If you enjoy networking, building strong relationships and will seize opportunities to spread your message, a career in public relations as an account executive may be for you

In your role as a public relations (PR) account executive, you'll manage the information between organisations (business-to-business, or B2B) or individuals, and the general public.

Your aim will be to influence public opinion or behaviour, or promote the profile and reputation of your clients to their intended audiences, through news items, press releases and product placements but without the use of paid advertising.

Responsibilities

As a PR account executive, you'll need to:

  • generate positive news coverage, achieving free product placement in broadcast, print and new media, and placing spokespeople as commentators
  • liaise with clients and the media daily, often via telephone and email
  • build strong relationships and networks with colleagues, clients and the media
  • monitor the media, including newspapers, magazines, journals, broadcasts, newswires, social media sites and blogs, for opportunities for clients
  • work as part of an account team to develop client proposals and implement the PR activity
  • prepare regular client reports and attend client meetings
  • research, write and distribute press releases to targeted media
  • promote news stories and features to the media, known as 'selling in'
  • collate, analyse and evaluate media coverage
  • manage events, including press conferences and promotional events
  • attend and promote client events to the media
  • assist with the production of client publications, such as in-house magazines
  • commission market research
  • coordinate studio or location photography
  • undertake research for new business proposals and present them to potential new clients
  • manage the PR aspect of a possible crisis situation.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for PR account executives are around £18,000 to £24,000.
  • Senior account executives usually earn around £25,000, while account managers may expect to earn £30,000 upwards.
  • PR salaries at more senior levels vary from £40,000 for a senior account manager, £45,000 for an account director, £60,000 for a creative director, £80,000 for a director and £100,000+ for a CEO.

Salaries vary depending on the area of PR and geographical location, but are usually higher in London. Financial and business-to-business (B2B) PR often pays higher salaries than beauty or fashion PR.

Some companies offer additional benefits, including medical insurance, gym membership and bonuses. You may be provided with a laptop and mobile phone.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5.30pm, but are frequently longer due to the demands of your workload. As client deadlines are all-important, you'll have to work until outstanding jobs have been completed. Press launches, crisis management and pitches can all result in long hours. Some agencies have a much more ingrained long-hours culture than others.

Flexibility is important. PR professionals are often expected to network and socialise with clients, the media and colleagues to build and maintain relationships. The boundaries between your social and working life may become somewhat blurred.

What to expect

  • Paid overtime is rare, although some consultancies offer time off in lieu for time worked at weekends.
  • The job is generally office based, but you may have to attend networking and media events and exhibitions, as well as meetings with clients.
  • Self-employment, freelance work, career breaks and secondments are all possible, usually once you're an experienced PR professional. Some PR agencies offer opportunities for unpaid sabbaticals.
  • The work can be stressful, for example when meeting tight deadlines, juggling various projects or working on a new business proposal, but it can also be very rewarding.
  • Travel within a working day can be frequent. Absence from home overnight may be required, as is international travel.

Qualifications

Some institutions offer degree courses specific to public relations and these can be helpful in providing the skills that employers rate highly for this field. Studying a specific PR course is by no means essential for entry into job roles but can demonstrate an interest in the industry.

Employers often require candidates to have a degree, but tend to judge you more on your skills and attributes. Although entry to the profession is generally open to all graduates, the following degree or HND subjects may improve your chances:

  • business/management
  • communication and media studies
  • English and creative writing
  • marketing
  • politics
  • social sciences.

Many agencies are open to graduates with a vast range of degrees. Some specialist agencies, one for ethical healthcare for example, may prefer a relevant scientific degree. A postgraduate qualification may improve your chances of securing a PR position. Search postgraduate courses in public relations studies.

Skills

You'll need to demonstrate:

  • interpersonal skills, good presentation skills and confidence
  • excellent written communication skills
  • flexibility, determination, enthusiasm and the ability to cope under pressure
  • good teamwork and negotiation skills
  • the ability to think strategically and good analytical skills
  • business awareness and a good knowledge of current affairs
  • excellent organisational skills, with the ability to work on more than one project at a time
  • creativity and imagination
  • initiative.

Work experience

Relevant pre-entry work experience is useful and can include vacation work, work placements, shadowing or volunteering. If you can't get work experience in a public relations (PR) environment, consider related jobs such as journalism or marketing, as the skills and experience gained in these roles are often transferable to PR.

Work placements may be advertised through your careers service and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). You may need to contact PR agencies directly. You can also build up experience through extracurricular activities, for example by promoting a club night, or writing a press release for the local media about the success of a sports team.

PR is one of the most popular career choices for graduates in the UK and consequently is highly competitive. Trainee account executive posts are rare but some of the larger, established consultancies may offer opportunities.

Employers

You’ll find the majority of positions in PR consultancies, which provide independent services to their clients.

These vary in size from three or four people to hundreds of staff members, although larger consultancies are often split into specialist divisions.

Consultancies can specialise in either one industry sector or cover several, for example:

  • business-to-business (B2B)
  • charity
  • consumer
  • fashion
  • finance
  • government and public affairs
  • technology.

Some of the larger full-service marketing consultancies have a department dedicated to PR (just as they may have a design and/or advertising department). Opportunities for PR professionals in full-service marketing agencies require account executives to work closely with other departments to deliver integrated marketing campaigns to their clients, as well as developing their knowledge of other elements of marketing.

Opportunities also exist within in-house PR departments, working exclusively for that particular organisation. As an in-house PR professional you may deal with the entire organisation's PR and communication matters, or work cooperatively with PR consultancies on certain projects.

In-house positions often require previous experience in PR and you'll be expected to acquire specialist knowledge about the organisation and the market in which it operates.

Membership of the CIPR can provide you with opportunities to network with employers. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), which advertises jobs through PR Week, also offers membership, careers information, training and qualifications.

Look for job vacancies at:

There are specialist recruitment agencies that handle vacancies but these are invariably for experienced candidates.

Professional development

Your training will vary depending on the consultancy or organisation. Some larger firms have structured initial training and continuing professional development (CPD) courses. These often focus on media relations, writing practice and consultancy skills, and larger agencies will occasionally bring in outside trainers to teach graduates as a group.

The majority of training, however, is on the job, working with more experienced colleagues on a number of accounts.

Some smaller agencies may not offer a structured training programme but may give more access to senior members of staff for advice, and provide exposure to a more varied workload than a larger agency.

A variety of short and longer training courses, specifically tailored for PR professionals, are provided by the:

Some employers actively encourage their employees to undertake additional training as part of their CPD and may offer financial support, provide study leave, or both.

Career prospects

It's common to start your PR career as a junior account executive or assistant account executive. Promotion to account executive will depend on the amount of experience you had prior to starting the role, as well as the flair you show for the job.

Depending on the client and size of the consultancy, you may play a key strategic role on accounts very quickly and are often able to take on varied tasks from the start.

If you prove yourself, you may expect to be promoted to senior account executive or account manager in two to three years. This will usually involve a greater degree of responsibility, and may mean taking part in new business pitches or being a key contact for clients on some smaller accounts.

After a further two to three years at this level, you may have enough experience to seek promotion to account director, where you'll have responsibility for higher-profile clients and all the staff working on the account teams. From here you could progress to PR director and eventually perhaps be asked to sit at board level, or you may choose to set up your own agency.

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