A PR degree should be your flexible friend

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

It’s your final year. You’re busy with assignment deadlines, yet some of your classmates are already applying for graduate schemes. Should you worry about missing out?

This article will talk you through some of the decisions you’ll have to take before you can turn your experience into a job, and a job into a career.

It’s a market

Here’s what success looks like. An employer with a vacancy needs to find an applicant with the right attributes, attitude and experience. You may think the cards are stacked against you because there are many applicants for each vacancy, but employers consistently tell me that they struggle to find the right talent.

There is indeed scarcity of opportunity when it comes to graduate schemes. That’s because there are relatively few organisations with large PR and comms teams that recruit regularly.

Graduate schemes in PR are limited to the large consultancies and the Government Communication Service (though its Fast Stream recruitment for 2018 has already closed).

This extensive list is from a year ago and is no longer current (it includes Bell Pottinger), but it shows the range of options from paid internships to formal graduate schemes and rolling recruitment policies among the top 150 consultancies.

Be aware that these firms are not only looking to hire PR graduates but are also open to applicants from a variety of courses from all universities. They want to invest in talent.

What are you offering them?

That’s why you need to review what you can offer them, and not only ask what they can offer you in terms of pay, training and prospects.

What skills have you developed? What do you have to show from your course (project and dissertation work can be useful here) and from your work experience? Using social media is a given, but skills in content creation are valuable – even if you’re most interested in the ‘fun’ channels.

Above all, you need to show them your potential. Are you keen to learn? Are you capable of becoming a valued member of their team? In short, are you an investment for the future?

It’s not a problem to be passionate about music, sport, food or celebrity. It can be an asset, but this may not be enough. You will also be expected to be aware of major developments in the news.

Still seeking a match?

Graduate schemes are for the few, not the many. You’ll have further opportunities to work for these larger organisations later on in your career, not least because the larger consultancies tend to acquire smaller specialist teams.

So if you’ve missed out, where should you look next?

Many PR students are surprised to learn that most people in PR do not work in consultancies. Most PR jobs are in-house and many of these are internally focused on employee communication.

A prime example is the National Health Service, which employs over 1.5 million people. (By contrast, the UK’s largest private sector employer, Tesco, has around 0.5 million workers.) The NHS has major communication challenges, many of them internally focused. It needs the support of the public and of politicians, but it doesn’t have the marketing challenge of acquiring and retaining customers.

The consultants tend to be noisy because they need a high profile to attract new business. In-house teams don’t have this incentive, and bosses may frown on them devoting much time to personal projects.

So you need to look a little harder to realise the good work that’s being done in-house in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

Keep flexible

A quick review of some of the job titles of public relations graduates in my LinkedIn network (graduating in 2010 onwards) shows the range of opportunities – and the changing nature of the work. Though only a small sample, it’s interesting how few of these job titles mention PR or public relations (it’s redundant when working for a PR consultancy).

Even from these brief titles, you can see the split between consultancy roles (the word ‘account’ gives this away) and in-house roles in the public and not-for-profit sectors (where communication is preferred to public relations). There are some traditional-sounding roles (press officer, publicist) and one that would not have existed ten years ago (digital and social media manager).

  • Account coordinator
  • Account director
  • Account manager
  • Associate director
  • Communications director
  • Communications executive
  • Communications officer
  • Digital and social media manager
  • External communications manager
  • Marketing director
  • PR manager
  • Press and PR officer
  • Publicist
  • Senior comms manager

So when looking for vacancies, don’t limit your search to ‘public relations’.

We’ll be reporting on how individuals are developing their own career strategies to illustrate the variety of roles and opportunities available.