When I was in college, I had no idea what “public relations” meant. “PR” was a fuzzy term floating inside the massive building where most of my broadcast journalism classes took place. I vaguely knew it was part of the Advertising and PR curriculum. I also knew there were some extremely attractive coeds who majored in those two fields. But that was it.
PR was never on my career radar. My life’s goal was to be a reporter on a major TV network. If you can recall the NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, that’s who I wanted to be. If you had told me one day I’d be at o2ideas working with some of the world’s greatest brands in PR, I couldn’t have believed it.
To not throw total shade on those days, there were early successes. A paid summer internship led to a full-time job at a major TV station after college.
But years went by and life brought changes. Soon it was about marriage, a house and a baby. TV reporters’ wages didn’t really cover the costs of a marriage, a house and a baby.
Desperately, I looked for another career. Just something. But what? I had no idea.
Brokaw was broken.
Then the term “public relations” floated back into my life, straight from the domed ceiling of Reese Phifer Hall at my alma mater. My former boss in TV news had found a job in PR with BellSouth (now AT&T). After a couple of years of preparing, praying and pleading, that triggered the jump from TV news to BellSouth Public Relations.
First, there was an intro job where they mercifully let me anchor an internal video magazine. But that got cut from the budget. Even more mercifully, they transferred me to Montgomery, Alabama, to learn PR from a true master.
My Montgomery boss had played football for University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and he sported a 1965 National Championship ring as a silent badge of honor. But my boss took the time and effort to teach me PR much like he had learned blocking and tackling from the Bear himself.
He taught me incredible things about engaging a community, persuading public opinion, organizing events, and setting stories straight. I learned how to write news releases, backgrounders and speeches through his countless red slashes on my copy. I learned patience, discipline, follow-through and accountability. I learned how to make crowds laugh, and yet how to inform them with convincing tone and messaging.
All of those early years of teaching came before social media and the internet of things.
But the Montgomery years taught me some basic PR fundamentals. Like working with real people on real issues, through thoughtful communications and honest relationships.
The platforms and tools of PR will always keep changing. But these fundamentals won’t.