I have noticed a number of students in public relations/communications visiting, so I thought I'd share one person's advice after practicing in the field for more than 13 years.
Disclosure: I have a BS in mass communications/public relations from Boston University's College of Communication.
1) Don't let anyone tell you that majoring in PR is a mistake. I can't figure out how people think that NOT learning about your future craft is a good thing.
2) PR is never practiced in a vacuum. You need to understand how business works, no matter which field of communications you go into, and this includes nonprofit and government affairs. So, take those business courses (especially marketing and organizational behavior). Also, take a basic micro and macro economics course. You will never regret it.
3) PR is never practiced in a vacuum. You need to be reading the news every day. Use a newsreader so you can scan as many sources as possible. Note how stories develop. Where are they coming from? How long does it take for a story to go from blog or regional paper/trade rag to prime time? Do you see any patterns?
4) PR is never practiced.... (get the picture?). Keep studying after you get your degree. Take classes in philosophy, technology, religion, politics, futures studies. Learn a foreign language (French, HTML, etc.). Remember, no knowledge is ever wasted. Who knows where future clients and jobs will come from, what CEOs just happen to be closet philosphers, passionate about modern art and jazz, cartography buffs, etc. Hell, I am even learning about Rugby right now (World Cup time, you know).
5) Be prepared for the unexpected. The one constant in PR is change. Stories change, people change, clients change, jobs change, technologies change, fads change, trends change. Evey day. If you are uncomfortable with this GET OUT NOW. Really, you will be much happier.
6) Be prepared for the unexpected. This means: be able to think on your feet. Really THINK, not just parrot back stuff you've heard. But hell, parrotting works too. When all else fails, bullshit. And always sound like you know exactly what you are talking about when you tell those tales.
7) Learn how to write. Write fast, write often, write succinctly. The more you write, the better you will get. And leave your ego (or insecurities) at the door. You writing will be critiqued by colleagues, bosses, clients, journalists, analysts, consumers, CEOs, presidents, lawyers, etc. Everyone will have a different opinion. Your job as writer is to get the basics down on paper, then NEGOTIATE the final product. And you will rarely be happy with it (see "lawyers" above -- the bane of PR people everywhere).
8) PR has a terrible reputation. This fact has been bemoaned by PR people for decades now, and nothing changes. All you can do is do your best to practice good PR and help educate others about good PR practices. Maybe, someday, all will change.
9) Work in an industry you like, on products you are curious about. Have fun. Life is too short to work for terrible bosses, crappy clients, etc. But remember, the only way you really will learn your trade is to work hard at it. Live through your mistakes (don't just jump ship to the next company), challenge assumptions. The great thing about PR is that every day is different. A bad day is usually followed fairly soon by a good one.
10) PR is generally NOT glamorous. There is nothing fun about stuffing press kits at 4 a.m. in an crappy conference center hotel room when you have an 8 a.m. press conference. The PR person rarely gets thanked when things go well, and is the first to be blamed when things go badly. However, one of the great things about PR is you can immediately see the results of your work. You can make a difference. And that is worth the lack of sleep, stress, etc.
So 10 tips. A nice round number. There are more things to say, but I will blog them at another time. I hope you find them helpful. Please let me know!