An expert guide to getting a job in PR
The PR industry might have a reputation as one long party, but there’s a lot more to a career in communications than champagne and lunches. Competition for jobs can be fierce, particularly in the graduate market where getting that first foot on the career ladder can be a daunting prospect. Here is what a panel of industry experts had to say about standing out from the crowd.
Hone your writing skills
If you want a career in communications, you need to be able to get your point across quickly and concisely. You’ll need to be adaptable, able to write for different audiences and aware of appropriate tones, messaging and mediums. Michael Rosen, PR and communications director for FTI Consulting, describes it as “telling stories.”
“You may be writing press stories and articles, or creating content for blogs and social media. You need to be imaginative and be able to persuade people to come with you on your journey,” he explains.
“There is no better PR you can do in this industry than PR for yourself,” says Sam Holl, client service director at Kindred Agency. If you want to get paid for promoting brands, the best way to prove your worth is to perfect your own brand.
“Be confident in your ability, be bold with your CV and get out there and make sure people know who you are,” Holl concludes.
Your online presence is important, but so is your offline activity. “Make sure you are networking as much as possible, attending talks and events,” says Lisa McCabe, PR manager for the British Red Cross. “You never know where you might meet that useful contact.”
Be careful on social networks
“People do check it – especially LinkedIn and Facebook,” says Rosen. “Make sure it presents you in a positive light. It’s hard enough to get a job in the first place, so don’t give an employer any reason to have doubts about you.”
“PR is all about reputation building and in current times social media is a huge part of that,” agrees Katy Foster from the Public Relations Consultants Association’s (PRCA) PR Apprenticeship Scheme. “Like it or not a personal social media account can reflect badly on you professionally, so be conscious of what is associated with you online.”
Immerse yourself in the media
“An understanding of the media landscape, both off and online is key, as these are the people you’ll be pitching your stories and ideas to,” McCabe emphasises. You’ll be able to pitch more appropriate stories to journalists and be better placed to understand what works for different media organisations if you stay at the cutting edge of the action.
A good understanding of the media is also essential for job interviews. “Be hungry for information – read the news – have an understanding of current affairs and the wider world. I always ask at interview what newspapers people read, and what three things have struck them recently from the news agenda,” says Tracey Barrett, founding director of BlueSky PR.
Qualifications are good – but skills and experience are better
“Work experience, on the job training, is what’s really important for me as an employer, more so than a degree,” says Emma Streets, PR and social media director for Turn Key. “I’ve worked with people previously that have skipped university and gone straight into practical work experience. They have climbed all the way up the ladder.”
While our panel agreed that a degree can definitely help you stand out, employers are equally interested in volunteering, work experience and transferable skills you’ve learned in other industries.
“Lots of admin skills are transferable, particularly to junior positions,” says Koray Camgoz, public relations and policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
“Internships are also great way to get a foot in the door and gain vital experience,” adds Julia Meighan, executive chairman of VMA Group.
Research your prospective employer
PR has countless different avenues, from cutting edge consumer agencies to in-house jobs at large corporate firms. This is one industry where the one size fits all approach simply won’t cut it.
“Always tailor your applications to the employer. Find out about their clients, their work and stalk them on LinkedIn. They will want to know why you want to be in PR and why you want to work for them in particular,” says Foster.
“Research the area you want to enter into within PR and comms, as each varies with regard to your day-to-day workload and future opportunities. Then carefully consider your key skills, strengths and areas of expertise, mapping them to the role,” advises Meighan.
This is a very creative industry, where original ideas and creative thinking are hugely valued. Think about how you present yourself to a potential employer and see if you can think of a different way to communicate your skills rather than simply sending a typed CV.
“We had a great example of someone a couple of years ago who sent us their CV in the style of an old-fashioned telegram,” says Holl. “It was very good – we picked up the phone straight away.”