This May, I graduated from Georgetown University with my Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. I was able to work full-time and go to school at night, thanks to a combination of awesome and flexible bosses, my family, caffeine and an intensely color-coded Google Calendar.
I loved my program because it was geared toward people like me — early and mid-career professionals looking to beef up their communications skills or to pivot industries. Most of my classmates also worked full-time in various facets of PR and communications, which fostered interesting conversations both in and outside of the classroom.
Now, a few months following my graduation, I’ve had some time to reflect on what I learned over the course of my three years in the program. And all of the projects, papers, articles, late nights and Diet Cokes consumed in my grad school career can be boiled down to a few key nuggets of PR wisdom:
Start with the who and the why.
When crafting a full-blown communications plan or launching a campaign, it’s crucial to keep your audience and your goal in focus. PR and communications folks tend to be creative, so the tendency is often to jump to the tactics first. An event! A Twitter banner! Branded swag! But this misses the forest for the trees. Maintaining laser-focus on who the audience is and why you want to reach them allows communicators to set and achieve realistic goals.
Write so a third-grader can understand.
Eliminate sesquipedalian loquaciousness — or rather, delete those big words. You don’t actually sound smarter if you write in this style. In fact, if you can’t explain something using basic language, you may not actually know what you’re talking about. In my PR Writing class, we projected our writing onto the big screen and, as a group, pored over each others’ draft press releases and talking points and eliminated all jargon and acronyms. This exercise has stayed with me and has helped me to write better and faster. Write for clarity and everyone will thank you.
Templates are your friend.
When in doubt, start with a framework. There is a science to writing op-eds, talking points and speeches, and smart people who came before you already figured a lot of it out. Having a template actually unleashes originality because it allows you to be creative in your writing without distracting from your goals. This is particularly true of the work we do at the Glen Echo Group, where we often translate highly technical policy into digestible language. There is no need to layer unfamiliar formatting on top of an already-tricky subject matter. Start with a template and let the creative juices flow from there.
Everything is digital.
Today, we consume media digitally, so we should create content that is best consumed online. Optimize for search with the language people actually use in their Google searches. Use video and visuals and size them appropriately across social media platforms. Make content shareable and downloadable. As I learned in my Digital Crisis class, even crisis communications is now heavily digital — and crises often start with a single tweet. Every communicator should understand the digital landscape and the digital tools at her disposal.
You have a personal brand — you just might not know it yet.
Whether you’re a PR professional or not, you have a personal brand. My Personal Branding course instilled one key mantra: “Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Conceptually, this is important when supporting clients in thought leadership initiatives, but it is also important for growing a career in PR and communications. Be kind to everyone, from reporters to clients to colleagues to classmates to the IT guy. Do it because it builds your brand as a great person to work with, but also because it’s the right thing to do.
Note: This article originally appeared on Medium.