PR and Communications is one of the broadest and largest industries out there with, according to the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), a worth of £12.9bn in 2016 following an increase of over £3bn since 2013. It has grown to around 83,000 employees from 62,000 in 2013 – an impressive increase, which shows that more people are favouring the industry. The PRCA describes it as ‘experiencing a post-recession stability’.
When you land a job in PR and Communications, you can usually expect to share a few common aspects with others in the same line of work. You will primarily work in an office, with some travel to visit clients and attend events. The average age for PR professionals is 28 (PR Census 2016), so you’ll most likely be part of a young, dynamic and sociable team. The industry is fast-moving and creative, but also often highly stressful and pressurised. Salaries vary greatly between roles, regions, and organisations. Depending on your specific role you may be able to do some freelance work.
Considering these points, it’s easy to believe that PR and Communications jobs are all the same, and that you know what you’ll encounter when you go into one. Zoë Turton, PR Officer for Birmingham Museums Trust, sets the record straight by sharing her experience of the industry and revealing the differences between the roles she has worked in. Zoë already had a clear idea of the kind of career she wanted to pursue before university, choosing to study Broadcast Journalism at The Nottingham Trent University.
PR was something that was mentioned a lot in my lectures,” she says. “It was an alternative career choice if you didn’t want to go into journalism. I learnt a lot of transferrable skills throughout my degree, as you went straight into the course looking for either PR or journalism jobs. I ended up in PR.
Although UCAS states that having a degree in marketing or a related qualification (such as Zoë’s) is highly desirable, other degree subjects such as English are also appealing to employers. Companies often care more about the transferrable skills you pick up from said subjects, such as communication and creativity. Having a degree is a basic entry requirement for any PR role - the PRCA found that undergraduate degrees remained the predominant highest form of education in the industry, a fact that becomes more prevalent with each younger generation. Despite this, practical knowledge of the job is just as important. Zoë worked in a PR agency for three years before her current role.
What they looked for was more experience-heavy than academic, so I had to have experience in lots of different PR roles, she explains. Getting this job at Birmingham Museums Trust was down to the experience I had from my last job. I had a really good grounding because at the PR agency I was writing about different sectors everyday, and it prepared me to then work for one specific organisation.
To apply for the role Zoë was asked for a CV and cover letter. This seems like the standard for a job application, but she points out something very important that many applicants forget.
I wrote a very tailored CV to all the relevant things in the job description. You can’t put out the same CV for different jobs and expect to get interviews – you have to really spend time on it.
At the interview stage, especially if you’re applying for an in-house role, it’s important to show you understand the organisation.
I did a lot of research into the Museum and the sector, so I went in with lots of relevant examples,” says Zoë. “Even though I’d never worked in the arts and heritage sector before, I think I showed that I had an understanding of it. It was quite useful to mention things that had recently happened in the sector – I think it gave them the confidence that I’d done my research.
Subsequently, to work in PR today means to be faced with a set of new challenges due to the ever-expanding digitalisation of the industry. The PRCA’s In-house Benchmarking Report 2015 revealed that in-house teams are increasingly changing and adopting roles that cannot be defined as traditional PR and communications.
Read on to learn more from Zoë about what it really takes to be successful in the PR and Communications industry.
The most important skills you need in PR and Communications are good writing and communication abilities. You need to be able to adapt and change to different audiences and writing styles – one minute you need to be writing a very short, snappy piece for a website, and other times you’ll need to write an in-depth feature for a specialist media title. You’ll need to build good relationships with journalists, but also internally in your own organisation. I work with all the different teams here and I need to be able to build good relationships with them.
You need to be flexible, because you’ll often have lots of conflicting deadlines and timelines will naturally shift because of the nature of the work. No two days are necessarily going to be the same. This really applies to all jobs, but you need to be calm under pressure. For example, if there’s a PR crisis happening or lots of requests from journalists are coming in at once, you need to remember to take a step back.
One character trait I would use to describe a PR Officer is probably adaptable. You’re not going to spend every day writing a press release and sending it out when you want to, especially in a place like this. Something could happen at the Museum and I’ll need to be prepared for the press calling me, and I’ll realise that I need to pause those things I’m working on and concentrate on that.
A big challenge of my job is the way the media landscape is changing. I’ve been in this job five, nearly six years, and it’s changed so much since I started. When I started there were a lot more newspapers than there are now, so you have to always be able to think creatively – you have to keep up with the new bloggers, the new social media… you can’t just expect it to be the really traditional PR anymore. It’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity, because you get to learn lots of new things.
Prospects provides a list of benefits for working in PR and Communications, including: joining an in-demand sector with the chance to work with the latest digital communications technologies; an opportunity to work alongside some of the most popular and recognisable brands; and flexibility to specialise in a particular area or transition into a related field. For me (Zoe comments), it’s moving into the sector itself - this is a charity, so I find it really rewarding to know that all the PR that I do is going to help Birmingham Museums Trust and Birmingham’s history. I think a really big thing for me is if I can reach people who wouldn’t normally come to a museum, that’s amazing. I come from a working class background, and I never really thought museums were for me - but actually, as I’ve got older and I’ve done this job, I want the people of Birmingham to realise that there’s all this fascinating stuff here to see. It’s for everyone, not just a select few. My PR is only playing a small part in that, but a part all the same.
A top tip for people who want to get into the field is that you will probably have to do a lot of free work experience before you land your desired role. After Zoe graduated, she worked in a shop and took experience where she could: She worked at a newspaper, a radio station, and different PR agencies. She also did a bit of article writing for different websites that were looking for contributors – that showed people that my work was getting published. By the time Zoe came round to getting an internship, they saw that she was serious and had taken time out to get that experience. Zoe got a paid internship for 3 months, which got extended to 6 months, and then they kept her on. By that point, they needed Zoe in the team because she had carved a role for herself. Get as many internships as you can, because that’s how you get your foot in the door. As for work experience, you don’t need to do loads – a couple of days here and there shows that you’re putting yourself out there.
Career advancement in PR depends which route you want to take. I found that when you work in a PR agency you can move up very quickly, because this is how they are set up as businesses to progress. Within the space of three years, I went from being an intern to being the Account Manager. This doesn’t mean managing the company’s finances, but more so its contacts for different clients. Because it was a fairly small PR agency, if you showed that you were good at what you did they rewarded that. Now that I work in an organisation, the progression isn’t as fast because there are many different departments and higher ranking positions.
What I would do Differently
I don’t think I would do anything differently. Working in a PR agency was such a start for me, because you have to work for lots of different clients and sectors which means you can learn very quickly. I was writing about so many different things: one minute it was soft drinks, the next it was banks. I wasn’t massively interested in any of it but it gave me really good skills in writing for lots of different audiences and styles, as well as managing clients and people within the team. They also push you to do a lot of training. I would recommend it because it then gave me the skills and confidence to move into the heritage sector, which I was more interested in.