The Education of Public Relations (You say you want in?)

“PR is a great occupation,” says Jules Wortman. “It’s a fundamental and very important part of a team, whether you’re working in a hospital, an auto dealer or on Music Row, Hollywood or the White House. It’s a key component to the success or failure of any company.” In a field as popular as PR, she says the easiest way to stand out in the pack is to want it for the right reasons. “Everyone thinks they can do this,” she says. “And so many of them want to be the star. That’s the whole point: We’re not the star.”

Often, those who want to be in PR have a misconception about the industry. After years of watching glamorous publicists stroll through parties in their Louboutins onscreen, they assume the life of a PR professional is a cushy one.

The reality is that starting PR salaries do not buy Louboutins. “It takes a long time to make money. The nature of the industry is that you’re not going to make a lot starting out, you have to work your way up. It stinks in a way, but it can weed out the people who really want it and who love it from the people who are doing it for the wrong reasons.”

And those who want it need to be ready to work for it. “It’s a great, great career choice—if you like long hours, you like to be creative and you know how to write. You have to know how to do the things a PR person is required to do. A lot of people want to be in PR because of the glitz and the glam, but no one thinks about sending the photos after an event, or making edits to a press release…all the stuff that goes into being Samantha on Sex and the City.”

Wortman is quick to remind PR newbies of the industry’s grittier aspects. “One of the first things I tell young PR people: You can wear high heels to the first event, but you’ll never wear them again,” she says. “We’ve all been there—going home with numb toes after an event, tripping and falling on the red carpet. I always say carry flats or flip flops even if you wear heels.” This is just one of the rules you learn quickly, but is an anology to the entire scope of being a PR professional.

She also advises up-and-comers to brush up on their skills. “You should have a book of etiquette and an AP Style book as part of your library. Those two things are essential,” she says. “I’ve had lessons with my clients; how to order, which fork to use. There’s all kinds of things PR does behind the scenes that people don’t have any clue about. The phone call at 2 in the morning, ‘Hey I’m in jail.’ or ‘I just cancelled a concert because I’m mad at the promoter.’ You have to keep yourself calm and not look like you’re freaking out in front of your client, devise a plan and get back to them. To handle these things requires a gift that either you innately have or you acquire.”

Wortman says gaining experience in different PR environments can help aspiring PR professionals find their path.

“It’s important that college students intern at different types of PR firms,” she says. “Don’t do just one internship in one particular field because there are different approaches to each area of PR. Corporate communications is different than working for an independent PR firm. Where you might wear a suit or a nice outfit to one, you can wear a t-shirt and flip flops to another. You need to experience different cultures to see what works for you.”

She says that great PR professionals are the ones who thrive on the unpredictability of the field. “Every day is different. Every day is exciting. Every day is a new challenge,” she says. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job, and if you thought it would be then someone told you wrong. It’s challenging, and the challenges are great. It’s a unique and exciting job with a lot of hard work and a lot of juggling. I love it.”