PR student’s guide to work experience


This is an article by Katy Marshall.
You could write for Behind the Spin too. Find out how here.

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…

Placement students

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.”

Graduate

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.”

Employer

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

Comments

  1. Name: Ben Sharpley

    Age: 23

    Company: Cameron Wells Communications Ltd

    Role: Account Executive

    Cameron Wells are an award-winning business-to-business PR specialist based just outside Manchester. They pride themselves on a ‘can-do’ approach and an ability to provide creative but pragmatic PR strategies.

    Having excelled at some of the largest PR firms in the UK (namely Staniforth), Andrea Cameron and Debbie Wells decided to go it alone in 2005 establishing Cameron Wells Communications Ltd. With a small but highly experienced team, the company has proved the ideal place to spend my work placement.

    With numerous placement opportunities at large consumer agencies and multi-national in-houses, it may come as a surprise that I chose to pursue my year with a very small business-to-business communications firm.

    For me, the work placement year is about one thing – learning. So along with some educated advice, it appeared that in terms of learning, it would be far more realistic and beneficial to spend my placement year in a less crowded workplace.

    Cameron Wells fitted the bill perfectly. I am literally able to see and hear everything that is going on in the office regardless of whether I am involved in it or not. With each of my highly experienced colleagues being experts in varying areas, I am constantly learning new and practical skills.

    It’s hard to start listing the areas of PR that I have been involved in, but it’s safe to say that in terms of my university module areas, Cameron Wells has brought many to life. One day I might be helping organise a clients stand for an exhibition at the NEC, the next I could be liaising with journalists to discuss possible feature ideas.

    In November, Cameron Wells won Gold for ‘Best Business & Trade Campaign’ at the NW CIPR PRide Awards. The event was a fantastic experience and made a great opportunity to meet and chat with the people at the heart of the PR industry.

    Spelling out the shear importance of this year is the fact that I have just been offered a full-time position as an Account Handler. I could continue telling you how my work experience has benefited me thus far, but really, if establishing the right credentials for a career in PR is the ultimate goal a PR Degree, then all that needs to be said is DO A WORK PLACEMENT.

  2. Ben Sharpley says:

    Hi Katy,

    First of all sorry, I never got back to you with this – I did it then forgot all about sending it to you! Oh well, I hope my belated comment above/below might offer some further relevance.

    Secondly, congrats on a great piece – it certainly echoes my sentiment. I can’t believe some people chose not to do a placement! Especially on the grounds that they, and I quote one fellow student, “(I) wont have any problem getting a job after I graduate”.

    All the best!

    Ben

  3. I need to know about the employer’s benefits through SIWES?

  4. Your opportunity to work in PR

    At Brandnation we have an on-going Work Experience Scheme where you get to work as part of a team covering all aspects of PR, including product placement, features, media liasion, promotions and everything else covered within the PR remit. The purpose of the scheme is to give graduates an opportunity to gain a full insight into all aspects of consumer PR work.

    If you are entusiatic, motivated, keen to learn and focused on a career in PR we want to hear from you. You need to be able to offer a minimum of at least three full working months. All graduates successfully completing a Brandnation work placement will receive a full preformance assessment, de-briefing and reference to help them gain full time employment in the PR industry.

  5. Hannah Attenburrow says:

    HI

    I’m looking for advice more than anything i’m currently going into my third year of a degree in fashion Promotion, i’m looking to forward my career into PR and am looking for work experience in PR, not coming from a typical PR degree how is the best way to go about getting work experience?

    Thanks Hannah

  6. Hannah

    In one regard you have a headstart over ‘typical’ PR students. You already have a sector specialism (fashion).

    So what you need to do next is straightforward (in theory, anyway).

    You need to learn all you can about the sector, and read the fashion press, specialist blogs etc. (You’ll be asked about this at interview).

    You then need to identify companies in the sector that particularly interest you (based on what they do and where they’re based), then you need to identify who to approach (probably a head of marketing, publicity or PR: contact details are often given on news releases.)

    Finally you need to make direct contact and ask for an opportunity to discuss work experience with the organisation. Be prepared to be persistent – don’t simply rely on one email (people are busy and this is now the holiday season).

    Even if you’re looking outside the fashion sector, the advice remains the same. But given your background, my advice would be to start with what you know.

  7. Emily Jones says:

    Hi to all

    My problem is similar to Hannah’s, I have decided a career in PR is something I want to try acheive after I graduate next year, but I am a history student. I have no real idea what sector I would be most interested in, and I’m finding this a problem when contacting companies for work experience. I’m prepared to be persistant and dedicated (and work for free) but I don’t really know how to sell myself to PR companies as I have no experience.

    Emily

  8. To respond to Emily:

    There are many different routes into a career in PR. In my opinion a history degree is as good as any (but then I’m a history graduate, too).

    Your options seem to me to be to:

    1) Apply for graduate schemes where they exist (mainly the large consultancies and the governnment’s Central Office of Information)

    2) Gain some unpaid work experience in a PR role

    3) Start work in a non-PR role and consider a transfer later (my route was publishing and journalism before public relations)

    4) Study for a professional qualification (the CIPR Advanced Certificate is suitable for graduates with little or no work experience)

  9. Cathereen Welch says:

    I am writing to ask whether you offer unpaid work experience places to students the age 15-16, and if so do you have any available two weeks in december?

    I am very interested in PR and would love to pursue it for a career and i think two weeks of experience in your company would allow me to understand jobs in PR much better.

    My telephone number is- 07545521704
    Many thanks,
    Cathereen Welch

  10. To respond to Cathereen Welch:

    We (ie Behind the Spin) are not a business so can’t offer formal work experience placements. We’re a volunteer-run magazine operating on a virtual basis (there’s no office).

    There’s plenty of work to do in terms of contributing articles (see the forward features list on the About page) but we’re aimed more at university students studying public relations than 15-16 year olds who would probably benefit from more structure, guidance and supervision than we can provide.

    That said, I’ve taught many people working in PR consultancies and remember the age of the youngest of them – a 16 year old trainee.

  11. Chloe Watson says:

    Hi, my name is chloe watson and i am 16 years old. I am currently studying for my A-levels in textiles business and media and hope to attend university to study fashion communication. I also have a job at debenhams store in newcastle working in womenswear. As part of my sixth form experience we are asked to complete a 4 day work experience placement from the 14th june – 18th june 2010. . I was wondering if your business could present me with any opportunities. If you have any information about this, please contact me.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Chloe.

  12. Victoria Laird says:

    Hi, my name is Victoria Laird and I graduated in Public Relatons and Journalism in 2008. I loved University life and kept the mind set of a student and went to travel around the world for the past year. Now, I’m in a bit off a rut. I want to work in PR and understand the importance of work experiance. Unfortunately, I can’t commit to working unpaid for the next year as I’m not a student and so I need to be earning money to live!! I don’t want to get stuck stuffing envelopes in an environment I dont want to be in any longer…I want to work in PR…but how am I going to go about it?! Look forward to hearing your answer to my plea!!!
    Vicky

  13. Thanks for commenting, Victoria.

    I’d say that you’re (understandably) focused on what you want. But you miss out on the explanation of what you’ve got to offer.

    It’s competitive out there. Why not sit down with some sensible friends to talk through and note down what you can offer an employer? Sklls, experience, personality traits…

    PS: I don’t think there’s much stuffing envelopes still happening in PR – so you might need to update your knowledge of the industry too.

  14. Sophie Fulton says:

    Hi I was wondering, if I can get some unpaid work experience, would they mind if I had a part time job on the side? I imagine it would be very hard to get by if I was only allowed to work unpaid.

    Sophie
    2nd year of uni
    Media and Cultural Studies

  15. Sophie

    An unpaid work experience placement (which we only encourage if you’re a full-time student or you are working for a charity) should bring benefits to both parties.

    It’s perfectly acceptable to negotiate the times you’re available. Since you’re not being paid, you can negotiate your hours (and to some extent your role and responsibilities).

Leave a comment