08 Apr So You Majored in Political Science…
By: Maggie Hollander
Growing up, I really loved The West Wing. So when it came time to head off to college, it only made sense that I would go to school in D.C., major in Political Science, and become the next Sam Seaborn by age 27. That was until about a month into my studies, when I realized I had no interest in going into politics professionally.
Despite this realization, I kept up the Poli Sci major, as I loved learning about the game of politics. At the start of every new class, we would go around the room and say a little about ourselves—one guy worked on education policy for Obama, another ran a local congressman’s campaign in his home district—and every time it was my turn, I would introduce myself and say I had no interest in ever running a political campaign. One time, a professor (who liked me; I was a solid student in all of her classes) smiled, rolled her eyes, and asked what the hell I was doing there then.
What was I doing? I was learning about PR, I just didn’t know it yet. But now that I’m older and wiser, I can see how it all ties together. Here’s a list of five things I learned about PR while majoring in Poli Sci.
It’s a Small World
Anyone who has ever entered politics or PR knows that, as vast as either universe may seem from the outside, they’re both very, very small worlds once you’re up close. Everyone knows everyone, so it’s important to keep up your network—and be careful who you choose as your enemies. And in both industries, you’ve always got to keep an eye on the revolving door, because you never know who might step through it next.
Reporters Will Tell the Most Interesting Story, Not the “Good” or “Bad” One
Reporters are always looking for the best story, period. What that “best story” looks like—the most clicks, the most in-depth, the story no one else is telling—may vary from person to person, but overall, good reporters want to tell the story their specific set of readers will find most engaging. Whether you’re a press secretary or a PR executive, it’s important to keep in mind that the press aren’t necessarily “out to get” you or your candidate/client—from their perspective, it’s simply about getting readers’ attention in a journalistic space that’s more crowded than ever before.
Client Relations Can Be a Tricky Thing to Master
Politicians can occasionally be a, uh, cranky kind of folk. The same often applies to PR clients, too. Handling sensitive situations with clients is anything but black and white, and requires a level of instinct that can only be learned through experience. Throughout my internship experiences, both in PR and politics, there were several occasions when I had to ensure “important” people were happy and taken care of while in my presence. It took me time to feel out each situation, and to learn when I should be extra spunky or more toned-down (and that not everyone will want the same type of attention and assistance). Whether you’re on the campaign trail or at an agency, having good client relations skills in your toolkit will only help you succeed.
Every News Cycle Has An End
While interning at NBC’s Meet The Press, I sat next to monitors constantly running the news. At one point, it seemed like the coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s affair (and subsequent love child) would never, ever, EVER end. But it did, and then there was a new story for all the news networks to cover. In PR, sometimes it can seem like a bad story—or storyline—will haunt us and our clients forever. But there will always be a new story, and any nightmarish coverage will fade away into recycle bins and digital archives. On the flip side…
15 Minutes of Fame is Fine, But a Long-Lasting Reputation Takes Time to Build
Whether it’s a glowing cover story or an article citing your candidate/client as an in-demand source, just as a disastrous news cycle will come to an end, so too will the positive fifteen minutes of fame. After all, a real, long-lasting good reputation is built up over time. For politicians, this means their record in office and their actions on each and every campaign trail all contribute to their overall reputation. When it comes to companies, it’s about a steady cadence of corporate progress, customer support, expansion and growth, etc., and press coverage/releases/content reflecting this. In PR and in politics alike, it’s our job never to get caught up in the moment and always keep plugging away on behalf of those we’re supporting.
Even though I didn’t end up becoming Sam Seaborn, I loved studying political science, and I don’t regret my degree for a single minute. Everything I learned brought me to where I am today: LaunchSquad! Did you make the move from poli sci kid to PR person? Sound off with your experiences below!
And if you’re curious about what other skills transfer to the PR world, check out more unconventional ways to hone your industry knowledge here.
Image c/o TheNYPost.com