PR Graduate Job Search: Pandemic Edition

College graduates wearing medical masks.

Congratulations to those PR students who graduated this past year and those who are graduating in 2021!

I know this isn’t how you imagined it would be — Zoom classes, masked faces you barely recognize, cancelled semester abroad, socially distant events, virtual events, and graduating in a down economy with record unemployment. This isn’t how anyone thought it would be this time last year, but here we are.

I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words (from a 1960 civil rights rally at Spelman College), “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Although he spoke those words many years ago, I can’t think of a better time than now to remember them. With this in mind, let’s talk about what you’re doing amidst current adversities to keep moving forward.

We all seem to be questioning what normal looks like, so before we dive into your job search, let me reassure you it is absolutely normal to be worried and anxious about your future. Experiencing feelings of uncertainty, even dread, is normal. Note: If you feel ‘stuck’ and find it difficult to function day-to-day, please talk to someone. You are not alone! It’s also normal to not know precisely what you want to do for the next 30 years. I know almost no one who is doing now what they thought they’d be doing 10-20 years ago — including myself.

Pandemic job searching

There’s no time like now to be focusing on your job search. In our last blog post, my colleague Craig noted the reality that the public relations industry has lost numerous jobs throughout the past year. He offered these five tips (and details) to communicators looking for work during the pandemic:

  1. Keep your focus on the short term
  2. Get connected and build your virtual network
  3. Take this downtime to get additional professional training and education
  4. Tell your story in a compelling way (as only you can do)
  5. Stay current on this ever-changing industry

There’s no doubt that many jobs have been lost in the last 12 months. However, here is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m beginning to see job postings tick back up, which is great news! *Caveat: You may need to temper your expectations as those positions are going to be even more competitive now.

Where to start

You probably already have a resume—perhaps one you created for a writing class. That should be your starting point, but you will not likely actually use that resume in real-life. Why? Most professors still require students to keep their resumes to a single page. One page is unreasonable if you’ve had multiple internships, were involved in on- or off-campus organizations, have won awards, and have done volunteer work.

Whether you have a LinkedIn profile or not, a go-to resource for students and recent grads is the LinkedIn for Students handbook and videos. It’s a self-guided series focused on building your LinkedIn profile, and it also helps you get into the right mindset for creating your resumes, cover letters, and networking. There’s even a handy LinkedIn profile checklist.

Although I haven’t gone through this myself, there’s a new (free) LinkedIn Learning course, Job Hunting for College Grads, on finding “a job post-graduation in a struggling economy.”

Non-academic skills

My friend and PRSA colleague, Ron Culp, a PR professor and the PRAD program director at DePaul University, recently wrote about the crucial skills you need in today’s PR work environment. He discussed the need to develop ‘thick skin,’ be a team player, work on problem-solving, stay flexible, and be forward-thinking. As usual, Ron is spot-on here.

You need more than the academic knowledge you learned, like top-notch writing skills. You need emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient aka EQ) skills, too. These usually consist of self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and relationship-building skills. Lewis PR has a great post about the importance of emotional intelligence in PR.

Be a news junkie

Especially with the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and distorted facts, being news literate is a must. News literacy goes beyond watching or listening to the morning news. To have good ‘news sense,’ you have to read the news from various sources. Don’t blindly rely on social media for news, at least not until you’ve double-verified with a reputable news source. Besides, how will you know what’s newsworthy if you haven’t mastered news literacy yourself? And, if you want to check the bias of a news source or writer, check out AllSides, whose mission is to “strengthen our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation.”

Look beyond the title

Many of you may find you don’t have what it takes to get that entry-level job. Yes, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but in PR (and some other industries), it’s very common. Most entry-level public relations jobs ask for at least one year of experience. In some cases, they may also ask for additional skills such as graphic design, publication layout, coding and others that are historically outside the realm of traditional PR or internships. While it can seem frustrating, there is a way to get that requisite experience — a post-graduate internship. In other words, don’t worry so much about the title of the position. Instead, be sure you are moving forward with building your skillset and experience.

While I’m not advocating for accepting the first job you’re offered, I am strongly encouraging you to be flexible, broadminded, and consider things you might not have a year or two ago. As Janel Steinberg, VP of Liberty US, recently said, “…the most important thing is to get that first foothold into your career.”


Networking can never be understated. Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails, Facetime, or however you go about it, you should always be networking. Social media—specifically Twitter (and LinkedIn, of course) is a great place to meet others in the industry, especially if you take the time to participate in Twitter chats. Virtual conferences and webinars are also great places to network. If you’re still in school and on-campus, this could be through pre-professional organizations like PRSSA. Peer networking is important and beneficial, too!

Finally, whether you are a member or not, you should read the PRSA March edition of Strategies & Tactics, entitled “A New Era for Networking.” It’s chock-full of great advice, no matter where you are in your career journey.

*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on March 9, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

Code-Switching in the Workplace: Being Authentic and Building Resilience

What do code-switching, covering and assimilation have in common? They are all ways people change their behavior to fit a particular situation. For clarification, let’s begin with definitions of each:

  • Code-switching is “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities,” according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. There’s also code-switching in bilingual and multilingual people who switch between languages in their conversations.
  • Covering (sometimes called ‘passing’) is a tactic people use to minimize stereotyped or stigmatized parts of their identity in an effort to reduce the potential negative effects of bias.
  • Assimilation is denouncing or abandoning one’s primary cultural practices and the adoption of another. While assimilation is deliberate, it typically surfaces under external pressure. Assimilation is a complete and, often, an enduring loss of culture—to the point that they become indistinguishable from the dominant group.

The Plank Center for Leadership in PR and the Public Relations Student Society (PRSSA) recently hosted a webinar entitled Code Switching: Building Resilience Amid Workplace Challenges. It was led by former PRSSA National President and Digital & Advocacy Communications Manager at IBM, Brandi Boatner, along with Dr. Nilanjana R. Bardhan, professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and a Plank Center board member; and, moderated by Haniya Shariff, PRSSA National Board vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Bardhan kicked things off with a brief history and background, explaining that to be informed, we must first understand the history while also looking at the future. She says we need to talk about “the responsibility of leaders in our professions to build inclusive and intercultural workplaces.”

“Due to a history of racial oppression and segregation in the United States, code-switching tends to happen mainly along racial lines.” Dr. Bardhan explained. In the U.S., it “has come to mean how Black Americans and other people of color (POC) entering predominately White spaces (e.g., workplace, education) feel the pressure to conform to White norms, speech, practices, and appearance.”

Code-switching and the Black experience

Brandi Boatner explained that “Black Americans are in a unique position because our culture is also our race.” She says this traces all the way back to slavery, “when Black people’s identities were stripped away and had to adopt different identities, but still have the race and skin color (skin tone) be what defines you.” And yet, you can’t tell the story of America without telling the story of Black people (technology, pop culture, food, music).

Boatner says Black people are always code-switching in the workplace as a survival mechanism to avoid negative stereotypes. And it comes at a significant cost —the result of using code-switching as a ‘coping strategy’ is often exhaustion, burnout, emotional stress, and the inability to be fully productive.

A great visual example of code-switching is this GIF of (then) President Obama greeting the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team in 2012. Notice the distinct difference between how he greets the white coach and how he greets NBA All-Star Kevin Durant. 

Boatner went on to talk about covering (or ‘passing’), “downplaying a known stigmatized identity to blend into the mainstream.” Dr. Kenji Yoshino calls covering the “hidden assault on our civil rights,” and in 2006 literally wrote the book on it.

According to a Deloitte report on Inclusion, there are four types of covering: appearance-based, affiliation-based, advocacy-based and association-based. The study reported that 61% of all employees in the workplace cover—with the largest groups being LGBTQ+ (83%), Blacks (79%) and Hispanics (63%).

Boatner says, “There is an inherent need for us to bring our authentic self not only to the workplace but also our personal lives.” That brings to mind what Shakespeare famously wrote in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Diversity is a FACT. Equity is a CHOICE. Inclusion is an ACTION. Belonging is an OUTCOME. -Arthur Chan

Inclusive Workplaces

Boatner shared a quote from Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategist Arthur Chan, “Diversity is a FACT. Equity is a CHOICE. Inclusion is an ACTION. Belonging is an OUTCOME.”

She believes we are currently in the “inclusion phase” — we need to take action, either championing for inclusive workspaces or calling-on leaders to practice inclusive leadership, and to be sure we (as communicators) are using inclusive communications.

Inclusion means that all individuals are treated fairly and respectively, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can fully contribute to the organization’s success.

Leaders need to lead with inclusion, be an example, and be held accountable—and make sure DEI programs encourage differences (not expect conformity). She says leaders who just ‘check the boxes’ are merely going through the motions. We need to show up and be ‘color brave,’ not color blind. Corporate statements of support are good, but tangible, measurable actions are better.

Boatner shared several recent actions taken by industry leaders and brands that demonstrate all of these qualities. She encourages everyone to consider all of this when looking at potential employers and in the brands we support.

The Cost Of Code Switching, YouTube video with Chandra Arthur

If you are among those who don’t need to code-switch, then here are four steps you can take:

  1. Build empathy and mindfulness
  2. Check your bias
  3. Offer affirmations
  4. Be an active ally

Beyond being an ally, she challenged us to be an “accomplice” – meaning we are intentionally and actively involved in helping, rather than just cheering from the sidelines.

A good start, and a long way to go, in public relations

While code-switching is universal in our society, it’s especially prevalent in the PR profession, where the industry is nearly 90% White, says Dr. Bardhan. The good news is that it’s changing —and while the work has started, there is still a long way to go. She also says to build resilience if you find you do code-switch by seeking out allies and mentors, embracing your identity and being your authentic self.

Personal observation

Several years ago, after I had finished a client meeting and emerged from my (work-from-home) office, my husband said, “You must’ve been talking with someone in the south.” I laughed and said yes, but how did he know? Apparently, I naturally code-switched to a southern accent and slang. Since then, I’ve noticed that I do the same thing when talking with Black friends and colleagues, and when I’m around other generations (age groups)—modifying my language and mannerisms.


The immense difference in what I (and many other White folks) do is that it’s simple. We don’t feel pressured to do it or that our career advancement depends on it.

Black people’s code-switching in the workplace is complex and can have real-world consequences—both social and psychological—as outlined in a recent Harvard Business Review research-backed article.

Diversity without inclusion simply isn’t enough.

Note: The playback link for the webinar should be available via the PRSSA webinars page.




.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on February 23, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

5 Steps to Win with Social Listening and Analytics

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In a previous post, I talked about the importance of adding social listening to your PR tech stack, and the difference between social media monitoring and listening in preparation for the webinar with Burrelles partner, Talkwalker, on February 4.

Now that the event is behind us, I’m following-up to recap some key points from it.

How social listening maximizes performance and minimizes risk

Social listening and analytics give you the ability to take all these conversations and gain meaningful insights and data. This allows you to tie your efforts back to the bottom line, so you can prove exactly what communications brings to the table and move communications and PR from a cost to a profit center.

Why listening to social media conversations is so vital

Think about these facts for a moment. Every 10 minutes on the internet, there are:

  • Over 5 million tweets[1]
  • Over 60,000 Instagram posts
  • Over 50 million YouTube videos viewed
  • Over 22 million people are logged in to Facebook[2]

While most organizations recognize the need for monitoring print, web, and broadcast media, social is often overlooked or managed by another department. PR pros need to own the entire communications suite to get a full 360° view of communications around the brand, competitors, topics, patterns and trends.

Ivanna Hajnecka, Talkwalker Partners Marketing Manager, pointed out these ‘fun facts’ to emphasize just how much social media matters.

How PR pros are using social listening

Previously, I offered some statistics gleaned from Talkwalker’s 2020 Global State of PR report, and that media monitoring is still deemed the most valuable element when it comes to reporting results.

The good news is that 44% of marcom / PR professionals use some form of social listening on a daily basis. If you add in those who use social listening on a weekly or monthly basis, that number rises to about 92%. However, the 56% who do not use it daily may be missing out on trends, patterns, and crucial early-warning indicators to potential crises.

The main takeaway from all of that is in this digital age, “PR no longer stands alone; the lines between marketing and PR are more blurred and mixed than ever,” Ivanna pointed out.

So what are the five steps to win with social listening and analytics?

While I don’t want to give away all the details, I’ll offer some high-level points and encourage you to listen to and watch the webinar playback for the full story.

  1. Listen to your organization. Monitor both your online and offline presence in the media landscape to gain brand awareness and other insights (such as sentiment). We understand this sometimes means using multiple tools. For this reason, Burrelles partnered with Talkwalker — to provide a single framework with comprehensive data flowing in from all channels, online and off.
  2. Utilize image and video recognition. You may think this isn’t as important as what people say, when in fact, around 80% of social media content includes either an image or video. PR pros are well aware that brand reputation is crucial, but if you’re not monitoring images and video, you’re missing out on a wealth of information!
  3. Keep an eye on the competition. Benchmarking and analyzing your competition’s behavior provides an understanding of the market and can be used as a source for content ideation, consumer insights and brand reputation.
  4. Mitigate risk. I have to agree with Ivanna when she said, “It’s about when a crisis happens, not if.” This is another area that PR pros know very well. It’s essential to have a constantly updated crisis communications plan and to be cautious and anticipate with real-time data.
  5. Keep data consistent. You can avoid disjointed data, information silos, and variations in data gathering methodologies when choosing a platform with a comprehensive offering. Ivanna pointed out that, “In the face of an abundance of data sources, PR practitioners globally are looking for a single source of truth, a platform that combines all their insights in one place.”

At this point in the webinar, Dorothy Wang, Talkwalker Senior Partner Manager, did a very brief demonstration showcasing easy-to-use dashboards with details on brand listening, image recognition, managing multiple social networks and data streams, and generating professional reports.

One final insight from the Global State of PR report that I found especially interesting is what marcom / PR professionals consider valuable to include in your reports and how it demonstrates the convergence of marketing, communications, and public relations:

There were great follow-up questions asked and answered, as well as more details on all the points listed above, so be sure to check out the full Burrelles on-demand webinar playback!





.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on February 9, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

Media Pitching Best Practices

Media-pitching-best-practiceYou’re probably thinking, “of course I know how to pitch the media,” but do you? Really?

Long gone are the days of plugging in some criteria, pulling a media list from a media directory service, and then blasting out a news release to hundreds (or thousands) of media contacts. This outdated tactic is often referred to as “spray and pray.”

Former journalist, now media relations coach and trainer, Michael Smart says “…that all great pitching pros implement [this one thing] … building a custom media list for every new story angle.”

Media relations basics haven’t changed much:

  • Stay on top of breaking news–so you’ll know where your or your client’s story may fit in, and so you’re not pitching at an inappropriate time.
  • Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes–understand, empathize, appreciate, anticipate.
  • Act ethically with honesty, integrity and respect—never, ever lie.
  • Be accessible and straightforward –deliver well-thought-out responses, don’t ad-lib, and “no comment” is not an acceptable reply to any question.

Like us (PR pros), journalists are doing more with less. They’re covering more subjects, writing more stories — and in many cases also creating blog posts, opinion pieces and podcasts; and they’re doing it with shorter deadlines.

You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” This definitely applies here!

Seth Arenstein, editor of PRNEWS, told rbb Communications, “Too often you find PR pros who’ve failed to do their homework before they contact you.”

We must be diligent in digging deeper – looking at past stories, reading the journalists’ and outlets’ blogs, and seeing what they’re tweeting about—in other words, virtually getting to know the person enough to be confident that the story that you’re pitching is a good fit.

Here are five questions you should ask yourself before pitching a story:

  1. Is the content pertinent, timely, fresh and newsworthy?
  2. Have you stated the essential facts (products, services, events, people, projects) while avoiding jargon or specialized technical lingo?
  3. Do you have facts, statistics, photos, quotes, back-up stories, video or audio, and experts available where you need them?
  4. Have you tailored the pitch to the specific interests of the targeted journalist or blogger?
  5. Are you capable of presenting your pitch in 150 words or less—complete with the story’s significance, the unique angle, the connection to their readers, and its relevance?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges of pitching during times of crisis, since we’ve all been living one crisis after another over the past year. Regardless, we still have jobs to do and must proceed — with caution and sensitivity. Who can forget the scathing The New York Times article last year when a fashion publicist pitched latex lingerie — during the initial spike of the pandemic? Or (from the same article) a poorly-planned pitch for Brazilian body waxing when lockdowns were beginning.

Obviously, this blog post isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive guide or checklist, but if you answer “yes” to all five, it certainly stacks the odds in your favor!




.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on January 19, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

Why Adding Social Listening to your PR Tech Stack is Important

42499885065_35c4294c28_o-social mediaAs a communicator, you’ve likely heard some variation of “The reason we have two ears and only one mouth is so that we may listen more and talk less.” Listening to your audience couldn’t be more essential for social media as part of your media monitoring plan.

What is social listening?

“Social media listening is about finding and tracking online conversations. Conversations around keywords, phrases, and events. Conversations about your brand and business, about your industry, and your competitors. Listening to conversations will help you find patterns and trends you can use to your advantage,” as described by Burrelles partner, Talkwalker.

Social listening begins with monitoring, which alerts you to what’s being said; however, that’s only part of the process. Social listening looks beyond the mentions, likes, and engagements to the meaning behind the mentions and what intelligence can be gleaned from those conversations.

Why is social listening so important?

In the guide referenced above, Meg says, “Brands can join conversations, and because they’ve listened, they can provide real help and advice, rather than thinly disguised sales messages. Brand visibility will improve, trust will increase, and this will lead to an increase in qualified leads.”

A valuable social (and media) monitoring and listening tool will provide useful insights for your brand (or client or organization) — and key competitors. It should help you identify the sentiment or mood around a topic being mentioned across social media platforms. It can improve customer service by being able to react quickly. It should also make it easy to track patterns, trends, share of voice, and identify your influencers. In doing so, you may even be able to address potential reputation crises before they ‘go viral’ or get other unwanted attention.

By combining printed news magazines and newspapers with online news, blogs, TV, radio and social media, you get a “360-degree view” of your communications (including measurement analytics).

The difference between collecting (monitoring alone) and genuinely listening is best described as “Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.” Or, “Monitoring finds symptoms; listening finds causes,” as Dan Neely wrote for Marketing Profs.

How are PR pros using social listening?

According to a recent Talkwalker-YouGov report* on the State of Global PR, more than three-quarters (77%) say social media management and campaigns are a part of their PR offering. Interestingly, or perhaps alarmingly, fewer than half (48%) are using social listening and analytics tools. Yikes!

The same report showed the majority of respondents also say content marketing (77%), influencer marketing (67%) and link-building for SEO (56%) all part of their responsibility.

*The report was generated by the survey results of 3,700 respondents from 82 countries.

For more information on how the increased global use of social listening is impacting PR today, along with five steps you can use to win with social listening & analytics, sign-up for the free webinar on Thursday, February 4, at 1 pm EST / 11 am PST.

We think you’ll agree, there’s a lot you can learn about the ever-growing importance of including social listening as part of your media monitoring plan!




.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on January 27, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission.