5 tips for starting a career in PR

Author
Emma Knowles, Editor
Posted
September, 2018

Good brand perception and image is crucial to a company's success in the digital age. If you can communicate with a range of audiences, find out more about 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 as a career has only emerged in recent years.

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, have a clear idea about why you want to work in PR in the first place and be ready to demonstrate your passion.

Showcasing your personality is another crucial part of any application, says Sarah Schofield of PR agency Tangerine. 'The industry is competitive and nobody expects you to know everything about PR when you first start out,' she says. 'When we meet applicants, we want to see their hunger and drive. We can train you to gain and improve the core skills, but we can’t teach you to have enthusiasm and passion for the industry.'

Learn how to write a CV and what makes an effective cover letter.

Have the right skills and attributes

In the digital age, 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 side lined 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. 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

Studying for a PR 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 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 might consider further study to bridge the knowledge gap and give yourself 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 full-time MA Public Relations at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, takes 15 months to complete and is a Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) approved course that's not only well-suited to those already in the profession, but also 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.

Consume media and be social savvy

'It may sound obvious but it’s important to be aware of what is happening in the news and trending online,' says Sarah. 'We're in an industry which is constantly evolving. In order to develop strategies for our clients that bridge the gap between digital marketing and traditional PR, it’s important to consume all media from newspapers to blogs, magazines to social channels. Some don't see a divide between digital and traditional PR, so the campaigns we create need to exist across all platforms.'

As the digital market continues to grow rapidly, it would make sense for the print market to be in decline. However this isn't the case, with research from the Advertising Association and WARC revealing that print display advertising in the national newspaper market rose by 1% in the first quarter of 2018 - the first increase of its kind since 2010. Deepening your knowledge and understanding of PR across all platforms will put you in good stead to succeed.

You can look to sites such as PRWeek and The Drum for insights, research and news from within the industry.

As well as consuming media, working on building an online profile is advisable - this will be a valuable asset for showcasing your talents and ambitions.

By following agencies on their various profiles, you'll keep up to date with current trends and the direction the industry is heading in. Through your research you can start to form your own opinions and think about the things you'd like to achieve in your career, which will help you demonstrate your passion for working in PR to employers in interviews.

Learn more about gaining media work experience and discover the benefits of combining job hunting and social media when starting your career.

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.

'PR 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.

The CIPR's State of the profession 2018 report found that just under a quarter (23%) of respondents worked for a PR consultancy/agency, with more than half (65%) 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. If you'd like to train on the job, consider a marketing apprenticeship.

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.