HR professionals across nearly every industry will tell young graduates that, fresh out of college, hardly anybody cares about your GPA, and after your first job, almost nobody even cares about what your degree actually is in. Rather, it’s more about the skills you’ve amassed, your likeability, your clarity in communications, and your references. In some fields, knowledge obtained during college remains relevant for years to come — for example, fields like history and mathematics likely won’t experience many monumental shifts in the way they’re taught or perceived. However, for other career paths, a lot of information taught in college classrooms becomes obsolete almost immediately upon walking across the stage — and public relations is among the ranks.
For young PR professionals trying to break into the field, here’s a short breakdown on the difference between what professors say in school and what real bosses, clients, and consumers are looking for from their PR agents.
Grammar | In college, professors are likely ruthless about following the strictest rules of prescriptivist grammar, docking points for every split infinitive or dangling modifier. With fanatical zeal, professors insist that the industry is unforgiving to any grammatical errors, no matter the severity of the infraction. In reality, while grammatical accuracy is important, what’s more important is clarity so that the audience consuming the messages understand what’s going on. English has picked up rules from a myriad of languages that has left us with some contradicting advice on how to best communicate, so the best rule for grammar in the real world is, “Follow the rule, unless it looks bad.”
Style | Most professors will tell students that its AP Style or it’s not worth writing. For four full years, PR students are drilled on AP Style as the industry standard and are made to know the handbook backwards and forwards come graduation time. Today, AP Style is still the most widely accepted of the various styles of writing, citing, and punctuating, but the written language is in constant flux, and each industry, corporation, and publication will offer its own style guide that pulls from the AP Style but is not a facsimile. Study AP, but be prepared to be flexible and adjust your work on a whim to comply with what your employers, editors, clients, or audience expect.
Transparency | The buzzword of the century, transparency in PR usually refers to the ability for a PR agent to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In today’s climate, this is more pressing than ever, and in college, there’s simply not enough opportunities to practice the layers of openness needed to appear trustworthy. From the funding and credibility of the sources you cite to addressing the culpability you’d rather not take credit for, graceful transparency is by far the most urgent skill a young PR professional can cultivate.