Why you should consider the third sector

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Nicola Jones
Nicola Jones

This is an article by Nicola Jones.

Public relations has an odd reputation.

In April 2014 PR Week featured an article exploring PR’s image problem. The article examined some of the stereotypes that have been created for TV.

These extremes range from political spin-doctor and bully, Malcolm Tucker, to Siobhan Sharpe who was portrayed as a clueless head of brand in ‘2012’.

It’s perhaps not surprising that none of these characters worked in the third sector. And many communications professionals within the third sector are probably very pleased that they haven’t been misrepresented by TV scriptwriters. However, working for a charity may be a career path some may disregard in favour of employers that appear to offer more glamorous/lucrative/high-profile roles. Could this be a mistake?

Students who leave university owing thousands of pounds to the student loan company may overlook charities for financial reasons. However a survey in 2012 by TPP, a charity recruitment consultancy, found that entry-level communications roles in the not-for-profit sector were equal to those in the private sector.

Higher up the career ladder it found that senior managers in the third sector were paid less, but the gap was only around 4%. Charities need to attract talented and skilled employees, so they need to offer competitive salaries.

Agencies may prove more alluring to recent graduates who want to work on a number of accounts rather than settling into an in-house role. However this doesn’t mean that an early career PR practitioner can’t work with charities. Some agencies specialise in working with third sector organisations, providing young practitioners the opportunity to gain a broad-grounding in the sector.

It may seem an exaggeration but working within the third sector could provide a PR graduate with the opportunity to change the world.

Many charities run campaigns to tackle hard-hitting issues such as poverty, illness and abuse. The opportunity to do some good is often the motivation for those who decide to work for a not-for-profit.

Finally, if someone enters PR believing it will be non-stop champagne and celebrity parties they will soon be disappointed. PR is hard work regardless of the sector.

However there is often a lighter side to communications work within the third sector, which may appeal to some PR job-seekers.

Many charities have high-profile supporters and partners, and some even employ celebrity liaison specialists. Even those that don’t have such roles often have high-profile supporters.

Acorns Children’s Hospice, based in the Midlands, has a premier league team as one of its partners which is a perk if you are into football.

Although there are signs that the employment market is improving, gaining entry positions within PR is still competitive in the third sector.

One possible route is by volunteering for a charity. This should provide the volunteer with an introduction to the working culture of an organisation, knowledge of how charities are structured and experience of the challenges they face.

Some small to medium sized charities have created volunteer intern roles which could educate a graduate to decide whether they want to pursue a communications career within the third sector.

Nicola Jones MCIPR is currently an interim senior communications consultant at Acorns Children’s Hospice, which operates three children’s hospices in the West Midlands. She is also a freelance PR practitioner and is a sessional PR lecturer at the University of Worcester. Prior to working in PR she was a broadcast journalist.