How to get a career in PR
Go for gold
Earlier this month, we shared a few words of wisdom on how to get a career in tech. As it’s the time of year when young people everywhere are turning their thoughts to exams, revision, and the future, we wanted to give them one less thing to worry about.
As a group of people who’ve managed to successfully land careers in PR, here are a few words of wisdom about how we did it. Obviously, our word isn’t gospel, but it might help you on your way to the PR career of your dreams…
Improve your writing skills
At its most basic, PR is simply helping brands communicate with the media. Though PR is becoming increasingly digital, excellent writing skills are still an essential – something that many aspiring PRs fall down on.
When recruiting, many agencies will ask potential account executives to complete a writing task – so you can’t get out of being a natural wordsmith by lying about it. However, there are a couple things to do to hone your skills: more reading, and more writing.
Setting up your own blog is not only a great way to practice writing regularly, it will also help you establish your own personal brand, and get an idea of how businesses and bloggers operate. Skills like web design and SEO are totally relevant to PR, too.
If you need a helping hand when you’re writing, Hemingway App is a great free tool to help improve your content. It checks for things like reading ease, and passive voice – both of which can let a good piece of copy down.
The more closely your press release or pitch resembles a finished news story, the less work a journalist has to do to get it ready to publish. Sounds silly, but that can make a big difference when helping a busy journalist decide whether or not to write on your story.
Know your social media inside out
Social media is a huge part of PR these days, so anyone looking to forge a PR career can’t afford to neglect this.
Journalists often reach out to PRs (and vice versa) on Twitter, so you should learn how to create lists of different Twitter users (PRs, journalists, brands, etc), and how to save and monitor hashtag streams on platforms such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck.
Twitter isn’t the only social network utilised by PRs. Facebook is often used for campaigns designed to attract consumer engagement and shares. Instagram is another that works well, especially for visual content. It’s also worth getting to grips with LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, and Periscope.
Consume media everyday
To work in PR, you have to be wildly passionate about the media. And that means all media, not just your favourite monthly glossy.
The best way to learn about the idiosyncrasies of the UK media is to consume as much of it as you can. Read the same story on several different news outlets to see the variety of reporting styles. Since most PR involves working with brands, it’s likely you’ll have some dealings with business journalists or the trade press, so it’s worth getting your head around these too.
Remember, PR isn’t just about written content, either. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the world of TV, radio, advertising, blogging, and social media. Use a news platform like Flipboard to set up alerts for relevant news stories, so you never miss what’s going on.
In the past, much PR pitching was carried out over the phone, so an excellent telephone manner was essential for a PR career. Though the process is now much more digital and email-based, you still need to be able to pick up the phone when appropriate. It does get easier the longer you’ve been doing it, but you need to be able to give it a go, however daunting it may feel.
While you can’t force confidence, there are a few things you can do to make the progress easier. Firstly, always be prepared, and have everything you need to hand before even thinking of making a call. Journalists will ask questions, and there’s nothing worse than floundering while you try to think of the answers.
Don’t be fooled by preconceptions of the typical ‘power balance’ between journalists and PRs. They’re just people too, and you could actually have a story that will make their lives easier – they just don’t know it yet! Lastly, if you need a bit of a confidence boost, check out this excellent TED talk by Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are (AKA ‘fake it ’til you make it’).
Manage your expectations
Those who work in the media have been unfairly awarded a bit of a bad rep. PRs are sometimes viewed as sleazy; carrying out damage control when a business is in the wrong, and forging underhand deals with journalists. It’s also assumed to be very glamourous, with lots of cocktail parties, schmoozing, and freebies.
In both cases, that’s simply not true. A good PR is always honest, and will be well-versed in the ethical and moral codes upheld in journalism. Likewise, while PR does allow you to experience a lot of interesting people and places, there’s a lot of boring office work, too. Anyone who’s had to create a press list, or compile a coverage report for a client will tell you that it’s definitely not glamourous. PR also involves a lot of being highly-organised, managing diaries, and generally running around after other people.
The sky’s the limit
The beauty of PR is that, in a way, anyone can do it. You don’t need to have any specific qualifications, you just need excellent communication skills, and to be passionate about the media.