So you want to work in PR?
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.
Public relations is a resilient business: rather like the law, you need it in good times, and you really need it in bad times.
That said, the past year has been challenging. Those working in or working with clients in the retail, hospitality, leisure and travel sectors have had to face enforced shutdowns and a loss of business and opportunities.
Where there are losers, there will be winners: technology companies (and that includes online retailers) have been among those presented with increased opportunities through the pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies have often made large profits; but they’ve rarely been held in such high public esteem as now, thanks to the speedy development and rollout of vaccines.
Public services – and above all the UK’s National Health Service – have played a heroic role in the past year. Supporting the doctors and nurses and other frontline staff are communicators working hard to maintain morale internally and to communicate health messages externally.
Then there’s the prospect of some sort of return to near-normal. Certainly, stock markets seem to be reflecting an increased optimism over business prospects.
But even those who’ve started work in the past year have not yet gone to work. They’ve not been able to meet their new colleagues in person.
This would be challenging for anyone, but it’s particularly so for those taking their first steps into a career. The lack of networking opportunities could prove damaging in future.
So, present circumstances are particularly difficult for new graduates seeking work and for new applicants to our industry. With them in mind, we’ve produced a series of insider accounts of working in different sectors. These were not written about the pandemic specifically, but rather are written to be more general guides for beginners. We summarise them below, but can also add some generic advice to all job seekers.
It’s a familiar paradox, as noted here by MA Public Relations student Sophie Smith.
— Sophie Smith (@sophiersmith19) April 13, 2021
To gain a role, you first need experience. But how to you gain experience other than by finding work?
Sophie notes another challenge: there’s no simple search term that will bring up suitable roles. Some use public relations, others communication or information or digital.
With these challenges in mind, here are some things that job seekers can be doing to enhance their opportunities.
- Review your skills and experience and highlight aspects that might appeal to employers. (Sophie Smith has a first degree in maths; she’s also a prominent #prstudent blogger; that combination of numeracy and literacy is particularly appealing right now.)
- Develop your networks. Opportunities are increasingly being shared on social media rather than formally through job ads, so you need to be following the right people to become aware of vacancies. While you can’t follow people on LinkedIn or Twitter just to ask them for a job, you can seek opportunities to get to know them (it’s called developing relationships, a core skill in public relations). Sophie Smith is doing some work for Stephen Waddington who she may have met through her university, but could equally easily have ‘met’ through social media.
- Work on your personal brand. The ideal situation is for you to target an employer you’re keen to work for, and for them to have already identified you as the sort of talent they’re looking to recruit. So take a look at your presence on social media. What story does it tell? How consistent is your personal brand across networks? Everyone is entitled to a private life, but not everyone thinks to develop a public face – and that’s what we encourage you to work on. If you really want to work in motorsport, then take every opportunity to express your passion and your knowledge, and build a network of those who share your enthusiasm. TikTok has been big over the past year; Clubhouse is currently in vogue. By building your presence on emerging social networks, you could bring valuable knowledge to a team.
- Ask for advice or seek a mentor. Don’t be shy to ask: it’s almost a test for applicants for public relations jobs. Are you someone who can develop relationships with strangers, and turn them into allies? There are many of us who recognise that life is particularly challenging for young people right now (older people have been most at risk medically through the pandemic, but younger people are most at risk economically). The CIPR has a career starter mentoring scheme that matches Chartered Practitioners with students.
Here’s a summary of our introductory guides to various sectors written by insiders.
So you want to work in … Fashion PR? by Sonal Nayee
‘If you have a genuine passion for fashion and communication, have an appreciation for the processes and work that goes into each collection and can tell a compelling story with confidence, then this may be for you.’
So you want to work in… Celebrity PR? by Gregor Cubie
‘If you choose to work in celebrity PR you need to be thick skinned and sharp-elbowed but also able to bend the knee and walk on eggshells where appropriate.’
So you want to work in… Automotive PR? by Heather Yaxley
‘Launching new vehicles is a key part of automotive PR where building relationships with specialist media and online influencers is important.’
So you want to work in… Food PR? by Maud Davis
‘A key part of food PR involves launching new foods/products where building relationships with specialist consumer and trade media and online influences is important.’
So you want to work in… Charity comms? by Lateefah Jean-Baptiste
‘If you’re good at pitching to the press, know how to identify a news story, or better yet have some sort of background or experience working in journalism then charity comms might be one for you.’
So you want to work in… Publishing PR? by Olivia Thomas
‘The best advice I have for anyone trying to break into the industry is to read and absorb everything you can from newsletters to blogs to podcasts and TV programmes.’