In the last year I have completed my final exams, moved 150 miles from Nottingham to Bristol, started my first job in public relations and graduated from university.
Sounds like an awful lot, but it has passed by in such a blur that when I was asked the question “What have you learnt in the past 12 months?” I was completely stuck on where to begin!
Life in a public relations consultancy is so fast paced, that on the surface it becomes easy to feel like you haven’t learnt that much at all. It was only when I took the time to stop and reflect, that I realised I had learnt more in the last 12 months than I could ever have imagined. And as the old saying goes, I literally am learning something new every day.
Here are some of my ‘pearls of wisdom’ from the last year, so here’s hoping you find them useful…
The value of work experience
During my degree I completed a three-month work placement in a public relations consultancy in Bristol. One year later, I had finished university and had been hired by that very same consultancy. I cannot recommend too highly the value of a decent stint of work experience – it truly can open so many doors for graduates.
The key to any work experience is to find the right company. I feel lucky to have found an agency that was willing to invest just as much time and effort in me as I was in it. Have the confidence to check that the company has some sort of programme in place for you – or at least a pretty firm idea of why they want you there and what your role will be – you don’t want to end up being nothing more than cheap labour.
This will then allow you to really prove your worth and – having now been on the flip side of the coin – a good work experience person is worth their absolute weight in gold.
Dispelling the myths
I have learnt a few things about what PR is and what PR most certainly is not.
PR is not 24/7 glamour. PR is not your average nine-to-five. PR is stressful. PR is damn hard work. PR is a challenge…but one of the most enjoyable, interesting, fun, rewarding, creative and varied challenges you could possibly undertake!
Every day brings something different
Working in a consultancy can be quite complex at times – with multiple clients that all have different needs, which in turn means multiple team managers, all with different ways of working. This results in varied demands on your time, but it certainly keeps you on your toes. And it means that you never, ever, get bored! Every day brings something different and you get the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of business sectors, consumer products, issues and trends that you may otherwise not have known about.
My boss once said that if nothing else it makes you a much more interesting and entertaining guest at dinner parties!
Tick, tock, tick, tock…
The thing I used to dread the most. Time. Or rather, time management. I always thought that I was quite good at time management – it is a skill that I have always included on my CV and been quite proud of. However, I was not fully prepared for how varied the demands are on your time when you work in a PR consultancy. Putting a time management system in place that suits you (it took me about six attempts before finding the right one) and taking control of your workload is essential – you will never be able to manage others until you can learn to manage yourself.
The art of saying no…without actually saying no
A very wise colleague once taught me about the art of saying no…without actually saying no.
This skill goes hand in hand with time management and basically refers to not being afraid to say that you do not have the time to do something. The key is not to simply say ‘I cannot do it’, but to offer an alternative solution. Sounds easy I know, but it is harder than it seems.
When you are new you are eager to please, but taking on too much too soon will only leave you looking unprofessional further down the line. There’s no sense in trying to run before you can walk. And yes, deadlines are very important, but sometimes they can be more flexible than they first appear.
Get media savvy
Whether it is newspapers, fashion magazines, lads’ mags, industry press, motorcycle monthly or National Geographic – whatever floats your boat! Knowledge of and familiarity with the media is one of the, if not THE, most important skill to becoming a great PR officer. And don’t stop at print – read websites, blogs, watch television, documentaries, films, listen to the radio.
Take a step out of your comfort zone too…consume media that you would normally overlook, you might just surprise yourself at what you find!
Learn to love social media
This is probably quite easy for most graduates thanks to the popularity of social networking sites. Social media and digital PR are incredibly powerful tools – I recently worked at a charity event where somebody had raised £25,000 in sponsorship solely through Twitter. Pretty incredible. I am constantly being told that social media and digital PR are the future of the communications industry. Where some of my colleagues currently reminisce on the days of the fax machine, the time will soon come when our generation will reminisce on the ‘good old press release’.
Throw your hat in the ring
Once you get more settled in your job, start to put your name forward for things – no matter what it is or how small it may seem. It could be that a volunteer is needed to organise the magazine rack, an extra pair of hands is needed at a client event or your agency needs to appoint a new CIPR representative. It gets you noticed; you look proactive, enthusiastic, interested and helpful – just don’t take on too much!
Above all, ooze enthusiasm and be willing to learn. These are attributes that I know my bosses look out for in potential employees, and I’m sure they are not the only ones. PR is just as much about personality, positive attitude, passion and a hunger to learn as it is about qualifications and experience – some would argue even more so, particularly for graduates looking to get their first taste of the PR industry.
Jess Hall graduated in 2009 and now works for Bray Leino Public Relations.