Media relations: what they don’t teach you at uni

For the past three and a half years, I have been studying public relations at university. While I thought I knew everything I needed to know to start my career as a public relations practitioner, my time spent interning at Ignite PR has made me realise there is much more to PR than what we learn in the classroom.

‘Media relations’, for example, was a term chucked around in lectures but we were never taught what was really involved. At uni I was never taught as such the idea of ‘pitching’ a media release to a journalist and it was a completely foreign concept to me. Media relations isn’t even considered a unit of study yet most graduates from university will start out as juniors who need to know what media relations encompasses.

During my time studying at university, media relations was described at best as sending an email to a journalist and presuming that they would publish the attached media release. I was quick to learn that there was a whole lot more involved with media relations than met the eye and that it makes up a large component of the work we do as PR practitioners.

I was always under the impression that once you emailed a journalist with a media release that it would miraculously appear in the paper. I was soon to find out that this was not the case at all. Media relations is a skill in its own right. It isn’t a case of just picking up a phone and asking for coverage – you must ‘sell’ a story to a journalist, convincing them to cover it.

The idea of talking to a journalist was indeed a daunting task at first and I wished I had learnt how to do this at university. However, I came to the realisation that it would be very difficult for universities to assess students on the art of’ pitching’ and ‘following up’ – it is something that is best learnt in a working environment with real clients and real journalists to pitch to.

This is where the value of a work experience opportunity comes into play, as here you can apply what you have learned in your studies into practice.

I’m surprised Australian universities can’t include a media relations subject as a unit of study, considering it is such an essential part of PR. Saying this, it is something that is learnt over time and you do eventually become more confident and better at it with practice.

University students wanting to get a career in public relations should seriously consider taking up as much internship experience as possible before they graduate. It is not only a good GPA that lands students into getting full time paid position jobs, there are some things that can only be learnt in a work experience environment, one of them being media relations.