I’ll let you in on a secret. When I was at school I had no idea what PR was, let alone that I’d be working within the industry a few years down the line. The limited careers advice I did receive told me that my enjoyment of writing and talent with words was best suited to a career in journalism, and I don’t remember any mention of public relations until it came to being allocated a work placement at college.
Given my interests, I was matched with a communications agency, but was completely oblivious as to what my week-long stint at the company would entail.
As it turned out, communications is just another word for PR. The placement saw me building media lists, drafting and issuing short press releases, sitting in on meetings, collating coverage and just generally observing the fast-paced, buzzing nature of the industry. Although it was only a week, it gave me an enlightening peek behind the media curtain – I’d never really thought about where business stories in the papers came from or how they got there, so seeing the process behind securing client coverage really struck my interest.
So, whether you’re like I was – oblivious but intrigued by PR – or dead-set on pursuing a career in the field, here are my tips for gaining valuable experience:
Read and write
Words are a huge part of PR, so you’ll need to be a strong writer with a great eye for grammar. And as with anything, the best way of developing your writing skills is to practice. There are a number of ways you can do this, with blogging being one of the most popular. Or, if you’re still in education, why not consider contributing to your school, college or uni newspaper?
Similarly, reading is a brilliant way of expanding your vocabulary, as well as enabling you to get clued-up on industry trends and news. And while this is no substitute for hands-on experience, it’s a great starting point for getting to know what’s going on in the world of PR, along with what you might expect from the profession.
Find a work placement
Work experience – although not easy to secure – is undoubtedly the best way to build your PR skills, in preparation for securing a full-time role. Whether this is through an unpaid work placement, a paid internship, or simply volunteering to take on the communications of a sports team or community group, for example, any experience is good experience.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to find PR placements, so if you’re struggling to find an agency to take you on, then it might be worthwhile looking at other related areas such as events management or journalism.
I’m not suggesting that forking out £27k for a BA in Public Relations is the most lucrative way of securing a job in the industry, but if you are set on going to uni and pursuing a career in PR, then there are some great courses out there.
Programmes with sandwich years enable you to gain invaluable hands-on experience as part of your degree – plus, you can earn while you learn!
Hone your CV
This isn’t just an essential part of finding experience and that all-important first job, but crafting a clear, well-written and compelling CV will help you to develop the very same skills that you’ll need to succeed in PR.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll hate trying to ‘sell’ yourself to potential employers, but it’s an essential part of the job hunt and one that you’ll need to get used to! Plus, it’s a great introduction to the pitching skills you’ll need to master as a PR professional.
I’m definitely not advising that you should connect to the MD of every PR agency in your area, but putting forward a professional profile on LinkedIn and Twitter can help in a few different ways.
Firstly, being active on these networks and following the right people will help you stay up-to-date with the latest news and opportunities in PR. Secondly, they give you the chance to voice your own opinions, join in discussions and demonstrate your interest in the field. And thirdly, there is huge potential to make some good – and often mutually beneficial – connections. Just choose your conversations wisely and don’t overstep the mark!
Getting your foot in the PR door can seem like a daunting task, but if you’re willing to go looking for opportunities, it’s likely that your efforts will be rewarded. And if you want any further advice or have any questions about what a career in PR entails, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter at @HannahScribaPR!