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A graduate prepares for her entry-level job in PR (public relations)

How do I get a graduate job in public relations?

Public relations work may be glamorous, but before you can start hosting cocktail parties and schmoozing local journalists you will have to battle your way to an entry level position in PR.

It’s unlikely that you’d walk into Greenpeace straight off the bat, but even smaller charities sometimes need PR staff and are willing to take on those who need experience in the hope they’ll stay once fully blossomed.

How to get a graduate job in public relations: Entry level routes | Working life | Impressing at interviews | Graduate employers

PR has become a sophisticated business tool used to tell a story to the public and promote products and services. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), PR is seen as a vibrant, attractive industry, consistently ranking among new graduates’ top career choices.

What are the different entry level PR roles?

There are normally two types of public relations (PR) positions; in-house for a company or working for an agency that is contracted out to clients. Both need you to handle campaigns, deal with press communications and write press releases as well as keep organised cuttings and handle outside enquiries. Increasingly search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are becoming important tools for those aspiring to make it in PR. You will need to be a dynamo at networking, meeting and greeting as many people in a room as possible and keep in touch with them afterwards.

Relevant degrees: public relations, journalism, marketing, communications

Entry route one: public relations assistant (in-house or agency)

Before you’re completely let loose on an unsuspecting client/crowd you’re more likely to be working in a support role alongside the rest of the team. They will want to see your organisation skills as you sort calendars, cuttings, files and photos and put together press kits as well as know that you can come up with research to aid on campaigns and smaller presentations. Creative and intelligent writing ability are also a must for those looking for a long term career. The skills and experience required will vary a little from place to place, but as a general rule promotion prospects in PR are quite respectable and you should be able to progress relatively quickly. Salaries for entry-level jobs in the private sector average around £20,000 to £30,000, but obviously change with the economic climate.

Entry route two: public relations assistant (charities)

Many charities require PR specialists to manage campaigns and put out press releases just as much as big corporations. If you track the media coverage of an NGO like Greenpeace, you might be surprised by just how extensive it is (it will perhaps feature as much as any large soft drinks corporation or manufacturer). It’s unlikely that you’d walk into Greenpeace straight off the bat, but even smaller charities sometimes need PR staff and are willing to take on those who need experience in the hope they’ll stay once fully blossomed. The skills will be similar to those needed working in-house or for an agency, perhaps with a more journalistic tint (you may find yourself focused more on journalists questions, dealing with research bodies and getting involved in organised events than promoting new products). Be prepared to get used to press kits, research, lots of telephone calls to and from media staff and honing your presentation skills. Working in PR for charities tends to pay less than the private sector, but starting salaries are normally in the same ballpark. You can find out more about working for charities in TARGETjobs' public sector and charity section.

Entry route three: account coordinator/junior account executive

This role is normally more suited to marketing graduates than PR and journalism grads, but junior account executive is potentially an entry level job. The level of responsibility is likely to be higher, particularly for large companies, and you may find yourself having more control over long term communication strategies and clients. Creative thinking and writing are key as you develop not only press releases and statements but also social media and strategies for other platforms. As both an account coordinator and a junior account executive you may start off in a more supportive administrative role to senior staff before you move on to handling your own projects.

What's working life in PR like?

Given the variety of projects you can work on in this industry, its popularity is no surprise. Karen Myers, director of corporate communications at TI Media, explains, ‘Graduates have the opportunity to get their career off the ground in a very short space of time. After just a couple of weeks they may be trusted to contact clients and take on more responsibility.’ You'll have the chance to develop in all sorts of ways.

As Karen explains, ‘PR really stretches your skills: you could be doing anything from dealing with journalists to managing a website, writing, editing or organising events, and this requires adaptability, organisation and imagination.’ There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do, and it’s not easy always being in the media spotlight. That said, if you see yourself as a confident people-person with a creative edge then this could be a great career for you.

PR options: consultancy, in-house public sector...

Some roles will involve more of one type of work, so make sure that the jobs you apply for are the ones that suit your skills and what you want to do at work. You can raise your chances of application success by being able to tell employers why you're enthusiastic about wanting to work for them, and how your skills fit the job profile you're applying for.

How to impress during a graduate PR job interview

With graduates fighting each other in the streets for a job in PR, getting a foot in the door can be hard; it’s important to know why you want to do it, be able to demonstrate that you have the right personality and articulate your suitability for the job. Karen recommends that candidates imagine themselves as the subject of a PR campaign when they are applying, ‘that way they demonstrate the skills we are looking for in their applications,’ she argues.

When applying for a role in PR you’ve got to display that you have what it takes to do the job in your covering letter and CV, but it is equally, if not more, important to show your confidence and communication skills at interview. Karen explains that this is where most applicants slip up, ‘On paper they look great, but at the interview stage a lot of candidates are not so articulate and are far less rehearsed in their presentation skills. You need to impress straight away: walk into the interview with confidence and show that you are adaptable and competent.’

Graduate employers in public relations

Here are some of the employers that recruit graduates annually. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does provide a good snapshot of what's out there to help you get started. You can search for more public relations graduate job opportunities here.

  • FleishmanHillard Fishburn is a strategic communications firm that has clients in a range of industries including healthcare, corporate communications and technology. It runs a 12-month graduate scheme. You will work in one of its agency disciplines, which include: corporate communication, technology, healthcare, public affairs, consumer or creative strategy.
  • Weber Shandwick is a communications firm that offers public relations services to clients in industries including automotive, beauty, pharmaceuticals, and retail and leisure. It has offices in Manchester, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Aspiring PR professionals can apply speculatively for entry-level roles in its PR department.
  • WPP is a communications services group. It offers a three-year fellowship for graduates with a 2.1 in any degree subject. It has previously comprised of three one-year rotations with different WPP companies and in different disciplines. The fellowship is being redesigned for 2020 and so details of future fellowships may differ.

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