Junior doctors have been in the news this week. It’s a reminder of how high the barriers to entry are in medicine. Years of undergraduate and postgraduate study followed by an extended spell working long hours as a junior doctor.
Only then can medical practitioners expect to secure a stable and well-paid role as a hospital doctor or general practitioner.
So in medicine, it’s hard to get in but the rewards for success are high.
Compare that with public relations. Broadly, the opposite applies. It’s easy to get in – but hard to get on.
Students often don’t get this. They assume the challenge is securing the first role. They need experience for this, but how to gain experience when you don’t have any, they ask?
Here’s how it looks to me. The public relations business is dynamic and fast-growing: consider the growth in internal comms and the emergence of ‘content marketing’ – all roles that fit broadly within my understanding of PR.
There must be more positions than available candidates because a day rarely goes by without me becoming aware of someone sharing their vacancy or opportunity. Take a look at these sites managed by Sarah Stimson and Rachel Miller for numerous current vacancies.
Then consider that not only do PR people work in consultancies and in-house within larger organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors – but many choose to work for themselves (as freelance or independent practitioners).
Despite the many degree courses that have been offered for the past 25 years, despite professional courses like the CIPR Diploma (over 15 years old), there is no single point of entry into public relations. School leavers can become apprentices; non-PR graduates can apply for graduate roles in PR; digital and marketing teams can offer PR services; mid career professionals can take on PR responsibilities.
Yet there’s still an apparently insatiable demand for new talent. So it’s not getting in that’s hard. The challenge is getting on. Here are some tips on how to succeed:
- Be curious. Never stop learning about the media, about different business sectors, about technology. Show that you’re curious and ambitious (graduates don’t have a monopoly on curiosity, but your degree is more useful as an indication that you’re capable of learning than as evidence of what you’ve already learnt).
- Be strategic. Entry level roles are not often well paid, but they may be worth taking for what they can teach you and and for the opportunities for training and development. Being strategic also means seeing the bigger picture: what does your boss do all day? Is this something you could aim to do too? While your entry-level role may require you to crank out press releases or blog posts, these activities do not define public relations. So are you gaining an understanding of how press coverage or social media shares contribute to business objectives?
- Plan your own career. Only the largest consultancy firms can offer interesting graduate roles that give you experience in different sectors and of different PR specialisms across different countries. If you’re not in a graduate programme, can you broaden your own experience and avoid becoming a one-trick pony? You may have to do this by moving between jobs, sectors and even countries. Have you joined a professional body? Are you attending training courses or further study? Are you collecting CPD points?
Remember: graduation should not mark an end of study. Rather, it’s a platform that shows you’re capable of further learning.
There are many opportunities out there; there may be riches and other rewards to a career in public relations. But you will need a plan to get on – not just a plan to get in.
Being strategic means being adaptable and playing the long game.