Samantha Jones may be sassy, sexy and sophisticated, but she can’t teach you anything about public relations. Laura Smith tells how she got over the disappointment that a PR degree course is not a rehearsal for Sex and the City.
Choosing to study Public Relations at university, I found myself intrigued by a subject I didn’t know a lot about.
PR is in the media every day, yet tends to disguise itself. ‘The best PR leaves no trace’ is a common saying amongst the theorists of public relations, and as a first year PR student I am now seeing the effects of this upon the way it’s taught.
Prior to my course, as a regular member of the public, I saw the coverage of celeb-packed launch parties and the constant promotion of bands, bars and clubs, without any knowledge of the daily fight for press coverage, the jostling for relationships and favours with journalists and the never-ending task of chasing up your release to ensure your client’s name is mentioned in the papers.
I don’t remember speaking to anyone during the first few weeks of my course without hearing ‘it’s nothing like what I though it would be’ and ‘I had no idea this is what PR is about’. This left me wondering, how come PR looks so different to those not involved in it?
Throughout our lifetime we have role models for almost everything, from what to look like, how to act and how to work in a particular career, and why should PR be an exception?
In 1998 Sex and the City burst onto our TV screens as one of the most flamboyant TV shows people had ever seen. With glamorised story lines came glamorised characters, including their careers.
Sassy, sexy and sophisticated Samantha Jones was an idol to many women. Her lifestyle was the all-inclusive kind, without a hint of average living. A large, luxury apartment in the heart of New York City, eating out at breakfast, lunch and dinner at the city’s most highly-rated restaurants, evenings of exclusive club invitations, specialist guest lists and champagne, and of course, the men, were all as good as they came. Smith Jerrod anyone?
So what was the dream job Samantha that enabled her access to such an endless list of luxuries? A PR job of course!
In this context PR is represented as a celebrity-filled party career, with no real work involved. Meet a few journalists for drinks occasionally, give them some gossip to write about and you’re done. Or so we’re led to believe. I have no doubt Samantha knew her stuff on certain subjects, but when was she ever pictured reading a newspaper with her morning coffee, or catching up on the latest political goings on, rather than who her friends were dating that week. When did she spend any time inside an office?
For everyone wanting to continue believing this fantasy of Samantha’s PR lifestyle, look away now. Television shows like Sex and the City give a false impression of PR. Professionals are not ‘paid to party’ as we may at first believe, but follow a hectic office day for most of their career. As any PR firm will tell you, a quiet day means a bad day.
On a recent trip to London I carried out a work placement at a well-established consultancy. Despite being located next to Oxford Street in the trendy district of Soho, the busy routine of press cuttings, selling-in and creating mailing lists meant I could have been located in the Caribbean and not known any different. At this point I knew the basics of PR, but still I expected a little more glamour. No eating out for lunch (a sandwich at the desk was the norm of most people) and most definitely no celebrities dropping by to see how their promotion was going. An email to Chris Evans and spotting the Big Brother twins out shopping was the nearest I came to any celebrities.
So if real life PR is more about the buzz of an office rather than the outside of office life, what’s all the fuss about? Working in PR may not be all glam, but it’s certainly not dull and boring either. If a busy, thriving work environment with non-stop proposals, deadlines and media relations is what you’re after, PR offers just that. Since discovering real world PR, I haven’t doubted its excitement for a minute.
With so little known about the academic side of PR prior to the start of the course, it hardly came as a surprise to find a number of people dropping out early on. I can only imagine they didn’t do any research into something they planned to spend at least the next three years of their lives studying, and perhaps didn’t even attend the course open days.
Taking this into consideration, planning a degree and career in PR can be rewarding, enjoyable and successful, as long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for, without any delusions of what to expect.
As is the case with most conventional degrees, a question arises in most students’ minds at some point, as to whether a degree is worthwhile in their area of work. For the majority of the first semester I heard vicious rumours that a PR degree is not what employers look for in the working world, but skill and experience instead.
Although this is true to some extent, it doesn’t mean a degree is a waste of time, quite the opposite in fact. Many courses today offer work placement opportunities, which give you the chance to build up enough experience to enter the professional world at a level high enough to escape the tedious work of photocopying and making coffee all day, and instead can be thrown straight into press releases and clients meetings.
So if you think PR is for you, remember this. It stands for Public Relations, not Party Relations.
Photo credit: Victoria Crampton, Ptarmigan