The draw of public advocacy PR

Last Tuesday our PRSSA chapter had the J-School adviser Bob Schwoch come to talk to us about his career in social advocacy public relations, or as it’s often called, grassroots work. The following are some things I took away from his talk.

You’re not just pitching your client, but the social movement that motivates it.

While the end-goal in corporate and agency PR is to have consumers buy your product, the objective in social advocacy PR is a bit different and more challenging: You’re working to cause people to make conscious actions – like donations, contacting legislators, volunteering – that don’t provide the instant gratification that buying a product does. The effects of your target market’s proposed actions are more delayed and subtle, so it’s your job to motivate them and provide them with more immediate gratification.

The demands of this field often lead to a more rewarding experience.

Social advocacy PR calls for the people who have competitive spirits and kind hearts – you’re often going to be putting in long hours, so you’re best off working for a cause you believe in enough to put in the extra time. The rewards, though, appear to be boundless – you get more responsibility more quickly than you’d ever dream of in the corporate world. You’ll learn quickly, on your feet, because oftentimes there won’t be anyone else at the organization who does anything like your job. One of the best things you can do is look for natural allies – people who do what you want to do, but better. Befriend them and learn from them. This professional world is a competitive one, but the veterans have all been in your position and are likely to give you pointers if you ask.

One of my favorite parts of Bob’s talk was when he told us that some of the smartest, toughest agency and corporate professionals come from social advocacy PR. It seems like a great way to start a career, especially when corporate hiring freezes are a current trend.

I hope you took something valuable from this, especially if you’re a fellow strat comm student. Obviously I can’t speak with expertise on this subject – this is a mere summary of Bob’s experience and advice, but I thought others would benefit from his knowledge. Plenty of other well-respected professionals have experience in this area, which speaks to its draw, in my opinion.

Do you have aspirations to work in the non-profit sector? If you have worked in this area, what was your experience like?


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