PR can seem like an appealing sector for many creative graduates, but the industry can be demanding and far removed from the ‘fluffy’ stereotype. Here, Martin Stone, associate director at digital PR agency, Tank, explains what skills are needed to do well in the industry.
If you’re going into a career in PR with the mindset that that you’ll be living the champagne lifestyle of Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous style, then I’m sorry to say, you’re going to be disappointed.
Even though a career in PR does bring many perks, the reality of PR isn’t as Ab Fab as it seems.
The not so harsh reality
Ok, so maybe you’ll get the odd free drink when you’re handling a bar launch or get to sample new products before anyone else, but the day-to-day reality is you’ll most likely be handling sensitive subjects and dealing with shrewd journalists.
That doesn’t mean the work we do isn’t fun, because most of the time it is. Working in PR means you slowly build up an encyclopedic knowledge on a whole range of subjects you may have never touched before, working with a mix of B2B and B2C clients – trust me, you’ll quickly become the person everyone wants on their pub quiz team.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the job can be taking those clients who work in a niche industry and making them newsworthy. In many respects, you can get a bigger kick from getting coverage this way than you do from getting a centre-page splash for a relatively easy story.
I’ve been in the industry over a decade but I still love seeing the difference your efforts can make to a business that perhaps hasn’t experienced PR before. Sometimes a client will come back to you, thanking you because their neighbour saw them in the newspaper, and it’s the little perks like that that can make your day.
The basics of a PR personality
There are a few telltale signs that you have a personality fit for PR– the most obvious being a hunger for news. If you’ve never picked up a broadsheet newspaper or flicked onto a news channel with the actual goal of reading it or watching it, then maybe PR isn’t for you.
Having an overall knowledge of media is vital. In the past, a PR exec would post out a press release and hope it got printed. Now, there are dozens of platforms at our disposal, so understanding the mechanics of these and how PR can influence them to build a company’s image is key. Digital is becoming vital, and around a third of our own turnover currently comes from SEO, PPC, social media and link building work. I would expect graduates coming to us to at least have a basic grasp of these areas and understand how they can be utilised as part of wider PR campaigns.
In terms of education, there are lots of paths that can lead to a PR career, you don’t just have to take the traditional route – but a degree is useful. Over the years we have hired people with degrees in business, politics, literature – anything that helps you learn how to build an argument or write a compelling story.
Generally, you’ll need thick skin. Along with handling difficult subjects, PR comes with a lot of rejection, particularly from busy journalists, and you’ll have to learn how to take that on board and apply it to get the best results for your clients. Not everything you do will work, but that’s part of the challenge.
Since we act as the mid-way point between clients and journalists, we’re party to a lot of information that people don’t want to make public, so knowing when to keep silent is important – so just make sure you don’t go bragging about your work in the pub on the weekends. Discretion is an important attribute.
Approach PR agencies with PR
If you tick all of the boxes above, then you’re half way there. Now, you just have to take your first step – and you should do it carefully.
Getting a job in PR isn’t as easy as landing a weekend job while you’re at college. Sending out CVs and generic covering letters to every agency in the local area won’t work. One of my biggest pet hates is someone approaching us coldly. You need to show interest in the company and the industry, show us how passionate you are by going out and getting all the work experience you can with voluntary work and your own projects.
The worst thing you can do is sending a blanket letter or email to an agency that starts with “To who it may concern”. You can’t be generic in this industry. Do your research, and find a name to address your emails to.
When it comes to researching, make sure you’re armed to the teeth with knowledge, don’t just scroll through the top few blog posts and ‘about us’ page while you’re sat on the bus to the interview. When I interview, I always ask people what they know about us, because if they reference the first two case studies on our website, then I know they probably aren’t going to be a good fit. I want people to basically stalk us, and show us how good you are at the job before you even have it.
Overall, true PR people make waves. They’re shrewd, ballsy, personable and tenacious. We’re not ‘ladies who lunch’ anymore, and, if you understand that, you’re suited for the job.