Trick interview question: what is PR?

This is an article by Michael Higham.
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At university the importance of work experience was drilled into me.

Michael Higham

I started studying for my marketing degree four years ago now and to be honest in the first year I ignored this advice. My main priorities in the first year where socialising, student nights out, socialising some more and then doing some study on the side.

Now I am not saying in your first year you should be working a lot as it is important not to damage your study time but you should start to think about work experience from day one of university life.

In my second year I did some unpaid work experience at a PR firm in Manchester. It was not ideal as I obviously would have preferred to get paid but it did give me valuable experience and an insight into what it was really like working in a PR firm. Even now, years later, I am in contact with staff their and the account manager there acts as a referee for me and has done for many of my graduate scheme applications this past year.

Connections count

One thing I have really learned recently and wish I had paid attention more in the past is the importance of connections in the PR industry. You never know when you may need to go back and reconnect with a past colleague so always make sure you leave any work experience, placement etc on the best conditions. Don’t burn any bridges with any work you do.

During my summer before I started my final year of study, I really started to look at what PR graduate schemes were out there. I had lived with graduates the year before and they told me how a lot of graduate schemes in all industries open their application process early so it is important to start looking as soon as possible. Don’t wait until after Christmas to apply for schemes as a lot of them may be closed already by then.

Now this may be difficult as like me at the time, a lot of students have heaps of coursework around the November to March time. And unfortunately this is when most PR graduate schemes I looked at had their application process open.  However you simply just have to get on with it and make sure you don’t neglect either.

Time management and how we organise ourselves is a huge part of working in marketing and PR so use applying for graduate schemes and studying for coursework as a test to yourself and how you manage your workload.

How to apply

By and large the graduate scheme applications in PR are not as long and tedious as many sectors out there, but what PR firms are looking for is quality in applications.

Even simple mistakes in grammar can affect whether you get through to the next stage or not. The top PR firms have heaps of applications sent to them and they will only have time to glance over a graduate’s application. So make sure yours stands out and please don’t make any mistakes. I have learnt first hand that grammar mistakes can affect a job application a lot more than people may think.

I got invited to two graduate interviews with top PR firms in London. Both are similar size firms but with completely different interviews processes. My first was a one-on-one interview with an account manager. This was a formal interview lasting around an hour so it was really important that I had researched the company extensively in the weeks before. In the interview you will get asked why you want to work for their company and it is essential to have looked at past campaigns, news articles etc about the company in order to to provide a detailed and interesting answer.

What is PR?

My main advice for any graduate heading to a PR interview is to make sure you can answer the question what is PR? Now this may seem like an obvious one but it is surprising how many graduates can’t actually answer that question. Make sure you fully understand what PR is and the differences between advertising and public relations.

In order to get your foot in the door at a PR firm, make sure you put in the hard work up front. Research companies, research job roles, make sure you are certain this is the industry for you. Don’t just think PR sounds cool – you won’t get a job with that attitude. The PR industry is a very demanding, hardworking creative industry. It is not all fun and games like a lot of graduates believe.

One last note; if you do decide PR is the future for you, don’t give up. Write to every PR firm you are interested in and get your name out there. Go to networking events, make use of any contacts you may have in the industry and if you do really have the passion for this industry, you will make it.


  1. A good article, but… how useful is the phrase “get on with it and make sure you don’t neglect either” with regard to the extremely difficult task of balancing job search with uni work?

    Perhaps another article offering final year students constructive, practical advice on how to manage time, prioritise and work efficiently would be a useful follow-up later in the year, as application deadlines for PR graduate schemes approach.

  2. Your article resonates with my experience Michael whilst applying for an internships; applications are time consuming and must be carried out whilst completing your course.

    1. Be very sure that if you apply for a jobs you want and to plan. It may sound counter-intuitive but if you can avoid a scattergun approach. Never give up as Michael says but remember that every application can take a hour or a day out of your time.

    2. Plan – it is never to late to start

    Do a search on Action Planning for more information.

  3. Even simple mistakes in grammar can affect whether you get through to the next stage or not.

    Even now, years later, I am in contact with staff THEIR?! and the account manager there acts as a referee for me…

    Oh dear…

  4. Hi, We’re The Conversation Group, we’ve created a video “What is PR?” that your readers may also find useful as a supplement to this article.


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