I wrote a while ago about the Sex and the City effect. Now it’s time to see how PR (and a PR degree) looks from a student’s perspective. Let Katherine Shenton, a first year public relations student from Leeds Metropolitan University, be your guide to how to get on in PR.
The percentage of college leavers opting for ‘glamorous’ careers is on the up. New media, marketing, advertising and public relations are now amongst the most popular degree courses. So you’re among the mass that wants to have a career like Samantha from Sex and the City. But before you decide for definite, you do know what public relations is, don’t you?
Everyone knows about PR – and that seems to consist of mainly going to parties and having your photo taken, like Meg Matthews – but it’s not all parties and glamour, darling!
PR is a form of communication. This is communication with anyone who comes into contact with that company – including the news media, the public, staff and suppliers. The news media consists of press, radio, TV and the latest development, the Internet. That’s exactly why if you’re thinking about a career you need to build communication skills so you’ll be able to talk to everyone and anyone about anything – professionally.
PR is different from advertising. Advertising is the concept of buying space to advertise your products, in your chosen design. PR on the other hand aims to get products into the media by using different PR tactics to gain the attention of the target audience. The aim of PR practioners is to get into the media without buying advertising space. Every industry from beauty to politics needs a PR department, and there are two main types of PR – consultancy PR and in-house PR.
If you are working in a consultancy you will be dealing with a number of different clients – or accounts as we refer to them in the industry. You may have the chance to work on a few accounts and can use these in conjunction with each other to gain a stronger campaign. If you think you want to work within a consultancy you’ll need to be able to multi-task, be organised, and have the ability to work under pressure. An example of combining accounts is to organise a fashion show using the models from an agency you represent and clothing from a fashion brand you work for. If you were working on behalf on a beauty or cosmetics brand, to reach your target audience you would need to aim for the appropriate media with your stories, events and launches.
Your target media may include:
• Editors of beauty and cosmetics trade magazines
• Fashion and beauty websites
• TV shows that have fashion and beauty features or as their main focus
• Beauty editors of magazines and newspapers
By targeting these types of media, you need to ensure that they are appropriate for your specified target audience. For example, Clearasil facial cleanser would target teenagers so teen magazines would be the main focus.
The most common type of information sent out about a product or service is in the form of a press release. A press release is a ready made story for journalists to choose whether to use in their media. Typically it will consist of essential facts with an interesting twist.
Other PR duties include organising launches and events to which the media are invited: samples may be sent to the press to use and test, convincing celebrities to use products and advertise the fact. For example, Posh recently received a St Tropez spray tan booth for her 30th birthday which was spread all over the tabloids and women’s magazines. Another way to entice the media to publicise your product is by involving your product with events like the Clothes Show, by occupying a stand and handing out samples and information about your products.
The PR department is the communication link with the public and press; it speaks on behalf of the company about anything from new product launches to redundancy. Sometimes the department is made up of one person and sometimes a range of specialists depending on the size of the company. The main duties are informing staff and suppliers about news, incentives and promotions. Internal communications are extremely important and this is the PR’s job: production of newsletters, intranets and staff events help maintain high morale.
There has been a massive increase in the use of the Internet as a marketing, advertising and PR tool, so when you enter any industry you’ll need to have an understanding of IT. It’ll be excellent if you have a qualification in IT.
If you’re thinking about PR, you’ll need to possess certain skills; if you answer yes to more than six you
may just have what it takes.
• Are you a people person?
• Do you have the ability to communicate verbally and in written form?
• Are you organised?
• Do you have a good imagination?
• Can you research and learn easily?
• Are you patient?
• Do you possess common sense?
• Can you work under pressure?
Even if you don’t have all the skills that a PR practioner needs don’t worry. That’s exactly why university exists, to teach the skills you need to have to succeed in your area of study.
Although you don’t have to worry just yet what sector you are interested in, you may already know. Think of your interests and your halfway there. It is extremely important that you choose an industry that you’ll enjoy and not be easily bored as there are a lot of demands placed on PR person. It isn’t all glamour (contrary to common belief) and there’s a lot of work behind organising a successful event. There are mundane duties such as updating large mailing lists, sending out masses of mail and sending out competition prizes but you must keep positive.
Before you even enter the industry look for jobs so that you can see what you’ll be doing and most importantly how much you’ll be getting paid. Try looking in the Guardian’s Saturday and Monday job supplements which are focused on PR, marketing and media jobs. Recruitment websites are also good sources for jobs and inspiration.
The most common way for a young person to get into PR is through work experience at a number of different companies. You don’t normally get paid but it looks great on your CV. An ideal candidate for work experience will already have some experience on their CV. So try and get as much work in PR departments and agencies as possible – as potentials employers will be impressed by your initiative, determination and passion which will rate you very highly.
Another place you could seek experience would be within the media, then you would be able to see how the other side works and gain a better understanding of what they are looking for. Although this may not be what you want to do, it’ll help you understand some of the job functions. Marketing departments are another opportunity for you to expand your understanding and skills.
As I mentioned earlier, PR is not always sexy. You may find yourself working in a political PR agency or working within a pork pie factory’s in-house PR department; you’ve just got to focus on what you want to do and be determined. PR is a difficult industry to enter so you’ll need to be enthusiastic and confident. People don’t understand all the work that goes into organising a trade show but I hope you do now.
But don’t be put off, it’s one of the most exciting industries to get into and mixes creativity with organisational skills and gives you amazing job satisfaction and that’s exactly why I what to do it!
I’m studying BA (Hons) in Public Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University which is a 3 or 4 year degree course depending on whether you choose to complete a placement year (which I think is very worthwhile as you get the chance to get your foot in the door and a year’s work experience behind you). Good luck!