How to get into PR
PR is an exciting and rewarding profession that offers lots of variety and presents individuals with the opportunity to do things that they never would in any other job. It’s also extremely hard work; ask any PR professional and they’ll be sure to tell you that while it’s fun, there’s much more to the job than networking at fancy parties with champagne in hand (though this has been known).
Nevertheless, it’s a career which continues to attract lots of attention and which is in high demand. It’s also one which generates hundreds of applications, so if PR is your chosen area, what can you do to differentiate yourself from the masses? How can you ensure your CV gets a second glance?
We’ve put together some tops tips for you, with invaluable advice from Natalie Mitchell, our own expert consultant, to produce a short guide on how to get into PR:
Decide on agency or in-house
You know you want to work in PR, but do you want to work for a PR agency or for a specific company? It’s something you should determine up front, as there are some marked differences between the two.
A PR agency works with numerous clients, meaning that there could be huge variety in the nature of your work. It would mean working on several campaigns at the same time and so the ability to keep several plates spinning at once would be an advantage. It can be challenging, but great for those who like to be stretched.
Working in-house at a company usually means there isn’t as much variety in the tasks required, but you can concentrate on fewer projects and often have more time to complete them. There is a risk that the role can become repetitive, but it does give you the chance to really get to grips with a particular campaign and see it right through from inception to results.
Give recruiters what they’re looking for
While responsibilities naturally vary, a PR professional’s tasks are numerous. They include:
- Writing press releases, speeches, and pitches that are sent to the press
- Liaising with influential contacts at magazines, newspapers and in television
- Conducting market research, arranging events, and sponsoring projects
- Social media promotion and copywriting
It could also cover damage limitation and positive PR, should a reputation need a bit of boosting.
As such, you’ll see job descriptions asking for an excellent communicator, writing and editing skills, an understanding of the media, and exceptional time management. The person specification generally asks for someone who is creative, ambitious, a strategic thinker, focused, target-driven, and able to work on their own, under pressure.
So what else do recruiters look out for? Natalie shares some insight: “In PR, especially agency side, it’s a lot about the right personality and a good fit for the team, so enthusiasm and drive about PR and the industry is important; someone who is eager to muck in and be involved in all aspects, such as writing, selling-in, and business development. Obviously, someone who has a strong interest in communications and writing are ideal, so candidates with blogs and strong interests are a plus.”
If a job description prescribes certain skills, experiences, and attributes, ensure that you tailor your CV and/or application as appropriate to show recruiters that you possess them. If you can include relevant examples as proof, then you’re far more likely to be put in the ‘yes’ pile.
Do you need to have a qualification?
Interestingly, not all job advertisements specify a related academic or professional qualification. For some employers, a degree in Public Relations or Marketing is viewed as ‘desirable’ but not essential – though it can be handy, as Natalie explains.
“No, it isn’t necessary to have a degree to get into PR although it can be useful especially at junior levels,” she says. “Degrees in subjects such as history, English or any other essay based subject are the most attractive as it shows they are good writers, which is really important in PR.”
If you don’t have a degree, don’t worry, there are many other routes into PR providing you can demonstrate the skills and attributes that the recruiter is looking for. Write a blog, so that they can see your writing abilities. Make sure you know all about the industry by keeping up to date with PR news and events. Show them how personable and chatty you are – the role will require confidence in dealing with people at all levels, so let recruiters see that you’re not flustered.
Is it easy to make the leap to PR from marketing or communications roles?
PR is typically categorised under the same job family as marketing and communications, thus moving into PR from one of those sectors may be easier than some others. With many parallels between the disciplines, some of the transferable skills you bring will be more relevant, making the leap that bit smoother and possibly increasing your chances of progressing to interview.
“It is easy to make the move from in-house communications roles to agency PR as long as the reasons for wanting to move are clear and valid,” Natalie says. It may be a little trickier from marketing roles, she continues, “although they usually work very closely with PR teams so if that experience is there it is a possibility”.
Be open to other industry sectors
When we think of PR, often it’s the high profile, in-the-public-eye industries that spring immediately to mind – not helped by the televisual parodies of PR professionals we’ve been fed over the years (such as Absolutely Fabulous’ Edina Monsoon, Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It and Siobhan Sharpe from 2012/ W14). Yet the PR function is a mainstay of just about every industry, so by being open to working on campaigns for industries other than the creative ones, you will automatically increase the number of jobs available to you.
One of the areas that most commonly advertises PR roles is the charitable sector, but you’ll find jobs among everything from pharmaceutical firms and councils to museum groups and market research companies. There’s no need to restrict your choices based on an industry preference.
What’s more, Natalie states that the market is booming within the tech, finance and professional services sectors, so this is a great time to be looking for a new challenge: “It is currently a candidate short market so there are a lot of roles on offer for the right candidates”, she said.
It seems obvious that to differentiate yourself from other applicants, you need to do your own PR. To stand out from the crowd, it’s still advantageous to network, attend industry events, do any extra-curricular training and perhaps undertake some work experience – especially for anyone who is just entering the world of work. It still looks great on a CV plus it gives individuals a chance to make their mind up about whether they prefer agency or in-house PR.
“For juniors who are looking to go into PR out of university, internships are a great way of getting insight into different industries and different types of agencies, such as consumer, corporate and B2B,” Natalie asserts. “You need to enjoy being a ‘storyteller’ and have a passion and talent for writing and really bring your personality to the interview.”
For events to attend – and be seen at – keep an eye on industry publications, such as PR Week, on LinkedIn or at your local Chamber of Commerce for networking and training events.
How to increase your chances
As with applying for any job, there are many tools and techniques you can use to increase your chances of a) having your CV progressed to the next round and b) securing that interview. It’ll come as no surprise that a well written CV is a must, plus an informative (though not repetitive) cover letter. Using LinkedIn to showcase your other achievements and to make contact with those in your chosen company / industry is invaluable. This gives you the chance to connect with key influencers in the PR world and it shows that you are serious about your career choice. Follow individuals on Twitter and join in discussions to start building a name for yourself – you never know who might be looking.
One of the most effective steps to take is to register with a specialist PR employment agency. All the big companies will use agencies to find their new talent; many won’t advertise roles themselves at all. These agencies not only have contacts in the right places, but they’ll also be able to advise you and find a role which suits your skills and personality. You can’t lose.
Lastly, don’t forget to do your own PR, and always keep trying even if you get knocked back. The best PR professionals are the most tenacious, so get back up and send that new application.