“Take Flight in Public ...


If Gordon Gekko were a PR pro, he would have said, “Change is good.”

And would relish today’s world where companies of all shapes and sizes jar the status quo on a daily basis.

Forget change. Industries are being blown up right before our eyes.

More than just driving demand for PR, this dynamic is redefining PR. As a result, there’s never been a better time to pursue a career in the profession.

That’s the backdrop for the Council of PR Firms to hold an event called “Take Flight in PR” open to all students in Northern California.

The more college students who understand the mix of creativity, intellect and problem-solving that goes into a PR career, the greater the pool of talent for the profession.

But like the old Rolling Stone Magazine campaign, there’s a gap between perception and reality.

Illustrating this point, I asked some of our professionals who are early in their careers to share how their work in PR today compares with their perceptions leading into and through college.

I also asked our illustrious panel to create some type of visual that depicted each of them. As you’ll see in the video below, they decided to poke a little fun at the profession.

Back to their perceptions of PR before and after college, I stressed unfiltered viewpoints. There would be no second drafts.

Lauren Ho (University of California, San Diego)

I’ll be completely honest. I had little to no idea what PR was as a freshman in college.

Being young and naïve,  PR as an industry conjured up two different images for me. The first image was of Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City” – a powerful woman who attended glitzy parties and frequented every trendy restaurant and club that New York had to offer. The second image I had was someone wearing horn-rimmed glasses, who specialized in spinning stories and twisting the truth.

Now that I have a little over a year of PR experience under my belt, I feel like I have a more realistic idea of what it’s all about.  When people ask me what I do, this is what I tell them. It’s not about networking at star-studded events – it’s about building authentic relationships. It’s not about spinning stories – it’s about finding the humanness in them.

Jacqueline Meyler (University of Alberta and Humber College)

My passion revolves around the performing arts, and during my undergrad I worked as an usher at my city’s performing arts venue. I always saw reporters come in to cover the ballets, symphonies and musicals. If I couldn’t be a prima ballerina or in the cast of Cats, I would still find a way to be “a part of it.” I remember asking the ballet’s PR rep, “How do I get your job?” and she said, “Do communications.” To be honest, I didn’t even know that degree existed. When I thought about it, it seemed glamorous – talk in front of cameras, be on TV, organize elegant galas, meet really neat people and be the “face” of your organization. Essentially, a performer.

After finishing a post-graduate program in public relations and now doing an internship at The Hoffman Agency, I realize there is a lot more depth to PR than what I originally thought. There is a lot more writing and a lot more background research required. There are still cameras around, but they focus on your client.  Instead of taking in all the glory yourself, you help your client to bask in the glory you created for them – the perfectly pitched stories that captivate the reporters’ minds enough that they are willing to pass the story on to their readers. And as for the “neat” people, they turn into your colleagues.

Haley Campbell (University of San Francisco and Westminster College)

I’m very new to PR, and I’ve come here in a bit of a serpentine fashion after completing unrelated (or not directly related) graduate degrees and a career in teaching. As a college student I understood PR people to be fast-talking and intense, attending high-society parties and putting out fires for their high-profile clients. It was just this summer – after having spent the past couple years really digging deep into my own psyche and exploring professional opportunities that highlighted writing and collaborating – that I was directed toward PR. I’m not particularly outgoing, and I’m more deliberate than fast-talking, but as I learn more about what the profession entails – writing, deep-thinking, anticipating problems, collaboration, creativity, emphasis on detail and organization, communication – I really believe that it is the right direction for me.

Michelle Favalora (UCLA)

When I first started college, I assumed that public relations professionals sought to improve the reputations of their rowdy, rebellious clients. Picture this – a mass of journalists vying viciously for face time with your client while you watch your client like a hawk to ensure everyone is sticking to the messaging.

While PR is certainly entrenched in the relationship between journalists and your client, it’s less about forcing your client to say the right things and more about splitting open the impenetrable web that is a journalists’ curiosity. You will have smart, capable clients that oftentimes shine brilliantly in front of media. As a PR pro, you must research journalists to find creative ways to capture their attention. PR pros relentlessly seek innovative strategies to push past the noise and achieve a journalists’ consideration on behalf of their client.

Tiger Cui (Beijing Foreign Studies University and Stanford University)

Before college, I saw PR as an advertisement, a one-sided promotion, and not always persuasive or conversational.

Now PR has become an illustrator for more interesting people, interesting companies, interesting organizations and other entities – or, if they have not found how to become an interesting topic for the rest of the world, PR will find a way to do so. However, PR professionals do best in illustrating the stories – showing, not telling, just like how musicians play their instruments. PR is an instrument; players use their instruments to illustrate the music with unstoppable creativity, but as PR pros, we remind ourselves that the scores in the music come from the composers. We do it best, when we illustrate the best scores with persistent talent, exceptional understanding and accurate execution.

Erin Hartwig (Santa Clara University)

With limited exposure to the PR profession and no formal “mass communications” training, I had a very narrow perception of PR when I started college. I understood PR to be three things: press releases, crisis communications and political campaigns. To me, these areas consisted of well-crafted, direct corporate statements which painted the company or individual in question in the most flattering light possible. While PR is multi-faceted, I used to only be able to identify the media relations sub-set.

Despite graduating with a degree in marketing, six months in to my PR profession, I would tell you that public relations is a multi-faceted, strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their greater public. But that’s too textbook. To put it simply, we avoid the corporate, mundane “speak” and create anecdotal, engaging and real stories for our clients.  As PR pros we create great content for our clients to help tell their compelling stories.

Note: Click here for Erin’s infographic on keys to a successful PR internship

Each person has his or her own unique story.

And each story in some way brings out the aforementioned gap between perception and reality.

That’s what the Council of PR Firms wants to change through the “Take Flight in PR” series.

If you know a student who might be interested, please point him or her to this post and the event information.

Look forward to seeing you on November 5.


  • Maggie C.

    As a new student and practitioner in PR, I’m still getting a sense of how people explain PR and how those outside perceive PR. Now, of course, it’s changing before our eyes. I find that part to be incredibly exciting because any industry that can realize when there needs to be change and then actually makes the move to do it is one of which I want to be a part. I resonate especially with Haley Campbell who said she wanted something that used her writing and collaboration skills. That is also how I found PR and those are the two parts I love the most.

    My graduate program is PR & Advertising so it’s great getting to see that side of communication and it really shows how the idea of integrated marketing has a place in the communication world today. I love using concepts from both sides of the program in projects I do at work and in the classroom.

    • hoffman

      Hi Maggie,

      After 25+ years, my parents are still trying to figure out exactly what I do.

      As you said, the profession recognizes the need to change. But I think the profession has been somewhat slow to disrupt itself. Still, the opportunities are there for fresh thinking. Good luck with your studies. Given the blending PR and advertising, you’re in the right place.

  • Public Relations Firm

    Amazing article pertaining to how change may always be imminent, and how PR firms adapt to situations. Being able to adapt to a changing environment seems to be a skill needed to do public relations. Great article, quite useful.

    • hoffman

      Appreciate the positive words. Given your client base, I’m sure you know a thing or two about “change.”

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