How using the research skills you learned in college can pay off

You may think survey methodologies, literature reviews, and annotated bibliographies are in your past, but they can help PR pros in the present.

Remember those coffee-filled college nights studying in the library, when you said, “I’ll never use this again”?

I do. I told myself that often, usually as a coping mechanism to get through finals. Then I entered the work world, and after getting some experience under my belt, I realized those college courses were, and remain, quite valuable.

In fact, incorporate some of those often-forgotten college lessons into your toolkit and you could help the PR department and yourself get important recognition from the executive suite.

Remember research? It’s kind of a big deal.

From survey methodology to annotated bibliographies, college and graduate courses are filled with research. And in the moment, it’s easy to look to a bright future where research gets handed off to an external agency and you never have to hear the word “citation” again.

However, your future, career-wise, will actually be much brighter if you can bring a research-filled mindset to the table. Here’s how:

  • Use a survey before and after a campaign to evaluate how your PR efforts affected change. This will help you prove PR value to the C-Suite, and even if you’re not the one implementing, you’re the wise, educated PR pro who came up with the idea.
  • Before starting a new PR program, devote several hours to research. Think of this as the literature review, and find insights from previous research and successful brands’ case studies to inform your work.

Start with a ‘SWOT.’

Oh, the good old “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats” (SWOT) analysis. We were trained to perform SWOTs daily in my financial planning classes, yet most of us left this tactic in our dorms after graduating. But it’s coming back to haunt, er, help us.

Whether you start with a new client or are launching a new campaign, incorporate the SWOT into your pre-work research. It will give a full, well-thought-out view of obstacles you’re facing, while speaking the language of your brand’s leaders.

Perfect your presentation skills.

While it sometimes felt like it, professors don’t make students present in front of the class as a form of torture. It’s actually a valuable life skill both on the job and in the community.

Even if you’re not technically getting graded these days, you should still take every step (and then some) to prepare for your work presentations. Practice in front of the mirror or ask your friends to critique you so you can improve, build confidence and, ultimately, become more successful. You may not be “graded,” but your career depends on it.

As you well know, it’s critical to recall and use those college lessons in the workplace – you paid for it after all! But with the rapidly changing PR world, you must continue to learn and build your skillset every day.

What are some of the most valuable things you learned during school?

Stephanie Vermillion is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati . She is on the PRSA Cincinnati Leadership Team and is part of the PRSA Cincinnati New Pros Committee. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SMVermillion).


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