once more. The slightest mistake could ruin your credibility.
Ability to Think Like a Journalist: We hear it from them day in and day out – PR pros need to understand a reporter’s point of view. This means knowing the news cycle, deadlines, editorial requirements and, most significantly, what it feels like to be overworked and underpaid. We have the ability to make their jobs easier if we know what they need. Job seekers with prior work experience as a reporter, on an assignment desk, shadowing on-air talent or working the mailroom at the local daily are sure to have a leg up on the competition. Today this translates to the online world – outreach to bloggers becomes a lot easier if you are one yourself! Get in the game and write for a blog, pick up some freelance assignments or offer to contribute to a local trade publication or neighborhood paper. They’ll appreciate your service, and you’ll hone your journalistic skills.
Business Sensibility: At an agency we are expected to be experts not only in our own field, but also in each and every one of our clients’ fields as well. We tend to know a little about a lot, which makes us great dinner party guests! We often take on the role of spokesperson for our clients, so we must be able to speak intelligently and accurately about their business at any time and to anyone (particularly the press). This requires us to be educated not only on each company we work with, but the industry, its economic impact, other related industries, its audience profile, and how the company fits into the bigger picture of the marketplace.  Put simply, we need to talk their talk. It is crucial that PR pros possess a sensibility not only for communications, but also for how communications can help a company achieve its broader business goals.
Finally, ambition, determination, critical thinking and a general curiosity are key strengths in public relations. Many times our work is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s those individuals who can continue to challenge themselves, uncover new opportunities and never be satisfied with the status quo who truly make an impact and succeed.

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Erin Allsman is public relations director at Brownstein Group in Philadelphia, PA. Erin has a strong media relations background and has placed stories with outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, VH1, FoxSportsNet, Entrepreneur, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia magazine. She also served as the Editor of Construction Today magazine, as a contributing writer for Philadelphia STYLE and as a guest lecturer at Temple University and University of Delaware.
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