Starting your career in public relations

By Hollie Rendall, Young Women in Media.

Breaking into the fast-paced PR sector is not the easiest of tasks and is renowned for being an extremely competitive industry.

To help you find the best route into the industry, we at Young Women in Media hold monthly sessions which often take the form of a panel discussion with experts on a particular sector related to the media. While previous sessions have included radio and journalism, our latest was on public relations and covered how to get into PR and develop your skills, what type of PR to go for, and how work experience and internships can help kick off your career.

We were lucky to be joined by some women with huge amounts of experience of working in financial, entertainment and film PR, and had a discussion chaired by the features editor of PR Week, Kate Magee. We started with some facts:

  • 70% of people working in public relations are female, 30% are male.
  • But this ratio reverses when you look to management positions in PR; 30% are female.
  • The industry has been perceived as having a problem with unpaid internships which last longer than six months, lack proper structure and do not lead to permanent jobs.  These types of internships have given some sought-after companies a bad reputation for taking advantage.

It was agreed that the ways into PR have changed drastically in recent years – our panellists got in though various routes, including: joining a financial services company after leaving school and eventually moving across to the press office; doing work experience for Planet Hollywood; and doing a degree in film and gradually moving into publicity after helping with film festivals. The fact is degrees or masters in PR didn’t really exist until recently, and this means that the usual method of starting a career in PR has changed drastically in a short space of time.

The panel unanimously said that work experience and personality is more important than qualifications – although some competitive internships now require a post-graduate qualification in public relations. It was pointed out that the experience of university, or a job completely unrelated to media relations, can be turned to a potential PR’s advantage as there are several transferrable skills you need. Being calm under pressure, good at writing and an excellent communicator are just some of these. Public relations is about promoting your clients, but it’s also about protecting them when something goes wrong – a good PR has to do both equally well.

Social media is a new development that is crucial for PR and important for anyone thinking about entering the industry. The use of social media can hugely amplify a campaign’s success, but it can also broadcast negative comments about a product or company to the world.

Tips for people looking to enter PR

  • Pick a sector – although the subject matter can vary massively, from working with consumer goods to doing crisis communications for large corporations, a lot of the skills needed in PR are the same. Research the options and perhaps try work experience in a couple of different areas to see what appeals.
  • Decide between agency and in-house – our panel agreed that for starting off in PR, getting agency experience is key. Whilst the pay may initially be lower, the experience you’ll get is invaluable – and agencies often have a great social life, too.
  • Get the knowledge you need – in most interviews you have at an entry level for PR, you’ll be asked about the media you consume on a daily basis. Read newspapers, become a Twitter aficionado, and also make sure you’re looking at PR Week to show you know about the industry and what’s happening.
  • Get experience – most agencies offer work experience placements to those showing genuine potential and willingness to learn. Well structured internships with a focus on learning, such as those offered by Inspiring Interns are a fantastic way to get in-depth experience and build your contacts book.
  • Be committed – show that you mean business by doing work experience, making contacts and following up with those people afterwards. The same goes for any journalists you speak to, and any contacts you have will really impress subsequent interviewers or bosses.
  • Make yourself invaluable – during work experience or internships, get involved with as much as you can. Put yourself forward for brainstorms, chat to senior people and show how much you care about the work you’re doing. If a company has a lot of work experience, make sure you stand out from the crowd.

If you’re a young woman looking to get into PR, you may also be interested in joining Young Women in Media. Our sessions are informal and our members range from students to women with around 5 years’ experience. You can contact us through workinginmedia.wordpress.com

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