Monday, 15 October 2012

Interview With a PR Professiona

When contemplating the PR professional I wanted to speak with, I had a few ideas. Having considered the pros and cons of each, I decided that contacting a graduate of the PR program here at the U of W would be most beneficial and practical. Michael Kulasza, the Regional Public Affairs Officer for CN and former student of the PR Program at the University of Winnipeg provided some excellent insights. I spoke to him over the phone.

I had spoken to Mike once before regarding the University of Winnipeg PR program. After hearing a good review from Mike, I decided that it would be a great opportunity for professional development. Not having known much about Mike’s current position, this interview was helpful in understanding the field and the different types of work you may be doing.

Although I have some experience in the field, Mike identified several excellent points regarding this career. For instance, PR does not offer a lot of job security and it is very competitive. Having been in a PR role in politics, I saw the instability of the career but assumed that this was the nature of politics and not PR in general. Mike’s account of on and off employment led me to understand that this phenomenon is universal in the PR field. With the possibility of frequent job changes, Mike pointed out that the PR field is highly competitive, especially in small job markets such as Winnipeg.

To overcome this challenge, I asked Mike what would make a candidate stand out in an interview at CN. First, he recommended that you provide a potential employer with a portfolio with a sample of your work at the interview. His second piece of advice was to focus on industry experience. Not PR experience, which is essential, but experience in that company’s industry. In this case CN. Mike had worked for CP Rail in a non-PR role prior to applying for his current position. The mix of his industry knowledge and his education in PR made him a valuable asset for the company. He was a natural fit for the position.

This made me think about the skills and experiences that I have obtained through my past employment and education. Combining my professional skills that I have gained in politics with those that I am currently obtaining as a novice PR agent will allow me to carve out a unique and competitive niche.

Although experience is vital in this industry, Mike recommended that every PR professional keep current on issues and trends. As a regular part of his regime, he would review Ragan Communications, PR daily, read online news articles, attend PR industry events and read PR related books. As an additional step, Mike believes that besides being a member of IABC and CPRS, volunteer work is an excellent means of networking. He is planning on volunteering with IABC in the near future.

To maintain an edge in the industry while he’s between jobs, Mike will read PR novels and review them on his blog. This keeps his writing skills sharp and his name top of mind with industry professionals. Since writing is essential in the PR field, Mike believes that his education has greatly assisted him throughout his career. The ability to be succinct and clear is the single most important skill that Mike derived from the Public Relations Diploma at the University of Winnipeg.

Despite the importance of possessing strong writing skills, Mike recommended that strong oral communications is equally important. There were times when he would be expected, on short notice, to give a presentation to the executive team or speak to a group of angry residents. The ability to speak clearly and audibly is invaluable in these situations.

An additional communication skill set that has become more important is the proper use of social media. Mike noted that social media has become increasingly important over the past few years. Although almost anyone can blog or tweet, it requires a PR/Communications expert to do it properly. You need to find an interesting topic and know how to help it get the attention it deserves. Nobody wants to read a boring blog, nor do they want to read a blog riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

No matter what question I asked Mike, he always came back to the importance of social media. Like many people, Mike believed that social media was unimportant or a fad and he did not hold it in high regard. Now he believes using it properly is a top priority in this field. The ability to reach almost anyone globally presents both opportunities and challenges. Making an error can cause embarrassment world wide, whereas a good news story can be circulated around the world instantly at the click of a mouse.

Along with the issue of social media, Mike pointed out that the PR field is a 24 hour job. Issues and events happen at any time of the day, so you need to be prepared to respond to them. Mike wishes that he had known this when he was starting out in this field.

Having listened to Mike throughout the interview I drew several conclusions, some of which I have already discussed. The most important conclusion however is that I am still interested in the field! Although there are certain aspects that are more appealing than others, I am drawn by the dynamic nature of this career.

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