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12 Things to Know as a New In-House Public Relations/Communications Pro

Updated on October 9, 2019
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C D Hundley has worked in communications/PR for over 17 years and still loves it.

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Read the news. Voraciously.

Read a variety of things besides the news. Again, voraciously. Reading other items helps inform and strengthen your writing.

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For new communications and PR professionals

Read the news. Voraciously. Keep up with the developments in your industry. You can only take advantage of the news cycle, by being able to make real-time recommendations to your supervisors about ways to strategically position your organization.

Read a variety of things besides the news. Again, voraciously. Reading other items helps inform and strengthen your writing.

Write, and practice writing every chance you get. Also, edit. Even if you have an editing team, practice editing your own work before you send your copy off. It will help strengthen your work going forward.

Network. It should go without saying that who you know can prove absolutely invaluable in your field. Get to know the journalists in your field. Get to know your counterparts at allied and at competing organizations. Get to know local elected officials - and their staff. Your Rolodex (or these days, your contacts database) is an invaluable part of your portfolio, and will aid you in your current work, as well as in landing future opportunities.

Be a human being, when dealing with the press (or with anyone really). If you’re pitching, be cognizant of the fact that journalists get many, many pitches a day. Being overly aggressive or pushy may land your otherwise newsworthy email into the Recycle Bin or otherwise get a phone pitch ignored.

Drive a human brand. Ok, so as a newbie, you may have minimal actual control over this one. But you should work on ways to make your organization's brand more accessible to the public. Recommend PR solutions that highlight the people behind your organization - whether that means imbuing your corporate voice with more personality, using social media to highlight the staff and leaders behind your organization, or engaging members of the public in branded online communities.

Get trained. Take advantage of any training opportunities your supervisor may offer. There will be plenty of learning-by-doing opportunities, but it's always helpful to have a grounding in the theory to go with the actual practice. Some seasoned practitioners eschew training, preferring the learning-by-doing method, especially given the pace of innovation in the field.

Adhere to your creative team’s internal deadlines. Creativity takes time. Adobe Photoshop, along with most graphic design software, can be time-consuming. Good writing and good ad concept development also take time. And a lot creative folks are perfectionists by nature. Give your creative folks the time they need, and they will produce the superior work they and you want from them.

Plus, in-house, your creative team may also be wearing multiple hats. Make a habit of getting them the specs they need for the brochure that’s needed ahead of time, so that when you can’t avoid getting them something late, they’ll be more willing to accommodate you.

Sleep and stay healthy. It’s impossible to produce your best work on no sleep. Further, a lack of sleep slows your mind, and therefore your the quality of your writing and your ideas down. Oh, there are no doubt many a high functioning, sleep-deprived communicator out there. I surprise myself frequently by how well I can write at 3:00 am. But my best at 3:00 am is not the same as my best at 9:00 am with eight hours of sleep and a cup of coffee under my belt. Even given a crisis, sleep will get you the outcomes you need; sleep deprivation will not.

Public relations work can be grueling work, especially depending on the pace of your media market. Keeping fit and active keeps your energy up - energy you’ll need the next time a group of reporters shows up outside your office.

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For experienced professionals new to in-house work:

Be prepared to do a bit of everything. To work as a generalist means that your day can vary greatly. One day you may be copy editing your in-house magazine, the next you may be ghostwriting remarks for a board member’s on-camera interview. If you thrive in the position, you quickly develop a working knowledge of many, many things, especially if you work for a small company or nonprofit.

Some colleagues of mine who have long worked in larger agencies and then transitioned to either a very small agency or in-house work have a difficult time accepting a work environment that is considerably less structured than some larger agencies. Your boss may not know the difference between direct marketing and brand awareness and have perhaps the vaguest notion of how to articulate exactly what he wants. There may be no difference between the “art department” and the “social media department.” And there may be a decided lack of highly structured internal processes. This is your new environment, and you need to decide quickly if it’s for you.

Choose a few things to specialize in. After a while your resume may seem like the most impressive thing in the world. After all you’ve dabbled in graphic design, speech-writing, brand management, copy-editing, media buying, media pitching, social media marketing, and a dozen other similar phrases, not to mention the hundreds of software programs you’ve used out of necessity. But you, yourself, as a professional, are a brand, and you want to make sure that in addition to being a jack of all trades, future employers know which you are a master of. Think ahead towards your next job, and how you plan to position yourself. Focus your formal training opportunities, and take advantage of work projects, in those areas.

Take all of this as an opportunity. In some cases, you can bring some structure to the internal communications operation that may be very much needed. Be careful to assess what will translate well and what won’t. this involves spending a bit of time getting to know the existing people, processes and culture before you begin to impose new rules. Culture change can be difficult; know the rules before you proceed.

Offer to train co-workers if your organization is short-staffed. Cross-training staff to do communications work builds organizational communications capacity, which helps facilitate any organization-wide messaging program you need everybody’s buy-in to execute, reinforces the importance of your work in the eyes of others, and helps you sleep a bit more comfortably at night when you take that long overdue vacation that things are not falling apart in your absence.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when starting a new role as an in-house PR professional. Good luck in your new position!

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© 2019 C D Hundley

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