A career in PR

What is public relations and what skills and qualifications do you need to get into it? Workingmums provides some pointers.

Fancy a career in pr, but are not sure how to get into it? In the past the traditional route was via journalism and many journalists still end up in pr, particularly in the current climate, despite a love-hate relationship between the two professions. Nowadays, though, as more anf more firms are using PR to promote their image, many press and publicity officers start off there.
 
What is pr?
PR sometimes gets confused with marketing, but it is not about paid for advertising. It is all about reputation – ensuring that a company or organisation’s reputation is protected and promoted. Therefore it can take the form of damage limitation if a huge crisis has blown up to positive promotion, for instance, of a new product or event.
Public relations can play a crucial role in giving an organisation a competitive advantage over its rivals by, for example, opening up new markets, attracting talented employees, boosting the value of an organisation’s products and services, and protecting businesses in times of crisis. PR activities include short-term product or event launches to longer term strategic aims such as establishing a brand in a market.
 
What skills do you need?
You need to be a good communicator and you need to have good written and speaking skills. Whether you are writing up a press release or talking to journalists on the phone about a new event, you need to be able to present it in a way which will be of interest. Whether that is writing snappy prose, targeting the message correctly at the right journalists, finding an angle that will interest them or talking it up on the phone, you will need to get that message across. Increasingly, PRs need to be on top on the latest technology, such as social networking, and be able to spot ways to exploit it best for their own organisation.
According to the Public Relations Consultants’ Association, you also need the following skills:
Networking skills – a PR’s greatest asset is the network of contacts they have built up over time which they can dig into to get access, for example, to particular media.
Organisational ability – you will often have a number of clients or projects on your books and will need to be able to keep on top of each account
Flexibility – you need to be able to adapt to working in different sectors if you work for a pr agency. Even if you don’t work for an agency, PR often involves working outside 9 to 5 working hours. For instance, it often involves periods of intense work around, say, a launch, which might be held in the evening. You need to be prepared to put in the hours when they are needed.
A cool head – difficult situations can arise suddenly and may propel you into damage limitation mode. You need to keep calm and ensure that you give the impression that everything is under control to the outside world.
Creativity – you need to be able to think of new ways of promoting your organisation, for instance, finding a news hook for a new product launch.
To be hard working – PR can often require intense bursts of work where you need to be able to be highly focused.
 
The career ladder
In a consultancy, there is a clear career ladder, beginning with junior account executive and rising to account director and then potentially to CEO.
Elsewhere, you might begin as an assistant press officer and rise up to become head of communications.
 
How to get started
Specific PR qualifications are not a standard requirement as PR attracts people from all sorts of backgrounds including marketing and management. If you plan to specialise in a certain area of PR, it helps to have a related degree, eg for health PR it helps to have some sort of medical background, but it is not vital that you have this.
It is more important to have an overall good academic record, have the right skills/experience and be able to show evidence of initiative, eg writing reviews for local papers or organising events.
There are also a number of professional qualifications in PR that can help you stand out from the crowd. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations offers everything from a foundation award to an advanced award, plus an an online diploma.
There are also a number of PR degrees around which, while not essential, can help give you an entry into the profession as most include on the job training.
Before you start looking for opportunities, make sure you have done your research on the field of PR that you want to get into, read the PR press such as PRWeek, get the inside view from people you know who are in PR, make sure you understand the role of PR in a firm and keep up to date with the news.

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