Forge a career in PR and reputation management

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
August, 2016

In the digital age it's more important than ever for businesses to be aware of brand perception. To build a career in this field, you'll need to be able to engage with audiences and become a public relations (PR) expert…

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 become widely talked about.

In the online sphere, this has served to highlight the fact that almost any form of communication results in instant feedback. This brings with it new challenges, as well as creating opportunities to engage with an audience - emphasising the importance of the role PR professionals play in a modern organisation.

If PR is an area that interests you, discover what it means to be responsible for a company's brand image and help to shape its communication strategies. You'll need to have the right attributes and be proactive to impress employers...

Great reputation management is about understanding brands, creating strong media profiles and understanding what a good story looks like

Explore the PR industry

Every year more and more graduates of various degree disciplines are deciding to pursue careers in PR - especially as all types of businesses and organisations 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 job in the sector.

'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. Find out how to write effective CVs and cover letters.

Communication skills and networking

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 an excellent way to connect with businesses and show that you are keeping up to date with the industry. Learn more about job hunting and social media.

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.'

Industry-approved Masters degrees

Rather than applying for work immediately after graduating, those looking to work in the marketing, advertising and PR sector may wish to consider postgraduate study. Industry-approved courses bridge the knowledge gap and ensure you have the best chance of securing a suitable PR role.

For example, 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. Another option is the reputation-led MSc Corporate Communications and Reputation Management at Alliance Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester.

The 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 also graduates with good communications skills and degrees in other subjects (preferably a 2:1 or above).

Course leader Sarah Roberts-Bowman explains, 'A postgraduate course explores what reputation and communication truly means, linking the theory and practice together to help give practitioners of the future the confidence to tackle the increasingly complex organisational and communication challenges that they'll be confronted with.'

Inspire your organisation

Sarah also says that the PR qualification can provide the springboard to a varied and hugely rewarding career, whatever your particular individual interests. 'PR allows you to follow your passions, as whether you are interested in the arts, fashion, business, sport or charities, organisations in all sectors need to talk to a range of audiences - to listen, to adapt, to share, to challenge, to be part of the community in which they operate and yes, sometimes to persuade.'

As well as being able to communicate effectively to champion your company's products and services, you'll need to have drive and determination to succeed in this rapidly changing industry. 'Reputation and PR is all about helping to inspire organisations to get the best out of themselves,' Sarah reveals. 'Every day is different'.

A range of PR roles available

According to the CIPR, over half of its members are female (55%), with employment split fairly evenly between PR consultancy (45%) and in-house (55%) positions. Also significant is the fact that two-thirds of its membership work outside of London.

This shows that there are many areas you can aspire to work in - with relevant PR skills widely applicable across sectors - although Sarah points out that upon leaving postgraduate study, most students go on to work in generalist and sector-specific communication agencies, as well as take up a range of in-house roles.

She adds, 'Other opportunities include entering management consultancy, project management or indeed setting up as freelancers and establishing their own consultancy businesses.'