How to Get into PR
Considering a career in public relations? Great choice. It’s an exciting and creative industry to work in. And there’s loads of variety. No two days are the same. On the flip side, it’s fast-paced, deadline-driven and can be demanding.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, find out how to kick-start your career and get a job in PR.
What does a PR pro do?
The job of a PR pro is to help businesses maintain a positive reputation with the public through free, or ‘earned’ media. PR pros are also firefighters – we help businesses defend their reputation in times of crisis.
In our What Does a PR Pro Do? post, I talk about the seven pillars of PR. These are the seven key things that PR pros spend their days doing:
- We tell stories: We tell clients’ stories through earned media channels i.e. mentions in newspapers, magazines, blogs
- We manage crises: Whether it’s a scandal, legal issue or natural disaster, we help brands manage their communications during times of crisis
- We build relationships: Strong relationships are key for PR pros. We spend time nurturing relationships with clients, the media and other stakeholders
- We talk to the media: We pitch stories to the media every day, both online and offline
- We write: We write everything from press releases to speeches and social media content
- We translate: We turn people’s business objectives into newsworthy stories
- We consume news: We make it our business to stay on top of news and industry trends, so we know how to position our clients and pitch their stories
There’s more to a PR job then this, of course. But these seven pillars give you a good idea as to what you can expect to be doing with your time.
What to consider if you want a career in PR
If you’re set on the idea of a career in PR, you have some decisions to make before applying for jobs:
- What sort of PR pro do you want to be? Do you want to work in-house at a company? At an agency with multiple clients? Or go it alone as a freelancer? Each has its pros and cons.
- Do you want to specialise in a particular area? E.g. tech, entertainment or fashion? They all operate slightly differently. To give you an idea of why and how, check out Platform Magazine’s post on sorting through the different public relations sectors.
- The other thing to consider is whether you want to specialise in business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) PR. Some PR pros cover both, but others specialise in one or the other. If you don’t know the difference, take a look at our post B2B v B2C: what’s the Difference?
So let’s take a look at how you get into PR.
How to get into the PR industry
Once you’re clear about the sort of PR pro you want to be, it’s time to swot up. PR is a competitive industry. If you want to break in, you need to be at the top of your game. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to get a head start.
Get qualified for your career in PR
There are lots of PR and comms courses that can equip you with the basics for a job in PR. Experience isn’t always necessary. Look for courses certified by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). A highly respected organisation, it’ll help build your professional profile and reputation and earn you brownie points with potential employers.
Take a look at PR Academy’s online introduction to public relations course too. It’s open to anyone and is run regularly throughout the year.
A degree qualification in marketing or English will serve you well too.
How to get PR experience without a degree
Qualifications are great, but is it possible to get into PR without a degree? Yes. Practical experience can be just as valuable. This is where an internship comes in. It’ll give you unbeatable hands-on experience, help you figure out whether a career in PR is a good fit for your personality, and work out which areas you might like to specialise in.
If you go down the apprenticeship route, make the most of it. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, even if you feel like you’re not experienced enough. You might be surprised at what you’re capable of doing when you’re thrown in at the deep end.
Network to get a job in PR
PR is founded on strong relationships. One of the best ways to build them is through networking, both online and offline. The thought of it may fill you with dread, but as a PR pro, it’s an essential part of the job.
Here are a few things you can do to get the ball rolling, both online and offline:
The saying goes, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. This is very much the case in the PR industry. So, start connecting with journalists, PR pros and agencies on LinkedIn and Twitter now. Make a point of reading and commenting on their posts and glean as much information as you can about what makes them tick.
LinkedIn groups are another great way to build contacts. If you’re looking to specialise in fashion PR for instance, there’s a Fashion & Lifestyle Industry Professionals Worldwide group with just under 300,000 members. Joining groups like this will help you stay up-to-date with industry trends and understand the issues and frustrations facing members.
Drop some of these issues into conversations at an interview, and it’ll show potential employers you have your finger on the pulse.
Love it or hate it, face-to-face networking is the best way to build professional relationships. From industry conferences to networking breakfasts, there are loads of opportunities to meet PR people. You should be making the most of them.
If you’re breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers, take a deep breath and read our 8 Commandments of Business Networking post. There are some nuggets of wisdom in there that should help put you at ease.
If you’re hungry for a job in PR, it’s important to start building a network of contacts now. If you can walk into an interview and reel off some journalists’ names, it’ll show employers you’re proactive, comfortable with networking and able to use your initiative. That’s three brownie points right there.
These are just a few of the many things you can do to prepare yourself for a job in the PR industry. Now let’s turn our attention to the skills you need to succeed.
The skills you need for a career in PR
To break into the PR industry, you need to be outgoing, calm under pressure and be able to multitask. In addition, you need to have:
You have to be able to get along with different types of people. Some clients and journalists can be a dream to work with. Others can be difficult and demanding. In a deadline-driven, fast-paced industry like PR, stress comes with the territory. You need to be prepared and able to deal with it.
Verbal communication skills are a must for a job in PR. On any given day, you could be attending meetings or networking events, giving presentations or speeches, and liaising with journalists. So, being able to communicate well, and confidently, with different types of people is crucial.
As well as verbal communication, you need to have excellent writing skills. Your job will involve writing press releases, magazine articles, social media content, and putting together case studies/presentations. Your copy needs to be engaging, concise and persuasive to get the press attention your client wants.
And it goes without saying that your copy needs to be error-free. Typos on press releases will go down like a lead balloon and make you look unprofessional. Proofread your work.
Want some advice on honing your writing skills? Check out Forbes’ Nine Writing Tips for PR Pros Looking to Produce More Effective Copy.
Versatility/good time management
PR roles can be incredibly varied, so you need to be versatile. You’ll be juggling multiple projects/clients, liaising with the media, handling crises and preparing pitches, as well as managing your day-to-day responsibilities. With so much going on, you need to be able to multitask and organise your time effectively.
PR is the industry that never sleeps. If you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job, this is not the industry for you!
Digital skills have become increasingly important in the PR world, so an understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media platforms will make you stand out from the pack.
SEO is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic to your brand, through non-paid, or ‘organic’ search engine results. For more information, take a look at How PR and SEO Work Together to Build Your Brand.
Social Media nous
Every social media platform is different. They vary widely in terms of functionality and target audience, and each requires a different PR strategy. A good PR pro not only knows which platform to use for what campaign, but has the skills to use each platform to its fullest potential.
Take a look at Sprout Social’s guide to the five most popular social media platforms and how to use them to promote content.
Bags of creativity
Creativity is not just for artists; PR specialists need to be creative too. Whether it’s writing an engaging pitch, coming up with a new approach to an old idea, or finding a way to attract new customers, creative thinking is essential.
If you can think outside the box and come up with ideas that others haven’t, you’ll keep your clients and bosses happy.
A passion for news
A good PR person needs to be up-to-date with news and current affairs. Staying in touch with the world around you is crucial when you’re advising clients or brainstorming campaign ideas. You should read, watch and listen to everything. Two good sources of information are PRWeek and The Drum.
In an interview you might be asked which newspapers you read and why. You might also be asked to comment on news stories and the way they’ve been reported on, so start paying attention. An understanding of current affairs and the wider world will pay dividends.
Get into the PR industry by nailing that interview
If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ll be well on your way to being interview ready. But don’t fall at the last hurdle. You’d be surprised how many people go into interviews without doing any research on the company or the job they’re applying for.
Arm yourself with the basics:
- What’s the history of the company?
- What’s their ethos?
- What kind of PR do they specialise in?
- Who are their biggest clients?
- What campaigns have they spearheaded?
- Have they won any awards?
If there’s anything you haven’t learned from your research, make a mental note of it, because interviewers always want you to ask questions too.
Ready for a career in PR?
So now you have a better idea of how to get into PR. Public relations is a fun and rewarding industry to work in and there’s never a dull moment. But you need a thick skin as it can be stressful. The combination of tight deadlines and managing the expectations of clients and editors can be tricky. But, if you seek out opportunities to develop your skills, and follow the advice in this post, you’ll be in a strong position to get a job in PR. Good luck!