The graduate weapons returns, this time to take on careers in PR. My aim over the next few hundred words is to provide you grads with a mini-insight into the industry of public relations; what’s it all about, what opportunities lie within, and most importantly, what qualities you’ll need to arm yourself with in order to win the fight against the thousands of other candidates battling for your future position.
Contrary to the Ab Fab portrayal of PR-nut Eddy, a career in public relations is more than just celebs and champers. Granted, this industry can be a touch more glam than your average office job but alongside that, PR can be a prosperous and rewarding career path for any grad. PR essentially handles the reputation of a brand, organisation or person. Whether in-house, via an agency or freelance, the role of PR is chiefly to build, maintain and protect the reputation of the client. This is achieved by communicating what they do, tailoring what they say and influencing what others say about them through various media (think press releases, social media, events).
Let’s look at the basics: your degree. A university qualification in PR is not a prerequisite for entry into this sector. Instead you should focus on the skills and attributes you have developed during your time at university. Naturally, a degree in English or any other essay-heavy subject will provide you with strong written skills which will be an invaluable asset. Spoken communication skills developed in relevant modules will also be of interest to employers. Other essentials include a keen interest in the media; the ability to identify what makes a good story; a creative mind capable of producing positive media content; and tackling conflicting situations and negative press. Roles in PR span across a broad spectrum: flexibility and a willingness to try your hand at different areas will be attributes that employers are looking for, as well as time keeping skills and the ability to prioritise your workload, particularly at entry level. General day-to-day activities can cover everything from writing and editing, research and evaluation to media relations and corporate identity. There is often a sales element to PR; highlight your good persuasion skills, your confident telephone abilities, previous public speaking opportunities (e.g. for a debating society), plus any client-facing or actual sales experience.
Ask yourself these questions: Do you have an interest in what’s going on around you? Do you have good communication skills? Do you cope well under pressure? These are the qualities the ideal candidate will possess. As with any industry, demonstrating initiative will inevitably work in your favour. Highlighting any relevant work experience you may have picked up whilst studying will be of key interest to your interviewer. As an industry, PR is one of biggest users of internships as a way of sourcing new talent, with most work experience and internship opportunities acting as prerequisites for paid positions. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on industry experience then show your enthusiasm by talking to as many people in the industry as you can. Networking is a key element of PR; demonstrating the ability to communicate with contacts from an early stage will register positively with potential employers. You can also look to PR experience developed at university – perhaps you promoted a society or event? This is a great way to show you have the potential to work in the industry.
Targeting your application
Ensure you understand your opportunities within the industry. Would you be better suited to an in-house role within a department working solely for one organisation, or within a consultancy providing an independent service to a collection of clients? Then there’s the sector. You may not have an initial preference for one sector, that’s something that usually develops with your knowledge and experience. It is worth bearing in mind that certain sectors can be particularly competitive so adopt an open-minded approach to your original applications. Remember, that your first job is never an indicator for the rest of your career. View your CV as collage, each piece of experience you pick up only adds to the beauty of the overall picture. Whether it’s B2B, B2C, the public sector, entertainment, finance, sport, charity, fashion; the opportunities are endless.
Types of interview questions
Whether positive or negative, a large part of PR involves the handling of unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, your interviewer will be looking at your ability to interpret and respond to out-of-the-ordinary questions. They’ll be looking for creativity; previous instances where you’ve promoted a product or event and what approach you took. What was different about it? Why was it a success? Remember that you’ll be competing against a handful of candidates. Give them something to remember you by, whether it’s a brilliant success story, or a unique strategy.
Experience equals success in this sector. Ensure you exploit your pieces of transferable experiences by applying them to key points of PR: writing, speaking and relationship building.