This is an article by Lucy Hird.
If I knew back then what I know now about PR, would I still have chosen it as a career? YES! In fact, in so many ways this past year has been the most exciting, insightful, as well as difficult year, where I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible. So what advice would I give to those who have recently graduated?
It’s a very confusing time when you finish your degree.
On one hand it’s a huge celebration and relief, and on the other it’s the realisation that the future is… well now.
There are so many options: in-house, agency, public and third sector or even freelance – but where to start? My uni lecturer pushed me towards #ThatLondon and I am grateful because it is the right place for me, but you need to look at what your interests are.
If you religiously read Grazia and follow The Londoner’s every-move, perhaps in-house at a large science corporation isn’t for you. Remember this is going to be your life and the early media contacts you build will go with you throughout your career.
Agency life is hard going, but so much fun and you learn a lot, fast. I would 100% recommend completing a variety of work placements first. I went everywhere from Coventry City Council to the Daily Mirror, and that way you can dip your toe and find out what suits you.
I thought I’d worked hard in the run up to starting out in PR, but nothing prepared me for getting my head around the day-to-day work-life. To say you are thrown in at the deep end from day one is an understatement, but that is what makes it so enjoyable.
This means you have to get to grips with things fast, but it also means that you learn so much every day and not ever once do you look at the clock and think ‘Is it only 2pm?’
As I came straight from uni with a big fish mentality I had to take a step back and realise that perhaps everything I had learned in ‘that communications management module’ wasn’t the way it was going to work, and actually these people I was working with now had been in PR for many years, with a wealth of experience and knowledge.
I was very unimportant and needed to swallow a lot of pride, but it paid off.
In my interview I remember the MD asking me what I thought my day would consist of. I reeled off the usual selling-in, checking for coverage, writing press releases… it turns out although you do a lot of that, you also do mountains of admin. Coverage tables and trackers, monthly, weekly and daily updates – the trick is to take real pride and pleasure in it. People genuinely win awards where I work for admin. It isn’t just the sexy stuff that gets you noticed.
Of all of the skills that I have had to learn, this has been the most valuable. When first learning how to manage the working day there is a realisation that everything takes so much longer than envisaged. There will be to-do lists with sub ‘must do today’ sections, which have been highlighted and underlined and then forgotten about.
‘Urgent’ work comes in whilst you’re trying to do yesterday’s urgent work, and instead of flagging that you seem to be drowning in an ever increasing avalanche of work, your ‘just-started-in-a-new-workplace-and-want-to-impress’ instinct means you just smile and hope that somehow you will get it done. But it is impossible, no-one is super-human!
I remember one late night at work I noticed the male cleaner had a slight hair cut and realised it was seriously time to go home. It’s really difficult to be efficient when you are stressed and under pressure. I found it really helped talking to someone who could guide me as to what is actually urgent and what can wait for tomorrow – after-all its PR not ER.
I should also point out that I was late submitting this article as it was moved from the top of my priority list. It takes a long time to get used to it, believe me!
You will find yourself sat in meetings where ‘KPIs’ ‘NPD’ ‘ROI’ and ‘ATL’ are discussed at speed with little to no explanation. Your language will start to be littered with phrases like brand strategy, liaising with, engagement, utilise, outreached to and ‘it would be great if you were able to.’ Just try not to take it home with you, a colleague told me she had liaised with her boyfriend the previous night. I really didn’t want to know what she meant!
From rubbing shoulders with celebrities, to yet another prosecco-soaked launch event there are a huge number of perks in PR. There is never a dull moment and the work is varied, meaning you are constantly kept on your toes. If you hit targets on a campaign you are elated, and the feeling of achievement is overwhelming.
When you are staying late there is a sense of ‘team effort’ and everyone chips in to see things are completed. The perks completely outweigh any negatives, and if you take everything with the right attitude there is nothing downbeat (ask me if this is the way I feel come Monday morning).
My biggest bugbear in PR is the lack of distinct rules when it comes to the journalist greeting. Is it a straight-up firm but fair handshake? Do you go for a double French air kiss? If you know them pretty well can you just go in for a hug, or will they attempt the singular kiss at the same time resulting in an awkward ear kiss (this has happened to me more than once). I just think there should be some kind of standardised rules across the industry. A colleague of mine goes for a lean back wave to avoid all of the above, but it looks a bit weird.
Forget spending time looking at the deeper issues within the industry, this is what needs resolving.
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