Transitioning from teaching in a 3rd grade classroom in rural Northeast Louisiana to working for a public relations firm embedded inside the Beltway of DC and politics might not seem like the most graceful jump between careers. As I hopped on the Metro to get to my first day of work in the District, there was no way that the monuments, sights, and sounds of DC would be anything close to what I experienced in the Deep South.
But class is in session, folks, and many of the lessons I learned down South apply to the work I do each day in public relations. Take a seat, get out your notebooks, and pay attention. Here are Mr. Calabro’s lessons from the classroom in PR.
1. Students (Or Clients) First
The specific and varied needs of my students always came before anything else. Things like breakfast, clothes, and medical needs had to be arranged for some kids before I even begin to teach them. Many of my students weren’t given breakfast at home. Some were forced to get up, get ready, and get to school by themselves. All of these extra distractions made it hard for them to focus on daily lessons. I had to make sure my students had everything they needed before we started daily lessons.
Make sure your clients have everything they need first. Be proactive in your conversations. Sometimes you may have to work with clients to fix something before you can even get to the project they hired you for. Is there a glaring issue that needs fixing before you work on the OpEd due next week? Go above and beyond the call of duty to work to fix the problem. Always think of something else the client may or may not need.
2. But Don’t Forget Yourself
That being said, you can’t forget about yourself and your wellbeing. Once the bell rang at 3 PM each day, I knew that, for the next three hours (at least), I would still be working on lesson plans, grading homework, and anything else I needed to finish before the next school day.
PR, much like teaching, is a constant and demanding job. Be sure to take time for yourself each day. Watch the tv show everyone in the office has been talking about. Take a bike ride around town. Walk the dog. Make sure that you are doing things that support your own health and happiness.
3. Be Consistent
I promised my class that they would get a picnic if they all passed their state practice tests at the end of the week. When I finished grading the tests, I realized that I would have to pay up. Friday afternoon rolled around, and one of my students looked at me, rather angrily, saying, “Mr. Calabro, you told us that we would get a picnic and I don’t even see a blanket or food.”
Nothing is worse than an eight year old calling you out for saying one thing, but doing another. Make sure that your clients in public relations are getting a consistent and quality product each and every time. Even if it means meticulously vetting a document or OpEd before sending it over, consistency will keep you at the head of the pack.
4. Make people believe
Teaching kids requires a lot of theatrics. You have to make them believe what you are saying. If students can’t get behind your lessons and believe what you are saying, there’s no point in teaching them. My students had a lot of trouble understanding the difference between landmarks around the country. We went on a virtual tour of monuments, buildings, and other significant areas in the United States. The students were able to visualize and believe that what they were reading was true.
Your clients in PR need to believe what you are telling them. Sometimes it takes visualization or proof that what you are saying will work. If you have a great proposal, but your client doesn’t believe in it (or you), there’s no use trying to push them to use it.
5. Be positive
Arriving at school at 6:30 every morning takes its toll on a person. But each time a student walked into my room with a smile and a hug for me, the anger of being up so early disappeared. It was so easy to focus only on poor test scores or behavior problems. Doing this leaves out all of the remarkable progress we made as a class. Students who couldn’t read at the beginning of the year were reading on grade level. Students with consistent behavior problems were sitting quietly in class and helping me with daily chores. Students who couldn’t add or subtract were doing long division.
This should be a given, but life is good! There are a multitude of things to be thankful for and positive about. Take time to show your clients that you aren’t always in crisis mode, and that your outlook on life is bright.