As millions of college students prepare for their annual migration back to campuses, they will continue their education amid one of the most challenging job markets in decades.
Many PR veterans can recall a time when a communications, journalism or liberal arts degree combined with internships at related businesses set a young candidate squarely on the path toward an entry-level career.
The B2B PR journey was even less predictable, as communicators brought with them specializations in areas such as business, law, science, engineering, medicine, technology and more.
Realizing that hindsight is 20/20, we queried seasoned B2B communicators: If you could teach a course for new professionals on preparing for a B2B communications career, what are the top three things you would cover based on your own experiences?
Director, Corporate Marketing Communications, Sensus
You can actually design a career path in the B2B world. Non-profits, government, utilities, technology, heavy industry —you name it—you have a better shot at landing a job in the B2B world than you do on the consumer or agency side. There are just that many more B2B opportunities out there, and less competition for those positions.
Here are three things I would teach:
1. Event planning. Seriously. It seems silly, but whether it’s PR or marketing communications, somewhere along the way, you will be involved with planning and managing a conference, sales meeting, fundraising dinner, golf outing, grand opening or other activity where meeting planning and budgeting skills will be required. Effectively managing a high-profile event can pave the way for greater responsibilities. With all events, you are making someone look good—whether it’s the VP of sales, the CEO, a customer, the governor, etc. Do this well and you’ll be called upon again and again for your expertise.
2. Crisis management. I don’t know if this is part of today’s curriculum, but every student wishing to pursue a communications career should be required to take a course in crisis management before they graduate. And if they are already in the workforce, they should attend a course sponsored by a company like the Institute for Crisis Management.
3. Self-promotion. Learn how to promote your achievements inside the organization without being overly or overtly pompous. I don’t think you ever learn how to effectively do this but it should be part of every communicator’s education. Especially in B2B companies, everyone is a marketer, and any idea you have will be someone else’s. I heard someone say: “When the VP of manufacturing is presenting, everyone listens and nobody speaks. When the VP of finance is presenting, everyone listens and nobody speaks. When the VP of marketing is presenting, everyone speaks and nobody listens.”
Manager, Corporate Communications, Schindler Elevator Corporation
1. Get real-world experience. PR and communications is about storytelling. As communicators, we need to be able to effectively share the stories of our company and our brand, and you can’t do that without experience on the operational level.
In B2B, the stories are often more complicated than for consumer products. Having real business experience through internships, entry-level positions or other jobs within a company goes far beyond what you’ve learned in school, helping you put those lessons into practice.
2. Learn to multitask. For today’s professionals, the ability to focus on many projects at once is a must. Keeping track of moving and changing deadlines, providing updates on the progress of constantly evolving projects and, sometimes, knowing when to cede control are crucial skills in a business environment where there are countless opportunities to tell your story.
3. Write, write, write. Our primary challenge as communicators is to fight through the growing clutter of messages to have your voice be heard. The single most effective tool to have in your arsenal is the ability to write clear, succinct and compelling stories for a variety of audiences. Whether that audience is the B2B media, your internal project team or your own boss, the importance of your ability to consistently explain complex ideas in writing will never diminish, and will likely be the factor that separates you from your competition. Practice writing for different audiences and seek out those who are willing to provide honest feedback.
Director of Communications, Space Systems/Loral
1. Be flexible. There are a lot of ways to move into a PR role and you may need to be creative in order to show a prospective employer how your experience relates to the role you want to play. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as marketing communications when I graduated from college, but after entry level jobs at an art gallery and an architecture firm, I was able to position my experience as relevant for doing B2B PR. Sales is great experience for a PR career. Instead of selling a widget, you are selling a story. It takes persistence, understanding what the “customer wants” and communicating well.
2. Package yourself. If you spend a lot of time on Facebook and/or Twitter, that could be a real asset to a communications team lead by someone from my generation.
I have Facebook and Twitter accounts but it is not in my DNA like it is in someone’s who is just graduating from college. Know that your familiarity with social media can be an important asset to any kind of business. Look at what businesses are doing with social networking and be ready to demonstrate how your facility with these tools can apply to the prospective employer’s business.
3. Work at an agency. Entry level positions at PR agencies can be really challenging, but if you are willing to work hard, you will learn about a lot of different client businesses.
I knew nothing about technology when I got my first agency job, but I learned that as long as I could say one or two really clear sentences about a product, such as a “radio frequency bridge” or “enterprise middleware,” that I could get the right people’s attention. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, put things in writing and get feedback. Plus look for a manager who is interested in teaching and mentoring you. That can be key to your future success. PRN
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B2B Communications is written and compiled by Mary C. Buhay, VP of marketing and business development at New York-based Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.