Though the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest levels since early 2009, the job market is still inundated with seasoned professionals. This has made it difficult for PR graduates on the employment front, especially in public relations where many entry-level positions require at least two years of experience.
One thing that helped me stand out in the industry was working on a political campaign.
In 2007, I started my master’s degree in communications and, one year later, took an internship with a PR firm. Waste deep into the internship, the 2008 presidential elections were well under way and one of my mentors came to me and asked if I’d be interested in working on the campaign trail.
At first, I didn’t know what to say. I had no experience in politics and wasn’t sure where it might take me. Before I could answer, my mentor told me to take the job, insisting it would greatly affect my future.
Turns out, he was right.
Almost four years later, I’ve seen the inside of the Pentagon, worked for cabinet-level members, written speeches for Congresswomen and had various opportunities to work on great initiatives in the private sector. I credit my campaign experience and the support of my mentors as the main reasons I’ve had such a fruitful career path thus far.
So, if you’re willing to put in long hours for little pay—familiar conditions in the entry-level PR world—to gain experience and bolster your resume, you might want to consider joining this year’s campaign trail.
Here are some additional, important reasons as to why working on a political campaign can be an asset for young PR pros:
Gain a wealth of knowledge
Companies often specialize in specific fields. On a campaign, you gain knowledge on the facts of virtually every industry in the U.S., including agriculture, defense, education policy, finance, and more. This positions you to work in various industries and avoid getting pigeonholed down the road.
Get hands-on experience
Some companies like to keep the interns in the background, while campaigns need all the help they can get. On short notice, I was asked to staff a press event for a campaign surrogate, which I had never done before. As my supervisor at the time said, “The best way to learn is to learn on the job, so hit the ground running!”
Learn how to work in fast-pace environments
With campaigns being so public and high profile, you are pushed to another level of working under pressure—something with which all PR pros should be comfortable. When you’re writing a press release with facts and figures associated with your candidate, there is neither room nor time to make mistakes. On a campaign, you quickly learn how to write a sound article under pressure, and with tight deadlines.
Experience different events
On a campaign, you are constantly on your feet and running around. Whether it’s a student rally or a press event, there are dozens of opportunities in which you need to earn coverage. The campaign will work your judgment-making skills to the max, helping you become better at spotting media opportunities.
Grow thick skin
Working on a campaign brings a whole new meaning to the word “deadline.” Your director, the reporters, and your campaign mates are all strung out on coffee and sleepless nights. There is no time but to get to the point.
Early in my PR career, I struggled with pitching concisely to reporters. I took it personally when they hung up on me or when my director grew impatient. Working on the campaign helped me grow thicker skin and a quicker mind.
Become prepared on all fronts
PR pros should see every angle to a story, good and bad, weak and strong. This is especially true in politics. Working with the press on a campaign teaches you to not only pay attention to your own side of the argument, but also challenges you to often understand your competitors better than you understand yourself. You must always be prepared and be one step ahead of your competition.
End up a pitching machine
On the campaign, you are exposed to local, national, and sometimes international media. With each early morning you spend clipping news articles, you start to become well read on not just domestic issues, but on communities and people throughout the U.S. and the world. This teaches you to learn the various styles of reporters and how to speak in their language. When a client seeks your advice on where to place a story, you’ll be prepared to give them several of the best options.
Find networking opportunities everywhere
As the saying goes: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know that matters.” Though I still like to stress that always being open to learning new things and honing your skills is key to maintaining a successful career, make no mistake that connections also open doors for you. This is especially true on campaigns.
Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay worked on the 2008 Obama/Biden presidential campaign in North Florida. She also worked at the U.S. Department of Defense as a communications specialist and was appointed at the U.S. Department of Justice. She recently joined a private firm to work on public policy and Hispanic Affairs initiatives. Follow her on Twitter @JacquelineO_PR. A version of this story appeared on the PR at Sunrise blog.