Starting a degree in PR? Read this first

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

Experience is vital: Katy Marshall (centre, about to get wet)

Let’s start with the formalities. Congratulations!

You’ve gained good A levels and achieved a university place in a difficult year with more students with higher grades chasing fewer university places.

This is a good time to be at university while the world recovers shakily from recession and before the fees rise much higher.

Hopefully, you’ll be graduating during the upturn when there will be many opportunities for talented graduates.

Now we’ve got that over with, read on.

You’ve not achieved anything yet; there are glittering prizes out there, but you’re going to have to grow up fast if you’re to grab them.

Why PR?

Let me ask you why you’ve chosen to study PR.

Good drama, no lessons about PR

If your answer is something to do with Samantha Jones and her glamorous party lifestyle, award yourself a fail. Sex and the City is a brilliant example of TV scriptwriting, but it doesn’t tell you anything about public relations.

If your answer includes something about psychology, communications and writing, you’ve gained a good pass.

If you’re thinking about a degree course that can be applied to real world problems and which gives you an above-average opportunity to achieve career success, then I think you’re already at the top of the class.

Advice for freshers

Your first week at university is all about your new surroundings: where you’re living, who you’re making friends with, what you’re going to be doing now you’ve achieved your first taste of independence. This is not the time to be taking in advice about your course or the far-distant future.

So rather than bombard you when you’re not listening, Behind the Spin asked some current PR students and recent graduates for the advice they’d offer to those starting this year. This is advice from students to students, remember. Here’s what they said:

First, learn how to promote yourself

You’re learning about public relations, so start by applying some lessons to yourself.

“Build a professional platform for yourself where you document what you have learnt, interview professionals (especially those you might one day want to work for), ask questions and participate in discussions.¬†And specialise in something.”

Richard Millington, University of Gloucestershire Marketing graduate

“Start a blog about something you want know more about. Be hungry for relevant information and be sure to share it with others. Build a professional network both online and offline – it’s very important! Be socially active, and never say no to a challenge” ūüôā

Helena Makhotlova, Leeds Met MA PR graduate

Gain work experience outside the classroom

Lectures and tutorials are important, but they’re not the only way to learn. Students and graduates emphasised the importance of learning for yourself through volunteering and work experience placements – even from parties and social events.

“Get personally involved in activities outside the classroom- eg writing for the student paper, website, PR, Journalism, marketing internships etc. Besides being able to network and meet like-minded people in the industry, these activities build confidence and a real-world platform for you to then practice and implement what you have learned in class – to see what works and what you are good at.”

Adam P. Coulter, MA Communications graduate, Suffolk University, Boston, USA

Tessa Biddulph, a University of Gloucestershire placement student agrees:¬†“Work experience is key to prepare for real life!”

“WORK EXPERIENCE!! It’s the most important thing you can possibly do with a PR course. Anywhere and everywhere!¬†Sad as it sounds follow the right people on Twitter and engage in chat with them. Everyone from journalists, ad guys, PR agencies, marketing experts, you can learn a lot from them!”

Caroline Gibson, Leeds Met PR graduate

“Get involved in everything , attend social events, write about everything you do! Publish and become a star!” emphasises¬†Gemma Bailey, a Leeds Met PR graduate.

“Get as much work experience as you can and put the theory into practice along the way – consultancy and in-house – and make yourself employable by the time you graduate!”

Liz Davies, Leeds Met PR graduate

Build your network

If you’re serious about public relations, you should become a student member of the CIPR. That gives you access to a database of almost 10,000 members and invitations to talks and events.

Katy Marshall, another Leeds Met PR graduate, emphasises this one point: “Network, network, network!”

“My second piece of advice would be to find a mentor in the university, for example a professor or administrator, or someone outside the university setting. Especially in the PR industry, it is all about connections and acquaintances and these older pros can guide the students.”¬†Adam P. Coulter

Learn how to learn for yourself

You will learn a lot from your experienced lecturers (“get to every lecture and debate the points!” says Tessa Biddulph),¬†but our panel stressed the importance of learning how to learn for yourself. This involves reading.

“Read everything possible!” says Katie Matthews, a Leeds Met PR graduate.

“Understand how society works – be hungry for news, politics and public affairs issues.¬†Number one fundamental skill for all PR people is the ability to write good copy – and adapt your style for the audience. You need to have better grammar than your CEO.¬†News sense – knowing what really is a news story – and understanding how journalists think and how the media operates. Get these things right and the rest you can learn…..”

Caroline Latta Charlton, CIPR Diploma graduate

“I totally agree with the point about work experience. Also consider extra research: find an intellectual passion and submerge yourself in it (social media for example!) You will become an expert and the industry will want you over other students who only have a vague understanding.”

David Clare, University of Lincoln Marketing and PR graduate

Books still matter in our iPhone and iPad age. MA graduate Michelle Allison even loves libraries.

More help and advice

The university experience is about more than books and lectures, so Tessa Biddulph‘s further piece of advice is vital. “Manage your money.”

Here are some more things to do and people to follow:


  1. Thank you for the shout out, I like Helena’s point about starting a blog, that’s definitely a great look.

    Kagem Tibaijuka

  2. Absolutely agree with the shared pieces of advice. Especially this one “find an intellectual passion and submerge yourself in it (social media for example!) You will become an expert and the industry will want you over other students” – this is valuable for gaining a competitive advantage!

  3. Richard,

    Thank you for including my advice, I appreciate it and hope that I could be of assistance to fellow PR students. Also, all the other pieces of insight here are spot on. Solid, helpful article.

    Adam P. Coulter


  1. […] Starting a degree in PR? Read this first – You’ve gained good A levels and achieved a university place in a difficult year with more students with higher grades chasing fewer university places. […]

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