Unlike some other professions, there is no single ‘right way’ to get started in a public relations career. Some people begin in other professions and make the move across to public relations. Many good public relations professionals are, for example, ex-teachers, ex-journalists, ex-lawyers, or from many other fields.
Some people start in public relations by doing short courses and then building on that. Increasingly, however, the strongest and best recognized career path in public relations is among people who first complete a Bachelor’s degree in public relations and can start their careers with not only a good general skill base in public relations, but also a broader knowledge of where their profession fits into the wider worlds of business, government and other sectors.
That’s because the best public relations professionals have to be more than just ‘technicians’ who can write well or talk well – they must have strong capabilities in critical thinking and the ability to ‘think outside the box’ to see looming issues, creative possibilities and connections that many of their peers might not spot.
This is what puts them ahead of the game. In this way, they add real value to the organisations which employ them.
It’s a question we get asked a lot: how do I break into PR? The truth is, there are many different types of public relations – from fashion and technology, to healthcare, beauty, and entertainment – and each one operates in a different way. But as with any industry, there are some universal truths that apply across the board.
1. Personality goes a long way.
Nobody expects you to know everything about PR when you walk in the door, especially because every company will want to train you on its own approach. Ultimately, we want to see that you’re sharp, enthusiastic, and ready to learn. That means personality and skills have the potential to outweigh experience, especially with entry-level applicants. At the end of the day, your ability to communicate confidently is the most important asset you can offer.
2. Get yourself an internship.
This is an often-dispensed piece of advice that should not be undervalued. When faced with a decision, companies will almost always choose the applicant with relevant internships. School teaches you a lot, but there is nothing like on-the-job experience – especially in PR. No class can prepare you for what you’ll face in an agency or in-house PR environment. It’s fast-paced and requires multi-tasking, quick thinking, and accountability. (Don’t worry – it’s really fun and rewarding too!) If you’ve already been somewhat in the trenches, you’ll not only look better to a potential employer, you’ll give yourself a better opportunity to feel out this future career for yourself.
3. Make your major WORK for you.
No PR major? No problem. Being successful in PR requires a lot of different skills – you need to be analytical, a great writer, have a grasp of consumer psychology, understand how BUSINESS works, and more. In fact, majoring in something other than PR gives you a fresh perspective to bring to the table. If your background isn’t directly related to PR, you need to convince companies as to how it’s related. PR is all about pitching, after all.
4. Be prepared for the interview.
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Too many candidates still come to interviews unprepared for the conversation. First, the basics: bring multiple copies of your CV to the meeting, and review the company’s web site in advance so you can ask some thoughtful questions about their clients, approach, etc. Do your homework about the industry, too: managing red carpet events versus pitching a tech start up story versus launching a new pharmaceutical drug are very different, so make sure you can speak intelligently about the job for which you’re applying. Again, think of your interview as a PR pitch…for yourself!
5. Be prepared for the JOB.
PR can be extremely challenging but also incredibly REWARDING. You’ll most likely be doing a lot of research, creating reports, writing pitches, making phone calls, and more – but also have to be ready to put it all aside to accommodate an urgent client or press request. Don’t take things too personally, and keep working to keep the pipeline of PR interest and opportunities full. Remember: your client is counting on you to help them make their mark, and the media is looking to you as a resource for great stories and content. If you can master how to keep them both happy, you’re well on your way to being a successful PR pro.
If you are a PR student in South Africa and would like to broaden your portfolio. Then email us your details and we will consider having you apart of the PRuth team as a freelancer: