Public relations was described in the most glowing terms by numerous speakers at a career forum at Boston University last night attended by about 200 students.

Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms, sponsor of the "Take Flight to PR -- a Smart Career Choice" program, said PR is a $10 billion global business and that at least 60% of the 110 member firms of CPRF added staff last year.

Jens Bang
Students attend the CPRF event.
Photos by Justin Soto
She described PR as "a very high-energy profession, a really good place to work…these firms [CPRF members] are great places to work."

Cripps conceded that PR can be stressful but said: "So what, a lot of great jobs are stressful. It makes a dynamic career opportunity. Stress means it’s an important job. If you thrive on multi-tasking and doing a lot of different things, you will be rewarded. It’s also known for its high coffee consumption."

"Best Time to Be in PR"—Bang

Jens Bang, chair of Cone Communications and keynote speaker, said, "This is the best time ever to be in the PR business. You want to be a respected and valued partner. Today the opportunity to be a part of an executive leadership team and to add key value to a team is really important."

Jens Bang
Cone's Jens Bang said now is the best time to be in PR.
He described social media as "a full-fledged communications channel" that has "dramatically changed our industry" and said the news cycle has become irrelevant because "It is now a 24/7 world."

"Reputation, authenticity and brand character" were said to be of "paramount importance" and that the chief communications officer is "now part of the executive leadership team."

Demand for good writers continues to be high, he said. "We live in a world of increasing transparency. There is a lack of trust in business."

Moaney Describes PR Specialties

Gail Moaney, managing director and partner of Finn Partners, said there is a demand for people with expertise in specialties such as healthcare, technology, financial and various consumer products.

Gail Moaney of Finn Partners urged students to pursue specialties.
"Specialize in something that you truly love," she advised, saying that specialties often require "deep knowledge of the industry."

Some students might be interested in services that are used in all categories such as videography, she noted. "Ancillary services work across specialty areas," she said.

Areas of specialization on the client side include being in corporate communications, marketing, PR or internal communications, she said.

Cripps and Moaney raffled off a half dozen O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms that had been donated to the career forum. The Directory has rankings of PR firms in 12 categories.

Boches Describes Major Promotions

Edward Boches, professor of advertising at BU, said advertising, PR, promotion, social media and marketing people should all work together to "generate great ideas that resonate in the market" and should escape their own "silos."

He noted that Dan Edelman, founder of Edelman, used to say that advertising hit the high spots but that it was up to PR to tell "the deep story."

While holding Edelman "in high esteem," Boches nevertheless said such thinking is outmoded.

A "new kind of communication idea is emerging," he said.

"These new ideas, big and small, build trust, enhance reputation, tell stories, involve users, generate press coverage and effect change by blurring lines and breaking down walls. Or simply disregarding them."

He said users should not categorize where the ideas come from.

Boches was initially invited to speak at last night’s event, then disinvited when it was discovered he is an ad professor, and then invited again.

Ford, Amex, Pepsi Involved Consumers

He described recent successful promotions by companies such as Ford, American Express, Pepsi and IBM that won consumer involvement.

Ford conducted a "brilliant PR social campaign to launch the Fiesta by giving the car to 100 socially savvy content creators." The promotion generated hundreds of stories, millions of views, thousands of new customers" and gave Ford "valuable learning about a generation it hopes to win over."

Reception at BU.
American Express launched "Small Business Saturday" that illustrated its support of small business. Consumers were incented to check into FourSquarefor a discount and were rewarded for shopping there and "enticed to use the card."

As an example of the lines between advertising and PR "disappearing entirely," he noted that IBM had a "native advertising partnership" with Huffington Post. "IBM creates content that is actually useful and educational—a form that’s more reminiscent of PR than advertising—but one that pays for a distribution channel."

"Pepsi Refresh," he noted, is a program that links the product to cause related marketing.

Panelists Give Advice

Five panelists who work at PR firms gave advice to the students.

Laura Tomasetti, CEO of 360 PR, said "PR is a fantastic industry for women." Jobseekers should show they are willing to work with a team, she advised.

Panelists (L-R) Joe Baerlein, Rasky Baerlein; Phil Nardone, PAN Communications; Laura Tomasetti, 360 PR; George Snell, Weber Shandwick, and Ken Peters, Text 100.

Non-profits always need help and if a grad cannot find a job with a business then working for a non-profit will provide valuable experience, she added.

George Snell, senior VP at Weber Shandwick, said, "This is the best time to be in communication."

His advice for those who get interviews is "Ask questions until the person interviewing you throws you out…this shows that you are passionate and excited."

Writing skills are "extremely important," he said.

"Everything in this field is about the people you know. Learn to cooperate with others…PR for the most part focuses on teams and working with others."

Internships Important

Ken Peters, SVP of Text 100, described PR as "a great field" and said those who seek to enter it "have to be able to write well." He advised students to create their own blogs to show that they can write.

He described internships as "possibly more important than a master’s degree because that experience jumps off the page in your resume."

Joe Baerlein, president, Rasky Baerlein, said newcomers to PR should be "willing to do anything" such as "going to random places that no one else wants to go to."

Grads will have to "figure out their first break because no one is going to give it to you," he added.

Phil Nardone, CEO of PAN Communications, said newcomers should "enjoy being on the bottom and working with a team…we’re not necessarily looking for the brightest, but rather for the passionate."

He looks for some experience such as info graphics, graphic design, video, etc.

PR Is Biggest Program

Thomas Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication and professor of journalism, said PR is the largest program in the College.

"Boston University is very proud of its PR program," he said. "It was the first PR program in the world. That was the first point at which PR was deemed to be a field that merited academic study to understand how PR works…we are really proud of the program and the students that we get."

He thanked the working PR practitioners who took part in last night’s program and for the internships and jobs that they offer.