Careers advice and planning

How do I get a graduate job in public relations?

21 Jun 2023, 15:38

Careers in public relations may sound glamorous, but before you can start hosting cocktail parties and schmoozing local journalists, you’ll need to know how to get into PR and what entry routes are open to you.

A smiling female PR officer holding a folder close to her chest.

How to get into PR: What is PR and how is it different from marketing? | Working life and skills needed | Salaries in PR | Entry-level routes into PR careers | Application and interview tips for PR jobs

PR (public relations) 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 and has ranked consistently among new graduates’ top career choices. Read on to discover how to get into PR, typical starting salaries for public relations jobs and the difference between PR and marketing.

Check out our vacancy listings if you’re ready to start applying for graduate jobs in PR .

What is PR?

PR involves influencing public perceptions of an organisation, which can have a big impact on whether it survives and succeeds. PR professionals advise management on the best actions to take to maintain a good public image, spread awareness of the organisation’s accomplishments, and mitigate any reputational damage from negative actions.

Some PR takes the form of external communications: managing relationships with existing and potential customers, investors, government bodies, suppliers and the media. PR sometimes also includes internal communications: managing the relationship between a company and its employees, for example by mediating any issues internally before employees’ dissatisfaction can be revealed outside of the company.

Is PR the same as marketing?

Both PR and marketing professionals work to promote an organisation’s brand. They share some of the same tools: a corporate social media account might combine the promotion of product launches and partnerships (marketing) with expressing the brand identity and values (PR). Sometimes PR and marketing staff work closely together in the same team, though they are more likely to be separate teams in larger companies.

However, there are some key differences between PR and marketing:

  • Marketing supports the sales team in promoting products or services, often measuring success with sales figures or other metrics that come from encouraging people to take an action. PR concentrates on maintaining the organisation’s overall reputation and building ongoing relationships, though it may sometimes incorporate promoting specific products, too.
  • Marketing is typically paid for directly by the organisation, aiming for a return on investment (ROI) – for example, spending a certain amount on online advertising to increase the number of clicks through to a website. PR is ‘organic’ or unpaid, but may have benefits for both parties – a press release gives journalists a story to write about and the organisation some exposure in a newspaper.
  • Because marketing is paid for, the organisation has more control over the messaging, placement and timing, which are decided with the potential ROI in mind. In PR, the content is published by a third party, such as a newspaper, based on its own principles and editorial schedule. There is no guarantee of positive results or even being featured, but PR professionals can have an influence through the press releases they send and the relationships they build. The resulting coverage is likely to have more credibility in the eyes of the public than anything the organisation says about itself or pays for.

Thinking about a career in marketing? Take a look at our advice on how to get a graduate marketing job and the difference between marketing, advertising and PR .

What is it like to work in PR?

There are normally two types of PR positions: in house for a company (across any industry sector) 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 optimisation (SEO) and social media are becoming important tools for those aspiring to make it in PR. Read our PR officer job description for more examples of day-to-day tasks.

Necessary skills for public relations include adaptability, organisation and imagination. You will need to be a dynamo at networking, meeting and greeting as many people in a room as possible and keeping in touch with them afterwards. 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.

How much do public relations jobs pay?

How much you can earn in PR depends on your level of experience and geographical region.

The National Careers Service suggests that the lowest end of the salary range for a PR officer is £18,000, but this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone who works as a PR officer starts there; some may start on a higher salary to begin with. It gives the highest end of the salary range for PR officers as £50,000.

According to a 2023 report by the Hays recruitment agency, ‘typical’ salaries for PR executives range from £25,000 in the North East of England and Northern Ireland to £40,000 in London. Michael Page, a different recruitment agency, puts the median salary for a PR executive at £25,000 in the South West and Wales, rising to £35,000 in London and the home counties.

If you are promoted to PR manager, you can expect significantly higher pay: Michael Page gives the median salary as £30,000 to £50,000, again with the lower end of the range in the South West and Wales, and the highest in London. Hays reports a typical salary of £40,000 in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the East Midlands, the West Midlands and North West England, while in London the typical salary for a PR manager is £60,000.

How to get into PR: entry-level roles

You don’t need any formal qualifications in PR to get a job in this industry, but if you have studied a related undergraduate degree it may give you a head start in gaining experience and building up important skills. Especially relevant degrees for graduate careers in PR include public relations, journalism, marketing and 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. You may be trusted to contact clients and handle aspects of a project within a couple of weeks.

The skills and experience required will vary a little from place to place, but as a general rule promotion prospects in PR are known to be quite respectable and you should be able to progress relatively quickly. Once you are no longer an assistant, your job title might be PR officer , PR executive, press officer or communications officer. With experience, you could be promoted to PR manager.

Search for graduate job vacancies in PR on targetjobs .

Entry route two: public relations assistant (charities and public sector)

Many public sector bodies and ‘third sector’ organisations, such as 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 the Department of Energy or Greenpeace straight off the bat, but 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. You can also gain valuable unpaid PR experience by volunteering for a charity while you are studying or job hunting.

The skills needed by charities and public sector organisations will be similar to those needed working for companies or PR agencies, perhaps with a more journalistic tint (you may find yourself focusing 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.

Check out targetjobs’ charity careers and public sector careers sections for job vacancies and advice for working in these types of organisation.

Entry route three: account coordinator/junior account executive

These roles are normally more relevant to marketing communications than PR but are potentially an entry-level job with some PR-related duties. The level of responsibility is likely to be higher than for a PR assistant, particularly in 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 either 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.

Entry route four: rotational graduate schemes

PR graduate schemes do not generally exist but a graduate scheme in marketing could be a route into a PR career and provide you with relevant skills. Some marketing graduate schemes explicitly cover PR: M&S’s food marketing programme includes five placements selected from a wide range of marketing and advertising areas, one of which is managing a PR campaign. PR is sometimes also a rotation on general business graduate schemes and similar programmes at large employers: HarperCollins includes PR as part of its traineeship, for example.

Entry route five: PR apprenticeships

Though aimed at those who don’t have a degree, a level 4 higher apprenticeship in PR is potentially worth considering if you are looking for a dedicated, structured entry route into PR careers. It usually lasts 18 months and involves working full time for a PR agency or in-house PR team while completing training and assessments.

Entry route six: postgraduate study

A masters degree in public relations isn’t strictly a separate route in – you’ll still need to apply for jobs or graduate schemes afterwards and it won’t guarantee success – but it could help you expand your knowledge, develop practical skills and demonstrate your interest in the sector, especially if your undergraduate degree was unrelated. PR masters courses typically include core modules on PR theory, communications planning and the role of PR in society as well as a choice of optional modules. Our article ‘Why do postgraduate study?’ will help you decide whether it’s for you.

How to get into PR: your application and interview for a public relations job

The recruitment process for your first PR job depends on whether you are applying for a graduate programme or an individual entry-level vacancy. Marketing graduate schemes usually require you to:

  • fill in an online application form, possibly including your CV and/or answering application questions
  • complete online tests and/or video simulations – these may be ability assessments such as numeracy tests or more scenario-based tests, known as situational judgement tests
  • take part in a phone or video interview
  • attend an assessment centre .

Applying for an individual entry-level PR job normally requires you to send your CV and a covering letter . If successful, you will probably be invited to attend one or two individual interviews.

With PR being a competitive industry for graduates, it’s important to know why you want to do it and be able to articulate to employers why you're enthusiastic about wanting to work for them.

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 your interview. To help prepare for interviews, imagine yourself as the subject of a PR campaign when you are applying; focus on your positive aspects, how you meet the job description and how to communicate them confidently.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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