Understanding Other Industries for Public Relations Success

One thing I have come to learn in my experience in public relations is that you don’t know where this field is going to take you. Never having been particularly interested in math or science, I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing public relations in the engineering sector. However, doing so has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle Competition Team
Serving as outreach coordinator for Virginia Tech's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team taught Sarah Kilbourne about working across industries.

I serve as an outreach coordinator for Virginia Tech’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT). That’s a design team made up of mechanical and electrical engineers who participate in an automotive engineering competition called EcoCAR2. The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, challenges students to reduce the environmental impact of the 2013 Chevy Malibu.

You will likely one day find yourself in the position of working with professionals in other disciplines, especially if you are working at an agency with clients representing a multitude of industries. Follow these tips to bridge the gap when working with professionals in other disciplines.

1. Treat each other as equals.

It is important to respect each other’s disciplines and work to have an effective relationship. Respect the knowledge of other professionals and collaborate to enhance each other’s work.

2. Step back to see the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Minds can often clash, so work to see the other side from an objective stance.

3. Sit down and talk, rather than writing it out.

We are communicators for a reason: it’s our strong point. Oftentimes when you need something written, it is easier to do so after talking about the topic with your colleague rather than having to translate written jargon and technical terms.

4. Pull from resources in both fields.

Don’t forget to keep in mind resources from your colleague’s discipline and share information to come up with best solution.

5. “I don’t understand these terms. Can you please explain them?”

Jargon from other industries can be difficult to understand. A lot of engineering terms go over my head, so the easiest way to eliminate confusion is to ask my colleague to explain them in plain terms. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification.

How do you work with clients in industries you are less familiar with? What advice do you have for public relations professionals working in unfamiliar industries?

Sarah Kilbourne is the president of PRSSA at Virginia Tech. She is graduating in May 2012 with a dual degree in public relations and French.

3 thoughts on “Understanding Other Industries for Public Relations Success

    • Author gravatar

      I think this is such an important topic for PR and communications students to understand. As I prepare to graduate, I have been visiting and speaking with different organizations in the communications field. These companies serve clients in a variety of industries. I would see young professionals writing content for nutrition, science, medical and many other industries. It never occurred to me before that I myself might be working for a client of an industry that I have no familiarity with. It was encouraging to see interns or professionals truly enjoying their work, and saying that they enjoyed learning new topics. These are great tips to remember when working with professionals from other industries. Speaking with colleagues in person so you can ask questions and make sure you have a clear understanding of the topic is very important. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • Author gravatar


      Glad you enjoyed the tips! I never gave this topic much thought before working with HEVT, but it is very important and a reality that in PR we are going to be coordinating with professionals from industries across the board. I know so much more about engineering and the sustainability fields now because of this internship and am better for it!

    • Author gravatar

      This is a brilliant article with awesome tips! I’m a student at Georgia Tech’s College of Management studying marketing (because we don’t have a traditional PR route) and its relationship with technology and media. It’s amazing what you’ll learn.

      We actually have a minor which teaches engineers and management students how to interact in a real world setting through hybrid courses and a capstone project. It’s right up your alley!

      I recently did some traditional print work for a company of Nuclear Engineers from GT in the 80’s. Learning about their technology is great, but bridging that gap of knowledge and understanding definitely proved to be a challenge. While I still don’t know a whole lot about food irradiation, I understood it enough to be able to market it successfully!

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