Written by Charissa Lauren, Charissa Lauren Collective
With a black belt in fashion and the business experience to back me up, a career in PR became the perfect fit. However, while I had years of professional and related industry experience, my education was in legal studies. If you are also considering a freelance PR career, or looking to transition into PR, but are coming to your new career with a different college major and work experience, I want to encourage you to go for it. You can become a seasoned PR Professional without the degree on your resume.
PR is definitely one of those careers where you can easily learn more with hands-on experience than in 4 years of late-night study sessions. Within the last ten years, I’ve built my name and business from the ground up and am sharing the 5 tools I found to be essential in becoming a self-taught publicist.
1. Intentionally grow your small business owner network
They say it’s not what you know but WHO you know that matters, and you won’t be surprised to learn that when it comes to a career built on relationships, my number one tip is to leverage your business connections. Yes, you’ll need to focus on connecting with media, but a well-rounded network of businesses, media, tastemakers, vendors (aka your local cupcake shop), industry experts in related fields like photographers and graphic designers are all part of being able to successfully secure clients and execute campaigns.
First step: Determine what are of PR you are interested in – ie what’s your niche? Join a local organization or networking group that serves that group and instantly widen your circle.
2. Get in where you can and grow from there
One of the things I love about PR is that tasks can vary wildly from day to day. One day I’m writing an article, the next I’m planning an event, the next I’m scouting out local models for a media shoot. This job keeps me on my toes and that variety fuels me.
While I didn’t major in PR, I have always been involved in fashion and entertainment. As a teen, I was your typical theater geek, pageant girl turned amateur model turned actress on the side. With that multi-faceted experience it was an easier transition to begin working for agencies, coordinating events and writing for magazines. All of my experiences have benefitted me immensely when it comes to client strategy because I learned the business from the inside out.
First step: With your niche in mind, explore volunteer opportunities or jobs in similar fields. For instance, you can leverage your SEO expertise into a content marketing role. From there you can pitch your storytelling chops to a PR agency.
3. Commit to self-directed learning
Formal education in PR was the one benefit I lacked, but one perk of my millennial generation is that we know how to research. Our web-driven society is full of essential tools – from how to start a business from scratch to how to become a sought-after PR professionals. Sites like PR Couture and Chic CEO have been my online bibles over the years feeding me useful information that guided my career every step of the way.
I also educated myself constantly through seminars, workshops, internet research and PR veterans who have long been in the game and were willing to mentor me. You are never too good to learn from someone else. I try to learn something from every person I meet. Seminars and workshops are great because they also allow you to connect and network with other professionals.
First step: Identify gaps in knowledge and confidence and work out a professional development plan. Consider the PR Accelerator Course if you’re looking for a crash course in publicity, influencers and email.
4. Put weekly events on your calendar
With social media taking over the world, a lot of people ask me if networking events are even still relevant. I say YES. Sure, your Facebook page may be the prim de la prim, but your content can be lost in an ever-changing newsfeed. Beyond the challenges of reach, nothing beats the in-person impression.
You are never too good to learn from someone else.
The amount of Instagram followers and “Hey, we should collab!” DMs only go so far. Not to say Instagram isn’t a tremendous way to make connections but events are still IN. I can’t begin to count how many business cards I’ve exchanged over the years and, from that, how many lasting collaborative relationships I’ve built from the good old-fashioned in-person meet-ups.
First Step: Add yourself to the newsletter lists of different local PR, marketing and business-owner focused events in your city. Commit to attending at least one a month.
5. Develop a referral system for your agency
The only thing that should be stronger than your coffee in the morning is your referral list. Make sure the clients you work with are pleased with your efforts because 8 times out of 10 they typically sign-on again and will also speak highly of you to others.
Now 6 years into my PR career, I’ve found that the majority of my clients have been referred by previous clients. As incentives for client loyalty, I always offer 20% off a service plan to a client who has referred me and they’ve always appreciated this. It goes to show that I value word-of-mouth just as much as I value their loyalty.
To assure my clients are pleased with my work, I also offer a guarantee with my services. As we know, PR can be a timely process – sometimes taking months to achieve even one goal placement. That being said, if a client signs on I guarantee that I will NOT stop pitching until X amount of placements are achieved. This helps a.) cover my butt and b.) guarantee that clients are pleased with my work resulting in their referral! When all is said and done, don’t forget to get that testimonial.
First step: make a list of businesses you’d like to work with as well as complimentary service providers. Create a quick outreach email explaining your services and referral structure.
Now if you are an educated PR professional – hats off to you! If you majored in Philosophy and have fallen in love with PR, I hope this has helped.
Working in Pittsburgh’s fashion and events scene, Charissa Lauren founded her first PR business and magazine at age 22. Using her first-hand experiences to position creative professionals publicly, she has worked with clients internationally. She chose to keep the business in Pittsburgh devoted to growing the local industry. She was named a finalist for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Stiletto Women in Business, nominated for the Athena Young Professional Award of 2018, a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, nominated for Yahoo! Women Who Shine and honored by Pittsburgh Magazine’s Women in Business Spotlight. She is also a nationally published writer and owner of PR company, Charissa Lauren Collective. Business aside, Charissa enjoys traveling and reading. She resides in Pittsburgh with her husband, a Cyber Security Consultant, and their new baby. www.charissalauren.com