Teacher’s Pet: Education vs. Experience

Lorena Laurencelle is currently a Public Relations student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. 

Her Question: What level of education is necessary to succeed in the public relations field? Is education more important, or is experience more valued?
Our Answer: Our team comes from a variety 
of backgrounds, experience and education. We look at both sides of this question by asking some with PR education backgrounds (Amalia and Meg) and some with PR experience (Natalie, Debra and Abby) for their advice.
Debra – President
I didn’t go to school for public relations. I have a degree in creative writing and started working when I was 14 years old and moved out when I was 18. I learned from experience. I took every lesson and like to think I got a bit smarter with each mistake I made. I loved to write, always had an easy time meeting new people and I spent years doing shitty telemarketing jobs where I honed my phone skills. Get good at what you love to do and you can succeed without getting a degree. Spend time in a really good internship or two and that’s going to do you a world of good in the PR world.

Natalie  – Publicist

I attended the University of Western Ontario, majoring in Media, Information and Technoculture and minoring in Comparative Literature and Civilization. While at Western, I also completed a Certificate in Writing. While I think that post-secondary education can be helpful in developing your writing and critical thinking skills, I don’t think that a B.A. is necessary for a career in public relations. At university, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and began to think that I wanted to work in PR. It wasn’t until after graduating and completing two internships that I knew that PR was for me.
Ultimately, my advice for anyone looking to get into PR is to volunteer/intern as much as you can. While being a good writer is a necessary skill for a good publicist, first-hand experiences are what make a great publicist. So much of what we do at rock-it involves events and the type of on-the-ground experience you get in a (good) internship is what I believe you need. Learn how to run a door, make a guest list, create a clippings package, etc. – these are the tasks that seem menial, but which are SO important to a functioning PR team. You can read about it in school, but nothing can ever beat real life experience.
Abby – Publicist
Ultimately, a bachelor’s degree of some sort is required to succeed; you need basic levels of writing, comprehension and time management to make it in any career. For PR, it boils down to a combo of natural skills and learned skills. For some types of PR, these skills are best learned in school. For others, they’re best learned in the trenches. If you are willing to work hard, ask smart questions, have great people skills and are a strong writer, you don’t necessarily need a PR-specific education. There are lots of related degrees that will help you out – English, communications, journalism, film, a technology background or even science can be relevant. It depends on what area of PR you’d like to work in. 
Communication skills are a must, so if they come naturally to you, then you’re likely able to make it without a post-secondary PR degree. If you’re not the strongest writer, take a few courses to brush up, or start a blog to develop your style. 
PR education never hurts, but landing a great internship, meeting people in the industry and participating in social media are the alternate route to making it in public relations.
Amalia – Assistant to the President
Having a bachelors degree and a certificate in PR (or something related) is very important. I think that having a PR-geared post-secondary diploma is something that will benefit you incredibly. The things that I learned on the first day of school (Algonquin College) are still getting me through the work day…so pay attention and don’t skip class!
Interning is something EVERYONE should do. I did three internships one summer, and it really paid off. Although the money isn’t great, you need to see it as a learning experience and an investment in your own future. They are paying YOU to learn.
Keeping in touch with former bosses and colleagues is also something everyone should do, especially in our field. Staying on someone’s radar is just as important as your experience, education and skill set combined.
Meg – Junior Publicist
After getting a B.Sc. and working in unrelated jobs for a couple of years, I went back to school for a post-grad diploma in PR. I definitely value that education – it taught me PR writing styles and other basics, and gave me an idea of what to expect in this business. I think a PR-specific education is a strong start to a career in this industry. Writing, editing and style are the base of everything we do, and a PR-specific education will prep you with that knowledge.
That being said, all the education in the world won’t allow you to succeed without real-life experience. Interning is hands down the best way to really learn the biz. I would be nowhere without what I gleaned from my time interning. An education is the foundation for the knowledge you gain from job experience. I continue to learn every day by watching the awesome and experienced pros I work with and listening to their advice and know-how.
In Conclusion: There’s no one right answer as everyone comes into this industry with different skills, education and experience to draw on. However, we all agree on the strength and importance of internships and that some form of education is necessary, even just to hone your writing skills.
Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to meg@rockitpromo.com. We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.





Advertisements

Media, Darling: Randi Bergman

Randi Bergman is a Toronto girl through and through. She grew up in North Toronto and graduated from Ryerson University’s Fashion Communications program. A girl who loves fashion almost as much as Rufus Wainwright, Randi’s first internship was at FASHION Magazine in the now-defunct Entertainment department. She then relocated to New York City, interning at both Teen Vogue and Interview Magazine (where she continues to write for web). As if you weren’t jealous enough, Randi also covered NYFW for Fashion Week Daily. During this stint, she had the good fortune to interview Liza Minelli, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Michael Kors, and the inimitable Grace Coddington, to name a few. 

Randi has previously freelanced for: National Post, Page Six (where she got to pick clothes for the Chloe Sevigny), V Magazine, Dazed & Confused and Refinery29. She is currently the Online Editor for FASHION magazine.



You can also find Randi and FASHION Magazine on Twitter


Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?

Always, actually. I think I might have been the only one at my high school that knew exactly what she wanted to do when she left. I sometimes fantasize about being lost in the archives of the Costume Institute, but this way I get to live in the present, too.  

Where would you like to be five years from now?
I would still love to be working with magazines, not exactly sure of the capacity, but writing, editing, getting to talk about fashion and fashion history in some way. 

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
You have to really commit to doing everything you possibly can—take every internship, make every connection—that’s the only way you’re going to make it in the fashion industry. It’s not the kind of industry that will let you take the easy way out, at least in my experience.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? 
I’ll always have a soft spot for Vogue, but lately I’m totally bewitched by Nowness. Its the only site that I check every day, aside from of course, my own.

Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?
Best interview I’ve ever had is probably anyone that I leave feeling like I’m best friends with, whether it’s in my head or not. I really wanted to make friendship bracelets for Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. Also, Liza Minnelli will be cemented in my mind forever, just because it’s Liza Minnelli, and also because she was the closest I will ever be to Judy Garland. 


Worst? Probably anyone who knows nothing about the subject they’re supposed to know about. Riley Keough was pretty rough.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be a mix of the workhorse and the show pony.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Put yourself first, most of the time.  And never buy heels that you can’t walk in.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Always personalize your pitches. And it also helps to make yourself very familiar and top of mind.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I would just say that I like becoming friendly with PRs. Wining and dining aside of course, it’s not really necessary. Just a warm smile and genuine personality is nice. 

I hate?
People who don’t try.

I love? 
Old movies, old people, museums (old art), old music, fashion history (old designers), the southern US (old traditions).

Reading?
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Best place on earth?
Haven’t been everywhere yet, but so far, Israel.

Dinner guest?
Edie Beale for entertainment and Jim Morrison for…you know.

Hero?
Tie between Andy Warhol and Patti Smith.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
Can I use this space as a big ups to BBM? Never leave me!

Pool or ocean?
Probably pool actually, with a slide and waterfall. Or the ocean with the promise of no sand between my toes.

Voicemail or email?
Email one thousand percent. 







Media, Darling: Christopher Frey

Christopher Frey grew up in Toronto, and got a degree in Religious Studies from U of T. After graduating and earning money through medical experiments to finance short films, he lived in Osaka, Japan for almost two years; then came back to Toronto to co-found and edit Outpost Magazine (for more years than he cares to mention). 


Frey is a two-time National Magazine Award winner. Since 2006, he’s been freelancing for the likes of The Walrus, Azure, Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, CBC Radio and Monocle. All this was done while being mostly itinerant, traveling abroad and researching his non-fiction book Broken Atlas, which will be published next year by Random House. Frey is currently the Editorial Director of the Toronto Standard and Toronto correspondent for Monocle. Toronto Standard has earned 5 nominations and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, more than any other online-only publication. Winners will be announced in late October.



Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
First, I wanted to be a writer. Then I realized what really appealed to me more broadly was telling stories and sharing concepts or ideas or other peoples’ experiences. Which also meant figuring out that writing isn’t always the best way to tell a story or idea, that depending on the particularity of the subject matter, another medium might be more suitable — say, a photo, film, a song, a poem instead of prose, an illustration or graphic.

I got into magazines and became an editor because I felt it was the best way to combine most of these things. And I loved collaborating with other people in creating the package it all comes in. Now because of hypertextuality, and the ability to embed sound, video and animation, it’s the web, minus the tactility and portability. I guess the next thing is to see where tablets take us… But I still do love print magazines dearly.


Where would you like to be five years from now?
Writing and making documentaries, dividing my time between Toronto and Brazil — probably Rio, but Sao Paulo has better food and my friends there are comparatively more sane. Or Istanbul.


Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Write something every day, develop a routine. Read as broadly as possible. Learn another language or two. Travel. Or at least walk a lot, and learn to observe.


What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
The New Yorker, The Economist, Monocle, BLDGBlog, Design Observer, Foreign Policy magazine, Q and Ideas on CBC Radio.


Best interview you’ve ever had?
Tie: David Byrne and artist Vik Muniz.


Worst?
Henry Rollins for The Varsity at U of T. This was twenty years ago, long before Rollins became a talk show host. I was a huge Black Flag fan as a teenager but figured he’d be difficult. His best friend had just been killed when the two of them were ambushed outside their home. When the phone interview started I was getting nothing but angry, monosyllabic answers. 

Then I noticed a handbook to depression on the desk I was using and it contained a depression questionnaire — a checklist to determine how clinically serious one’s depression. I asked Henry if I could give him the questionnaire and he agreed. So I still got single word yes or no answers, but at least I was able to shape the article into something revealing based on what he gave me. It turned out that he was moderately optimistic after all.



Best advice you’ve ever been given?
As for something someone said to me personally, nothing comes to mind. But there’s this bit from a George Saunders essay: “Fuck concepts. Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Oy vey, I could use some rules.


What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Think like a journalist.


Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I’ve been mostly focused on international reporting for the past four years, so I hadn’t had much recent experience with PR pros until we started the Standard. I can say honesty goes far — both in terms of being up-front about whether an interview request can be accommodated, or when asked to describe off-the-cuff what it is they’re promoting. 

It’s not about decoding whether they themselves like something or not, just whether it’s a right fit for us. Having said that, I’ve liked working with Virginia Kelly, Debra Goldblatt and Rebecca Webster all of whom are not just charming but very knowledgeable about what it is they’re representing.

I hate?

A lack of generosity and openness.



I love?
Haruki Murakami, being in a canoe, playing hockey, the movie Reds, mountain biking with my friend Lorne Bridgman, Japan and Brazil, JG Ballard, William Eggleston, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Caetano Veloso. Improvising in the kitchen. The core writers who have bought into the vision we have for the
Toronto Standard. The last few pages of the James Joyce short story The Dead which pretty much says everything that will ever need to be said. I should probably add my parents and friends because I don’t see any of them nearly enough. I am a bad man.

Reading?
Simon Reynolds’
Retromania, Luc Sante’s Low Life (for the third time), Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.


Best place on earth?
I haven’t found it yet. But right now I’m missing this record store-cum-live performance space in Rio’s Lapa neighbourhood called Plano B.


Dinner guest?
Filmmaker and video artist Chris Marker.


Hero?
Ryszard Kupisinski.


Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I use apps, but I can’t think in terms of one being my ‘favourite’.

Pool or ocean?
Lake.


Voicemail or email?
Normally, when I think of people communicating with me, I’d say email. But these days, as an editor and journalist with deadlines, I often find myself hectoring writers to just pick up the damn phone and call somebody already.