Those working in public relations (PR) are responsible for managing a company's reputation and influencing behaviour. If this is of interest to you, find out how to break into this evolving area of marketing
It's important for all businesses to have a strong public image and as a result those wanting to work in PR are in demand. However, being seen as an attractive and exciting career means that there is often tough competition for PR roles so you'll need to make sure that you stand out.
Know why you want to work in PR
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.'
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 social media and job hunting.
Choose to study public relations
Studying for a PR degree is an excellent route into the industry and many joint PR and marketing/business courses offer an optional sandwich year to gain relevant work experience or undertake a year abroad.
If your degree is in a different subject or you just want to improve your knowledge then doing a Masters is a good idea.
One example is the MA Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations at Leeds University Business School which focuses on modern corporate communications and how it relates to PR and marketing.
Another option is the full-time MA Public Relations at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. The course takes 15 months to complete and is a Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) approved. Aimed at those already in the profession as well as 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. Sites such as PRWeek and The Drum provide insights, research and news from within the industry.
'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,' explains Sarah.
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.
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.