If you’re judged on your last job, then make sure it’s a good one says Katy Marshall in this guide to placement year opportunities.
PR today is one of the fastest growing and most desirable industries to work in and the number of graduates opting for careers in PR makes getting that break so much harder.
So how can we help ourselves? How can we stand out from the crowd, make ourselves noticed and leap feet-first onto that career ladder?
Experience of working in the industry will always stand you in good stead. That’s a given. And that’s not the only benefit that comes with PR work experience; your confidence will grow, you’ll be able to relate your academic studies to practical experience and all you learnt at university will suddenly start to make sense.
Opting for a year’s industrial placement as part of your degree gives you the chance to develop your skills, broaden your knowledge, understand the industry and narrow down the direction that you want to take your future career. It’s an additional year where you can still enjoy the benefits of being a student, while living and working in the ‘real world’. The transition after graduation should therefore be much smoother. Students with placement year experience are also statistically more likely to get a higher classification of degree.
I’m currently two thirds of the way through my year placement at Motorola and already a whole world of opportunity has opened up to me. I couldn’t imagine returning to university to complete my final year without this experience under my belt.
Pre-Motorola I had completed short-term placements at various organisations including Harrogate based agency, Different PR, but decided I wanted in-house experience too; to maximise my understanding and gain experience on both sides. As a second year student I was unsure of where I wanted to be when I graduate – and that’s mainly due to not fully understanding the options open to me.
Motorola has provided me with the opportunity to learn first hand the value of PR to an organisation, better understand the relationship between client and agency as well as between an organisation and the media. I’ve now worked on local PR projects, internal comms, corporate comms, community relations, media relations and consumer PR; a variety I may not have got in an agency. It’s been an incredibly valuable experience – and I’m now sure that the consumer route is the one I want to take.
But don’t just take it from me. I am merely one person with but my own experiences to go by. Hundreds of students each year opt for industrial placements – and they can’t all be wrong. Having drawn on the knowledge and expertise of several current placement and final year students, graduates and employers, I wanted to share with you, some of their experiences…
Hannah Brown, BA (Hons) Public Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University is currently on a year’s placement as a PR Assistant for EMEA at Discovery Channel in London.
“I’m half-way through my placement and I’ve never been happier. My job is fantastic and my confidence is now soaring sky high.
“When I graduate, I won’t only have a relevant degree but a full year’s work experience with a global brand.
“Discovery has enabled me to do and learn so much – To anyone considering doing a placement – Go for it!”
Max Deeley, BA (Hons) Public Relations, Bournemouth University is currently working at Octopus Communications in Windsor
“I love the people I work with and I couldn’t have found a company better suited to my personality. The placement year is possibly the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done, and I would recommend it to anyone!”
Olivia Bucknall, BA (Hons) Public Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University is currently completing her placement as Communications Assistant for NHS Yorkshire and the Humber in Leeds
“I have a fantastic placement working for the regional NHS gaining experience in all aspects of public relations within the organisation. Before this year I had always presumed I’d work in an agency but because of my placement, I’m now determined to work in the public sector when I graduate.
“Working for a public sector organisation can often be quite challenging due to staff and funding shortages. However this is perfect for a placement student as you get thrown in at the deep end and are given a huge amount of responsibility early on. Hands-on PR experience is the best way to learn and improve.
“My advice to anyone choosing a placement would be to be broad-minded as to where you do your placement. Think about which employer will help you out as well as the company that you can give most back to in terms of your existing knowledge.”
Sharon Donovan, BA (Hons) Public Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University is currently working as a PR Assistant at Virgin Radio in London
“I love my placement. Working in-house at Virgin Radio has given me the opportunity to see PR in all its glory; trade, corporate, consumer. I have learnt first hand how the strength of a relationship with a journalist has considerable weight on whether your press release generates coverage. My manager has been exceptional in teaching me how to network and the value of it. I now definitely believe that in-house is my career path.”
Final year students
Richard Millington, BA (Hons) Marketing, University of Gloucestershire
completed his year placement at APT Marketing & PR in Cheltenham
“Before I worked at APT Marketing & PR I grossly underestimated the people factor. University doesn’t teach you how to work with difficult clients or media. From my placement I learnt how important understanding people’s motives, emotions and sensitivities are to success.
“From working at APT Marketing & PR I gained confidence in myself and my abilities and built invaluable local contacts – I now work freelance in order to pay my tuition fees.”
“Find a placement that allows you a clear path to push and prod into new areas, then go full-steam ahead.”
Zoe Lavender, BA (Hons) Public Relations, University of Central Lancashire completed a year placement as Corporate Affairs Assistant for General Motors UK & Ireland in Luton
“I had a fantastic placement year where I learnt much more than I ever thought I would and this reconfirmed my ambition of working in PR.
“I would recommend a placement to anyone. It was a fantastic experience where I met lots of new people, learnt my strengths and weaknesses and helped confirm where I wanted to go in the future.
“The transition back into university was somewhat difficult and something I wasn’t prepared for. It’s taken a while but I’m now settled back into final year modules and my dissertation, it was definitely well worth it and I think has helped make my already fantastic degree course so much more valuable.”
Jennifer Pearce, BA (Hons) Public Relations, Bournemouth University, completed her placement at Southampton City Council between July 2005 and September 2006. She’s currently working as an Account Executive at PR agency, Remarkable Group
“Working in a press office gave me great experience and knowledge of how you should work with the media. My current role means I still liaise with the same journalists that I built up a relationship with whilst on my placement. The strength of that rapport means coverage for my regional clients can often be easier to secure.
“I personally think a placement year is essential – it gave me the grounding of developing great PR skills as well as experience working in a specific sector. I would definitely recommend a placement year to any student.”
Matt Hurst, Associate Director, Edelman, London
“If you’re looking to get the edge and catch the attention of a potential employer then work experience in PR is vital. A great way to do that can be a year’s placement, although I’d say a number of shorter placements in a range of environments can also help shape what you’re looking for and increase the chances that you have relevant experience for the jobs you’re going after.
“When you’re selecting a year placement, make sure it’s in a context or practice area you’re interested in pursuing. PR can be a very different job depending on who you’re doing it for. If you want to end up in consumer PR make sure you’re doing a consumer orientated work placement – otherwise the experience can become less valuable.
“PR is a competitive industry to get into, and you shouldn’t think that because you’ve done a year’s placement you’re entitled to enter into an Account Executive or even Senior Account Executive role in an agency. You will probably still have to start as a PR Administrator, Junior Account Executive or join the graduate scheme. Your PR placement experience will help you stand out from the crowd and help catch the attention of your potential employer.”
Photo credit: Victoria Crampton