7 Lessons Every Aspiring PR Pro Needs to Learn in College

Alicia Lawrence

Alicia Lawrence

The following is a guest post from Alicia Lawrence, a contributor for simonoh.com.

Shelling out thousands of dollars for a degree in public relations – or in anything, actually – can be painful. But if you’re going to spend the time and money, you might as well make your education work for you. Learn what you need to know, use it, go far, live happily ever after, etc.

Don’t enter the cutthroat world of applications and resumes only to realize you’re ill-equipped. Avoid the helplessness of unemployment. Figure out the workplace knowledge you’ll need before earning your degree.

If you’re prepared with the right bits of knowledge, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. So here they are, the seven key concepts you need to know to be a PR pro:

1. Excelling in Excel

Microsoft Excel is so much more than just a helpful tool for accountants. It’s a resume and efficiency-booster for all. Even us anti-math people can benefit from mastering its format and formulas.

If you want to compete in the wide array of other applicants, you should know Excel essentials: how to set up a document, insert information in an organized, navigational fashion and utilize formulas comfortably.

If your aim is to work in an office setting, you should have experience with Excel and Google Docs, both of which have similar setups. It is, overall, one of the very best organizational assistants in existence. And who couldn’t stand to be a little more organized?

2. Buy-ology

Taking some marketing and psychology courses won’t hurt an aspiring PR professional.

In fact, these areas of study may prove extremely beneficial if you can understand how they relate to communication. Learn why people think what they think, why they buy what they buy, and what they want to hear.

The ability to connect with an audience is an invaluable skill. It will be useful in almost any industry, but it will get you pro status in PR. If you want to dip your toes into buy-ology, Sparring Mind is a great place to start.

3. Storytelling

There’s a reason storytelling has survived for centuries: people love it. Whether reciting a fairytale or talking about the day’s activities, we’re forever engaged in the telling of tales.

Indulge in some creative writing courses and perfect your storytelling abilities. If you’re capable of sending your message in a clear yet captivating way, you’ll have audiences eating out of the palm of your hand.


A career in public relations will, probably on a constant basis, consist of publishing content online. In order to make your work shine on the web, you should be familiar with the basics of SEO and HTML (or at least be able to work your way around WordPress and similar WYSIWYG setups).

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of making one’s website more prominent within a search engine’s organic results. In other words, good SEO implementation makes it possible for your website to appear higher on a Google search.

HTML is the underlying code of a website. It’s like the recipe that creates the masterpiece. Again, by embedding specific elements into the HTML, you can make your website appear higher within a search.

Because you’re more than likely going to be publishing online, PR professionals should be familiar with both of these concepts. By making your published content as viewable as possible, you make yourself even more of an asset to your employer.

5. Trend Detector

You can publish, publish, publish, but if your content is irrelevant or uninteresting, no one will care about it. As you’re in college, utilizing online platforms and absorbing heaps of online content, learn how to detect what’s trending.

From Google Trends to Topsy, there are numerous trending tools available. They tell you what people are talking about, keeping you in the loop. These sites will help you choose the best content for SEO, making your content relevant and interesting.

6. Research Skills

If you think that graduating college means you can bid research adieu, you’re wrong. Digging up relevant information, be it through primary or secondary sources, will be a daily activity for you as a PR pro.

There are numerous chunks that make up excellent research skills. First, do you know what information would take your work to the next level? Second, do you know where to locate said information? Third, once you’ve located a source, do you know how to draw conclusions or practical information from it?

These elements are to be learned during college, not after. Once you hit the real world, you’ll be expected to know how to find information.

Not only should you be well acquainted with secondary research but also with doing your own original research. Take the time to send out surveys using MailChimp or running a focus group to find out about your target audience when putting together a campaign.

7. Word Smith

Choosing and inserting the perfect words in the perfect places can elevate your work from good to great, from effective to crazy popular. Find out which words trigger a reaction in consumers? What are the little nuggets that make a piece go viral?

Become a master of words. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean using really complicated words (matter of fact, when writing for consumers the simpler the better). It means being able to communicate clearly with various publics by using a master writer’s arsenal: tone, voice, word placement, metaphors, etc.

These seven concepts will not only keep you afloat in PR, they will help you fly. Learn these elements in college, and you’ll be able to get a job in PR and really help your company or client communicate effectively.

Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for a tech company and blogs about online PR in her free time. Continue the conversation with her over on Twitter and Google+.


3 thoughts on “7 Lessons Every Aspiring PR Pro Needs to Learn in College

  1. Hi Alicia! I agree with all of your points and feel pretty good about the PR college education I have received from Penn State. I am graduating in less than two weeks and am lucky to have had classes that touched upon all of these things. However, I definitely need to continue to perfect a few of these skills such as the SEO, HTML and research. I plan to learn more about these topics to make myself a more competitive job applicant. I look forward to exploring these aspects of PR more and will be checking out the links you included in this post. Thanks a lot!

  2. Hi Colleen, Congrats on graduating! Penn State must have a pretty good Comms department. I know we have a few Penn State Alumni working for WebpageFX.

  3. Pingback: Simon Oh | #Read3: May 4, 2014

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