Student Visit: Public Relations Consultants Association Careers Day

It was an early start on Thursday 1st March, when myself and a friend travelled down to London to attend a Careers day specialising in PR at the Natural History Museum. Upon prompt arrival at the museum, we were greeted warmly by several organisers of the day and, fortunately, also by free pastries which set us up nicely for the day. The museum event room was packed full of excited students, eager to learn more about what it takes to succeed in the PR industry and to meet the top PR professionals who were speaking throughout the day.

Firstly, we were introduced to the day by the Public Relations Consultants Association’s (PRCA) Chairman, Sally Costerton, and Chief Executive, Francis Ingham, who gave us a brief overview of what PR actually is. PR is all about reputation, persuasion and influence and is within the top three graduate destination industries, which clearly shows how competitive it is. There are two type of PR company that you can work for: in-house, which is the PR and marketing teams which operate within companies, and agency, which produce PR strategies for a diverse range of companies, however we were told that the distinctions between these two types have shrunk over recent years. It is also true that the PR industry is fairly female-dominated; 64% of PR consultants are female, which some men in the audience seemed rather pleased with. It is also a very young industry, with 40% between the ages of 18 and 24; this is obvious due to the huge technological advances over recent years which the young generation have been moving with, such as the rise in social media. We were also told that, despite the harsh economic climate due to the recession, PR as an industry is still growing and improving, which is great news for prospective PR employees.
After the introduction, there was an in-house vs. Agency panel comprising four successful PR consultants, debating on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of PR house. From the debate, I now understand that, when you work in-house, you can get deeply involved in that specific company and in its products and issues. You get the satisfaction of seeing long-term projects through and remain focused upon that one brand, however it is imperative that you choose to work for a brand that you are passionate about. On the other hand, working with an agency provides more diversity and variety and you are able to meet a lot of people. It is creative and fast-paced and you can gain a breadth of knowledge as you are working on different campaigns at all times. One of the speakers on the panel inspired me greatly; Rana Reeves only set up his own PR agency, John Doe, three years ago yet already has clients such as Adidas and O2, which shows that you can achieve if you have the raw talent and passion for the industry.
Later on, there was a PRCA Frontline Panel of younger PR professionals who told us of their PR tales and offered advice. It is clear that the job market of today is highly competitive; one woman on the panel, Alicia Kearns who now works for Grayling, studied at the University of Cambridge and had to send out three applications for jobs and internships each day during her last year of university and still no doors were opening up to her. This shows the importance of gaining relevant work experience as soon as you can before entering the job market.
There was the a PR Sectoral Panel to discuss the less well-known area of different sectors within PR. There were speakers who worked within the Consumer sector, the Sustainability sector, the Sport sector, the technology sector and the Public sector, who gave their views. It was said that the technology sector was, by far, one of the largest and most dynamic sectors. However, despite these specific sectors and perhaps the preconception that an applicant who wants to work within one of these sectors should have a relevant degree or experience, which is what I had though, the panellists were adamant that a specific degree was not necessary. All a PR candidate needs is enthusiasm, passion and an inquisitive mind to succeed.
Lunch proved a brilliant opportunity for students to network amongst the speakers and ask more probing questions into the PR industry. All the speakers were highly welcoming and friendly, and it was clear that they just wanted to help us all to break into the competitive and creative world of PR.
Once we had filled up on sandwiches and cake, we returned to the lecture theatre for a talk on graduate schemes and the new government initiative of apprenticeships. The PR Higher Apprenticeship provides a different route into PR if University was not an option or did not appeal to the person. It provides the foundation level of PR understanding and knowledge, indispensable to someone who wants to break into the PR industry. Liz Sharma, from the PR agency Lexis, spoke to us about Graduate schemes, and explained the importance of catching your employer’s eye with your application. As the PR industry is so creative and competitive, it is necessary to think outside of the box when applying so that you stand out. She spoke of her experience of applying for her current job; she went to speaker’s corner in London and was filmed speaking about why Lexis should hire her.
There was then an extremely passionate and artistic lecture on Digital PR, presented by Danny Whatmough, who works for EML Wildfire. He explained how everything in today’s world is social and digital which is brilliant for the PR industry. However, it is also true that the middle man, between the company and the consumer which is essentially the media, has now been removed thanks to social media. Companies can now directly talk to their consumers and broadcast their ideas and products via Twitter and Facebook. He gave us five keys to success: Be creative; Netork both online and offline; Learn Business; Think outside the box and Try new things at all times. Keys which I will certainly try to materialise!
Last, but by no means least, was an important talk on CV advice and interviews, run by Pathfinders Media Recruitment. It is imperative that an applicant for a job in PR has relevant work experience; getting involved in university through writing in the student newspaper or organising events are excellent ways of standing out from the crowd. Another extremely useful tip that I learnt was to check your own social media sites to ensure that they would be suitable for an employer to see. We were told of an assessment centre for a well-known PR company which made their candidates present their Facebook sites to the others and explain each picture. So, if there are any embarrassing or inappropriate photos on your Facebook and you’re currently applying for a job, de-tag!
The day was an extremely insightful and inspirational look into the good and bad sides of PR. It is clear that the industry is cut-throat and competitive, requiring long working house and low pay when you first start out, however the creative, fast-paced, sociable and diverse points of the industry, for me, still encourage me to work towards my goal of working in a PR firm.


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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