4 tips for starting a career in PR

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
December, 2017

In the digital age, it's imperative for businesses to be aware of brand perception. If you're great at communication and can engage with a range of audiences, discover how to get into public relations (PR)

Any business that harbours ambitions to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace must take its reputation seriously, but the concept of brand reputation management has only recently come to the fore.

Nowadays, almost any form of online communication results in instant feedback. This brings with it new challenges, as well as creating opportunities to engage with audiences through social media - emphasising the importance of the role PR professionals play in a modern organisation.

If this area of marketing interests you, explore what it means to be responsible for a company's brand image and be well on your way to starting a career in public relations.

Know why you want to work in PR

Every year a greater number of graduates from different degree disciplines pursue PR careers - as all businesses and organisations recognise the strong need to consider their public image. However, Trevor Palmer, director at PR agency Tank, warns that applicants to his company are not always prepared for their first role.

'I've lost count of the number of blanket emails I receive, addressed to nobody and without a scrap of knowledge about my business or the industry. Some even state that they 'may' wish to work in PR,' says Trevor.

Therefore, it's important to target your application to the company that you're applying to, and you also need to have a clear idea about why you want to work in PR in the first place. Learn how to write effective CVs and cover letters.

Have the right skills and attributes

The internet plays such an influential role in modern society, it should go without saying that a business's online reputation is of paramount importance. But while being internet savvy is essential for any PR role, this shouldn't come at the expense of traditional PR skills.

'Great reputation management is about understanding brands, creating strong media profiles and understanding what a good story looks like,' says Trevor. 'As SEO companies begin to flood into the PR market, I hope that these values remain a priority and are not sidelined by digital competence - after all, one cannot now work without the other.

'To that end, we tend to look for graduates who can communicate, with qualifications in English, history, philosophy and of course, a sound understanding of digital marketing.'

Your social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) are still an excellent way to connect with businesses and show that you are keeping up to date with the industry. Indeed, Trevor notes that networking is a viable way to get the attention of PR agencies you're interested in working for. 'Most people that come into the business come in via our network, which shows that they too are networked, which is important.'

Find out more about job hunting and social media.

Choose to study public relations

The public relations degree is an excellent route into the industry, and it's particularly well covered in terms of courses, according to the Guardian's University Guide 2018. Many joint PR and marketing/business courses also offer an optional sandwich year to gain relevant work experience or undertake a year abroad.

The highest-ranked institutions for the subject at undergraduate level are Edge Hill University (30th), Liverpool John Moores University (52nd) and the University of Huddersfield (58th).

Even if you hold a degree in any subject, rather than applying for work immediately after graduating, you may wish to consider further study to bridge the knowledge gap and ensure you've the best chance of securing a suitable PR role.

For instance, the MA Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations at Leeds University Business School focuses on modern corporate communications and how it relates to PR and marketing.

The one-year-three-months full-time MA Public Relations at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, is a Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) approved course that's not only well-suited to those already in the profession, but graduates with good communication skills and degrees in other subjects (preferably a 2:1 or above).

Course leader Gareth Thompson explains, 'A postgraduate course in PR explores reputation and communication in depth, allowing us to link theory with practice. The aim is to give practitioners of the future the confidence to tackle the increasingly complex organisational and communication challenges that they will confront in the workplace.'

To discover what Masters options are available, search postgraduate public relations courses.

Pursue your passion and career path

Gareth also says that studying for a qualification can provide the springboard to a varied and hugely rewarding career in PR, whatever your particular individual interests.

'Public Relations provides the opportunity to work across many sectors, or to specialise if you are interested in the arts, fashion, business, sport or working for a charity. Organisations in all these sectors need to talk to a range of audiences, to listen, to adapt, to share, to challenge, and to be part of the community in which they operate.'

As well as being able to communicate effectively to champion your company's products and services, you'll need drive and determination to succeed in this rapidly-changing industry. 'Public relations and reputation management are about helping to inspire organisations to get the best out of themselves,' Gareth reveals.

According to CIPR data (2017), over half of its members are female (61%). Its State of the profession 2016 report found that a quarter (25%) of respondents worked for a PR consultancy/agency, with over half (62%) working in-house for either a private, public or not-for-profit sector organisation.

This shows that there are many areas you can aspire to work in - with relevant PR skills widely applicable across sectors. However, Gareth points out that upon completion of a Masters degree, most students go on to work in generalist and sector-specific communication agencies, as well as taking up a range of in-house roles.

He adds, 'Other opportunities include entering management consultancy, project management or indeed setting up as freelancers and establishing their own PR consulting firms.'

As well as university courses, you can also consider other types of PR training - see marketing courses.

Work experience is also highly valued for most entry-level PR roles so a marketing internship may be another means of gaining a foothold in the industry.