How to get into a career in PR
Chaperoning top-level celebrities, lobbying the government, arranging creative stunts or communicating about global business -- the world of public relations is all this and much more.
No surprise then that PR is a popular career choice, consistently ranking in the top three career choices of graduates. Today an estimated 48,000 people work within PR in the UK across a huge variety of roles, companies and industry sectors and split between PR agencies providing specialist services to clients, and in-house PR teams.
Despite the scale of the industry, employers say misconceptions about PR are rife, even rather alarmingly among those looking to forge a career in the industry. The director of one PR agency complains about the huge number of prospective candidates who don’t know the difference between PR and advertising and want to go into public relations “because they’re good with people”.
“It’s not all about working with celebrities or champagne receptions,” says Nina Croad, an independent PR consultant and former head of PR and marketing at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). “It’s a fast paced and challenging industry. If you have the right aptitude you can progress quite quickly; it’s not unusual for good people to move up to director level by their late 20s.”
Averill Gordon is a senior lecturer on the postgraduate and undergraduate corporate communications degree at AUT University in Auckland, a former head of PR giant WeberShandwick’s international healthcare division and the author of Public Relations published by Oxford University Press. She says some misunderstandings about the public relations industry are to be excused.
“There are so many definitions [of PR] today and it demands a lot of adaptability,” Gordon says. “It used to be just media relations and that’s still a fundamental part but there are lots of other things creeping in and playing a more important role.” In particular corporate social responsibility, internal communications, reputation management and crisis management are all now a fundamental part of the PR professional’s remit.
Certain personal attributes will stand you in good stead for success in a fast-moving and highly-competitive field. Candidates need to be intelligent, ambitious, good at multitasking and disciplined. And the changing boundaries of PR jobs mean that to succeed is to be nimble. You also need to be creative, a good writer and articulate. And PR is a team effort so if you’re not a team player you won’t succeed,” Gordon says.
PR makes use of knowledge and skills drawn from different disciplines like business management, marketing and psychology, for example. That’s perhaps one reason why it tends to welcome students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. Although most entry level PR jobs stipulate that a good first degree is a must, a degree in PR is not necessary. It’s about finding people with a first rate academic track record.
It has taken a while for PR degrees to gain widespread credibility across the industry. But as both companies and PR agencies cut down on the amount of in-house training they provide, the industry is beginning to realise the value of PR graduates. “In the past I think people thought it was a fluffy degree,” Gordon explains. “Now they realise we’re attracting a higher level of candidates.”
Some of the larger PR consultancies offer graduate trainee schemes but the number of places up for grabs is small and the selection process vigorous. Even though places on schemes are hugely over-subscribed, sloppy applications made it very easy to whittle the numbers down. Watch out for poor punctuation, spelling mistakes and bad English. After all, if you’re trying to get into a communications role, you need to be able to communicate.
When filling in an application form for a job, remember to do your research, from the basics (what is PR – the CIPR website can help you there) to more specifics about the company in questions. Remember a potential employer will probably spot if you’ve cut and pasted from their website.
Fortunately it’s easy enough to find information on the Web that will add real clout to your application and personalise it enough to prick up the ears of a prospective employer. Find out which campaigns the agency has worked on. And if you know someone at an agency, grill them.
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