A few weeks ago I finished classes at Centennial College’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program and it really felt like a whirlwind. Some days were extremely long, but the weeks and months flew faster than I imagined. I thought it would be useful to reflect on my experience with CCPR not only as a means to inventory my skills and experience, but also to provide a look inside the program for future students.
Why I came to CCPR
I came to the program because I knew I wanted to work for an agency and this seemed like a great way to gain the skills I wanted and eventually get my foot-in-the-door as an intern. One of the things I realized on the first day was the very different reasons why people came to this program and the different places they were coming from. As expected, most people who come to college to do a post-graduate certificate are recent University/College graduates, but there are others who had significant work experience but wanted to change their career (glad I wasn’t the only one!). I came to this program because I wanted to learn a set of specific skills that I didn’t gain in my previous work doing technical writing and marketing communications. During interviews over the previous year that were more PR-focused I realized I didn’t know enough about project management, strategic communications planning, social media monitoring, media relations or event management. I knew that Centennial’s CCPR program had classes in these subjects and being able to learn those skills in an 8 month timeframe was a great opportunity to learn quickly. For the other skills I already felt I had, it was great to have a refresher about copy editing, writing for specific audiences and learning more about graphic design. Now I feel totally ready to reach my goal of working for a PR agency.
Learning the tools of the trade
One of the most frustrating parts of job searching is reading the description of your dream job only to realize that you don’t know anything about the industry-specific tools they use. Communications jobs offer a huge array of possibilities, with some digital communications positions requiring knowledge in front-end and back-end web development, while other more creative jobs require knowing how to use most of Adobe Creative Suite or business/marketing oriented jobs require being an advanced user of excel with proficiency in quantitative analysis methods. Most of these software skills are pretty difficult to learn on your own. I wanted to know more about programs such as: CisionPoint, Google Analytics, MR2P and InDesign. While I am not an expert, I can at least use them at an intermediate level and I understand what they do. Learning new software is one of the most difficult parts of any class or job, but I am proud to say that I am pretty comfortable using these tools that I knew nothing about 8 months ago.
Getting real world experience
Looking back I am impressed with the exposure I received while working with real world clients and campaigns. College is all about hands-on learning of practical skills and CCPR provided those opportunities. Obviously for Toronto PR types, studying this discipline during the media frenzy of Rob Ford’s antics provided a pretty perfect backdrop for talking about real situations for this year, but it went well beyond that. While not every assignment was directly from a real client, the situations were drawn from current issues clients have dealt with or at least based on previous real campaigns that our instructors worked on during their PR/Communications careers.
Part of the program is also getting out into the real world and contacting professionals. Leaving the comfort of the classroom was pretty terrifying at first, but it was also absolutely necessary. I was lucky enough to interview another newly minted PR professional who was working at Edelman, and an award-winning editor of Orphan Black. Eventually I was given the opportunity to bring in people from the real world and create actual campaigns or events to meet the needs of their business or organization. Throughout my various classes I was able to work with real clients including: The Casey House, Prostate Cancer Canada, The Ontario Educational Collaborative Marketplace, Christian’s Children’s Fund of Canada, Centennial College and Stikeman Elliott LLP.
Here is a photo of my amazing Event Management group at the El Mocambo with the CEO of Casey House Stephanie Karapita.
I won an award of recognition from Christian Children’s Fund of Canada for helping spread the word about their Free From Violence Campaign on social media. If you’re reading this PLEASE add your name to the petition to make ending violence and exploitation of children a priority for the United Nations. http://freefromviolence.org/take-action/
Advice for incoming students
- Network – Networking isn’t even optional anymore, it is an absolute necessity. No matter what your chosen career path or profession, it is extremely important to have connections to important and influential people in your industry. Join the IABC or CPRS and go to their events. Volunteer your time with local events or charities. If you meet an interesting guest-speaker in class or a former student, add them on LinkedIn. Go to agency open houses. As a student you’re in a place where people want to help you out because they began their career the same way. Do whatever you can to build your network because this is the perfect time to do it.
- Go to class – This program is only eight months long and it will go by very quickly. Since it’s a condensed program the days can be very long and it’s tempting to skip a class here or there once you’re feeling burnt out. Don’t. It is important that you go to class and absorb everything you can. You’re paying for it after all.
- Build a portfolio – The assignments you’re doing on a weekly basis aren’t just something to be submitted for grades and forgotten about. What you are learning and creating in these classes apply to directly to the real world. If you work hard and create/write something fantastic, wear it as a badge of honour and show it off during future interviews.
- Befriend your instructors – You spend every day listening and taking notes from real professionals from your field. In the case of Centennial you may be lucky enough to be learning from someone with a lifetime of experience as a consultant, director or executive in the industry you want to join. These are the types of professionals you wouldn’t normally have access to as a junior member of a company or agency, so take advantage of the opportunity.
- Take initiative – Beyond your normal classes and work different opportunities will come up for school-wide projects, volunteer opportunities or maybe even part-time jobs. Take initiative to be involved in or help out with any opportunity that comes your way. It will make you stand out from your peers.
- Set a goal – Although the world of public relations and communications offers many different types of careers and opportunities, it never hurts to plan ahead. Your classes will give you exposure to media relations, event planning, strategic communications, social media management and all sorts of disciplines that are related to specific jobs. Figure out what type of work you like and what type of sector you want to work for in your future. It’s great to get a head start on this before you begin applying for internships and junior positions.
- Stay positive – The world of public relations in Toronto is pretty small, interconnected and highly competitive. That last part is true of an industry in the last half-decade. Never before have so many highly educated young people had such a difficult time finding a job, let alone their dream job. The whole experience of searching for a job or an internship can be physically and emotionally taxing. Work hard, network, advertise yourself and most importantly: stay positive. Negativity is contagious and counter-productive.
Of course classes are the easy part. Now comes the real hard work of breaking into the industry. Stay tuned to this blog as next week I will be reporting from the trenches.