At my graduation ceremony in May 2016 on the storied grounds of Georgetown University

6 lessons learned as a full-time graduate student at Georgetown University and how it can help you as a PR professional

As a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, I want to share as much as possible about what I learned during my time in the graduate program with the rest of my PA/PR colleagues.

Being a graduate student at one of the country’s best PR academic programs, I learned many new lessons and skill sets making me a well-rounded PA/PR professional. During my 18-months as a graduate student, I learned 6 key lessons I want to share with all of you. Here are those lessons:

1. The importance of communications planning

The communications plan is the framework in which all communications planning is built on in the PRCC program and serves as the foundation of our Capstone class when students work with a real client to develop an in-depth communications plan.

The planning matrix is a model of the four-step public relations process known as RACE (Research, Action planning, Communication and Evaluation). The value of the RACE model can helps us as professional communicators develop an effective communications plan.

To be honest, I never realized the value research added when drafting an communications plan. In today’s fast paced and demanding world, we do not always invest enough time in planning and research.

Now I understand the RACE model is complex and time-consuming, and many staffs are just not equipped or educated enough to dedicate one or two people to put together a text book communications plan for a number of weeks.

Understanding limitations, we as PR professionals can still pull certain aspects of this communications model and apply it to our efforts. This is especially true as we prove to show the value of public relations in our organizations respective command teams showing them how we can/will put our plans into action.

Good research and planning should allow us enough information to set a communications goal and objectives, which serve as subsets of goals, to give leadership teams a clear picture of what you hope to achieve by establishing communications efforts with measurable results.

Now you may be asking how you write a goal for a communications plan. It is actually quite simple.

The goal is a one-sentence statement to resolve a core problem or seize an opportunity when drafting a communications plan. The goal of a communications plan is typically broad or big picture.

Here is an example of a goal statement:Increase awareness of initiatives as part of its 50th Anniversary campaign/celebration.

When writing objectives for your goal, each objective needs to be specific, measurable, attainable/assignable, relevant and time-based, which is known as the acronym (SMART). Objectives are focused and there are often 3–5 objectives to support a goal. Objectives also identify the specific audience being addressed, state a measurable outcome, attainment level and time frame.

Courtesy: http://www.j6design.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SMART-goals.png

Here is an example of an objective statement: Establish relationships with 15 community organizations by September 2017

For communicators, I feel understanding the RACE model is so important that I wrote the step-by-step procedure for a training manual for U.S Army public affairs personnel. I hope to spread the importance of this framework with my colleagues for the next few years.

2. Digital Communications Strategy

The Internet and social media have been a key aspect of modern globalization. Digital innovation now allows people from all over the world to be part of a digital community to share ideas, experiences and commonality. From staying in touch with family and friends, keeping up on current news or as a means to establish activist movements, social media has become a valuable communications tool in the 21st Century.

We all understand social platforms are an important tool to help us inform our audiences about the ongoing initiatives and services of our organizations. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram among others allows us to spread our company’s message with live conversations using both print and video content.

If you are a social media manager, one way to help you set up a solid social media strategy is by using the GLAM (Goals, Landscape, Audience, Message) framework. This can help you establish a sound digital communications strategy plan by guiding you to develop primary messages and visually appealing material with a goal and Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

An example of a KPI can be social media engagement (clicks, shares, comments) or reach (how many people see it).

Another way to be effective as a social media manager is creating a content calendar. This calendar is like a playbook allowing a SM manager to lay out a plan to create content that is timely and engaging. A content calendar outlines main events, major holidays and seasons throughout the year. Planning SM content is key if you are running an organization’s page.

The Internet is very visual and having graphics that can convoy your message is important. If you do not have skills to make great visuals, trying to learn basic elements of Photoshop or seek talent within your organization who may assist you create SM content. Using sites like https://piktochart.com/ can also help you create easy graphics.

Planning and posting great engaging content can make your company’s message go a long way on your social platforms.

3. Integrated marketing communications and Branding

Integrated marketing communications is the process of developing consistent messaging and communications across an organization’s available communication channels. The benefits of using the IMC approach can be compared much to an orchestra playing on the same sheet of music. IMC allows all forms of communications within an organization to work together to promote a brand.

Spreading ideas successfully and adapting to changes in communications are important aspects to be successful when working as a communications expert. Since messages are being delivered on multiple platforms, consistency is very important to achieve a successful IMC campaign. Messages must ‘look and feel’ the same across various communication platforms over many years to build brand consistency.

Along with IMC, effective branding is important because it allows companies to tailor its message to a particular segment of the audience it is trying to appeal too.

In a 2003 TED Talk, famed marketer Seth Godin talks about the importance of branding with the invention of sliced bread. Below is his TED Talk:

In his book Purple Cow, Godin talks about the failure of sliced bread until a brand called Wonder starting marketing the idea of it. The Wonder brand was able to spread the idea and message among a large audience and do so effectively. Brands like Amazon, Coca-Cola and Nike use IMC and effective branding to accomplish goals and stay relevant because they have a level of brand consistency.

4. Digital analytics tools

Many of us in Public Relations may not understand the language that is digital analytics. Before taking a class on this subject, I admit I had very limited knowledge on how to measure digital data and then turning that data into insights as a means to benefit my digital channels.

In today’s digital world, the purpose of digital analytics is to give us an understanding of what is working and what is not in our organization’s digital platforms. Analytics gives us as a professional communicator the knowledge we need such as: who is our audience, Key demographic information such as locations, devices, user behavior on a website or app, and top referral sources to our websites.

This topic is so detailed and loaded with information, it is literally another post. With that being said, I will refer you to this blog post that I wrote about this subject and can be found here: https://medium.com/@alexlicea82/a-guide-to-metrics-and-digital-analytics-tools-to-help-communicators-with-their-web-social-media-91e5314518ab#.k10wagldv

5. Understanding the value of your personal brand

One of the most rewarding classes I took when I was in the PRCC program was a personal branding class. Before this class, I never really thought about myself as a brand and how my personal brand is perceived by others around me.

Throughout the course, each student talks about their individual brand and what defines them as a person. The class allows each student to break themselves down to their core. Each person looks deep inside themselves to understand who you are, how they are perceived by others in their lives, and the class makes you identify your personal values. While everyone has a unique brand, the one value that makes a personal brand, much like an organization brand, strong is consistency.

Photo Source: http://www.workingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/personal-brand-1.jpg

Whether you are communicating online or in person at a meeting, if you are consistent the value of your personal brand will grow among your colleagues and their trust in you will increase.

The biggest takeaway I learned in this class about myself and my personal brand is it is never too late to pursue your goals. Understanding your brand and convening it authentically will make you as a PR professional a strong asset for your senior leadership.

6. Collaboration

One of the great things about the classes in the PRCC program is that many of the classes feature team-based projects fostering a sense of collaboration among students. I have always loved working in teams, sharing thoughts and having discussions that can be cordial but also frank with others. The program encourages a collaborative setting because as working professionals we are all able to learn from each other.

While I have seen great examples of collaboration over the years, I have also seen poor displays of teamwork in my military career. Working in a team allows for different ideas and perspectives within an organization. The benefits of collaboration among us as public affairs professionals can create a sense of unity among our career field based on mutual respect and trust.

Throughout this phenomenal experience, I learned a lot about myself, worked harder than I had ever before, met some phenomenal people, learned from great professors, and became a better and well-rounded communicator.

Now it is time to put what I learned into action, and I hope it helps all of you out there working in the career field!

Alex Licea graduated in August 2016 from Georgetown University’s Master’s degree in Public Relations/Corporate Communications and was named the PRCC “Most Collaborative” student in the 2015–2016 academic year. He now serves as a senior manager in the Army Public Affairs Center. Follow him on Twitter @alexlicea82.