Earlier this month, I was invited by Staffordshire University to its new campus Digital Institute London to deliver a PR masterclass to 100 college students to give them an insight into what a PR career is like.
The new campus in Stratford, London is dedicated to new and emerging technologies.
“At Digital Institute London, we only teach the courses of the future. Courses that prepare students for new and emerging careers where graduate qualifications are in high demand.”
My talk was to help introduce the university’s new ‘Gaming PR and community management’ degree. Yes, even in the future we’ll need PR and communications experts to help manage the reputations of companies and nurture their online communities.
PR career advice from industry pros
Ahead of the lecture, I posted in an online group of 2,750 PR experts to ask what PR career advice they’d offer to young people. And here's what some of them had to say:
Read some newspapers. It might sound odd, but it's incredible how many young people I meet who want to get into PR but when I ask what news outlet they've read today, 'Twitter' is their only answer.
Don't think you need to have a qualification in PR to work in the industry and try to find work experience in a small agency - you'll get stuck in with a bigger range or activities than in a larger agency.
Make friends with the phone! Learn how to communicate effectively on different platforms.
Get interested in the world. Make connections - people AND ideas. Be meticulous with timing.
Don’t be swayed by the glamour. You should check the average rates of pay and levels of competition in technical or B2B PR compared to consumer fields. One route might be less compelling but could prove more satisfying and might pay the bills easier too.
I started out in agencies and I think it was the best way as I got to work on so many different clients and had exposure to all different types of work. Personally, I much preferred working in-house once I moved on but really pleased that I had that experience under my belt.
There are multiple ways to get into PR from apprenticeships and degrees to switching from other jobs. Whichever route you need to commit to continuous professional development. There is a wealth of theories, models and best practice to learn in academia.
It's important to build relationships. You can teach skills, but you can't teach passion. Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. Read the news and know the media. Understand what the difference is between news and features. It's important to stay curious.
Good writing skills are essential. You need to adapt your language for different publications, write interesting and persuasive copy and also edit copy. Even for new biz pitches and social media posts you need a good grasp of the English language.
Don’t assume you want to do consumer PR because you are one. Research your sectors and ideally start with a bit of a mix in an agency. Keep some examples of good PR campaigns you have seen and liked, have an opinion on them, this will help you start interviewing.
Think about what your audience wants to read and what journalists want to write about. It's not necessarily what a business wants to push.
Once you know the basics, specialise. Pick a niche - understand the issues, get to know the journalists. You'll be valuable and boost your earning power.
It's important to be nice to everyone you meet, be humble and make sure you're prepared to roll your sleeves up to work hard.
Would a career in PR suit you?
Part of the PR careers talk went into detail about what sort of activities you can expect to do if you work in the industry. Here are some further tips if you're thinking about a career in PR.
- Have an interest in business. From launching products to attracting investment, from recruiting the best employees to exit plans or even redundancies, you'll learn loads about the world of business. As PR professionals, one of our jobs is to support CEOs, MDs, directors and/or marketing teams as they're growing and developing their businesses.
- Don't expect the same from day-to-day. PR is one of the most varied careers you can find. If you like variation, can juggle multiple tasks, and enjoy working at a fast pace, then this could be a great industry for you.
- Be prepared to continue learning. PR crosses over with so many other marketing disciplines these days, and while you don't need to be an expert in everything it definitely helps to have at least a basic understanding of other specialisms such as SEO, paid search / PPC, social media (organic and paid), and content creation.
- Understand people and what makes them tick. Whether you're pitching to a new client, managing an internal team, running focus groups, interviewing case studies, or responding to a client's customers on social media, you need to be able to build relationships, show empathy and communicate in an effective way.
- Be resilient. PR professionals spend a lot of time proposing stories to journalists, creating partnerships with other brands, suggesting new campaigns to existing or prospective clients, and turning ideas into realities. But you don't get a straight 'yes' to everything you want to do. You need to be able to take on the feedback, learn from the nos, and have a tough skin to keep going to get results.
- Work hard, have fun. With a never ending to do list, multiple projects to juggle, and having to constantly react to everything from breaking news stories to client demands, a career in PR is hard work. But it can also be great fun, creative and fulfilling. Be prepared to get stuck in and work hard, but don't forget to celebrate your achievements and successes along the way.
Thinking about a career in PR or want someone to come and talk to your students about PR careers? Contact [email protected]