Top tips for PR students

Students across the country will be returning to university in a couple of weeks and although planning Freshers week activities will probably be highest on their agenda, many PR students will soon be focusing on managing their personal reputation. Behind the Spin has teamed up with Edelman Digital consultant Ben Cotton, author of award winning blog Social Web Thing, who has provided some top tips for students looking to succeed in the PR industry.
The inspiration for this post came about after an acquaintance of mine asked me to give some advice to one of his friends about ‘getting into PR’, well specifically, the agency side of things. I was delighted to offer my thoughts and it got me thinking about the advice I wish I had been given. Before we start, I do recognise the limitations of this post and that the tips are based purely on my experiences. As always, I would be interested to hear your views and opinions. 


1. Get agency experience!
I cannot overstate the importance of gaining agency experience. During my time at university I wish I had completed more than one internship at a PR agency, as early in my career, when applying for entry level roles, I was turned down for jobs due to a lack of ‘agency experience’. Whilst, I had amassed a lot of in-house communications experience, this was often not deemed sufficient. Some agencies were simply not prepared to take the chance and nurture someone who had not already sampled agency life.

2. Put your best work online
Potential employers will Google you. This is an almost unavoidable fact and part of good due diligence by an employer. Consequently, it is a great investment of your time to put your best work online with the objective of improving your Personal SEO; making good things come up when you’re Googled. There are a variety of ways to present your best work – blogs, e-portfolios, personal websites, Flickr, podcasts etc. If you can demonstrate prior to the interview a range of skills and experiences for different clients, you will be at a huge advantage.

3. Network on and offline
I firmly believe that social media offers an unparalleled level of opportunity to learn, network and converse via platforms like Twitter, Linked In, Facebook and WordPress. However, it is important to ensure that that you network offline too. CIPR events, blogger meet-ups or other industry occasions are all great ways to meet others in the industry and get your name out there. The ability to network and do it well, will not only help you to get into PR, but it’s also one of the skills you will draw upon most as your career develops.

Tip – A great way to start a conversation and network with industry leaders is by leaving a comment on their blog.
Image from Intersection Consulting under Creative Commons 

4. Use Social Media well
Many of the PR headlines these days are related to social media. This is due to it’s huge growth and many agencies are now putting it at the centre of their offering. Subsequently, using social media well, in a  personal capacity is a good professional advantage. Good personal use means, not only utilising privacy settings, but also having a wider appreciation of how the platforms operate and how clients could use them. Another, reason for keeping up to date with the latest trends is that the Y Generation are increasingly expected to know how to do this by older generations.

5. Get published
I’m a firm believer that there is no substitute for getting a piece of writing published. We work in the communications industry, and your first tasks are likely to involve some form of writing, whether it be a press release, report or presentation. Being published will always benefit you. I suggest doing your research, by finding a blog, magazine or newspaper and approaching them about writing a guest post. Being able to write well and in different styles, as well as having the evidence to back this up will impress employers.

Tip – Behind the Spin, university newspapers or special interest blogs are all great places to get published.

6. Blog
I know from personal experience the benefits of writing a blog. SWT has enabled me to voice my opinion, improve my writing, familiarise myself with industry issues, network and greatly enhance my Personal SEO. Speaking to my colleagues, I now understand that it was my blog which really helped my job application within the Edelman Digital team. Whilst, microblogging has grown hugely over the past 18 months, I’m convinced there will always be a place for more considered, analytical traditional blogging.

Tip – I’d strongly suggest using WordPress or Posterous as your blogging platform. Both packages offer useful analytics, easy to use interface and a range of designs to bring your blog to life.

7. Learn some case studies
I would recommend learning at least three case studies of successful PR campaigns. The main reason for this is that it seems to be a reoccurring question at interviews. Not only will it give you something to talk about the interview stage, but it demonstrates a wider appreciation of the industry and what the components of a successful campaign are. Whilst, the Best Job in the World campaign is a great case study, you will impress employers more if you can highlight and critically analyse, smaller campaigns which successfully met its objectives.

Tip – check out the PR Week and WOMMA websites for successful case studies.

Image from DoktorSpin under Creative Commons 
8. Look after your online reputation
If you are unable to look after your own online reputation, agencies are unlikely to trust you to do the same for a client. Whilst, this may seem obvious, it is still surprising the number of people who have yet to familiarise themselves with social media privacy settings. There are some pretty simple things you can do to protect and enhance your online reputation and I’d recommend reading Me and My Web Shadow by Antony Mayfield or check out the Personal SEO section on SWT for practical tips to manage your online reputation. 

9. Understand industry issues
It is really important to have a firm understanding of the main issues within the PR industry. This can come from reading a variety of news sites and blogs like PR Week, Brand Republic Mashable, econsultancy, Guardian Media, the Media Blog and Paid Content. In addition, many of the top agencies and big players within the industry have personal blogs. Whether it is AVE, lobbying or the latest great campaign, having a good understanding of the industry you want to work in is vital.

Tip – Set up a blog Reader so you can keep track of all the latest industry blog posts.

10. Demonstrate supplementary skills
Being able to demonstrate supplementary skills, which may be useful for your role is a great way to standout from the crowd and differentiate yourself in a competitive marketplace. Think what skills you have which mark you out as different and hopefully, better than other candidates. Mike White, Jed Hallam and Laura Tosneyhave all stood out within the PR industry, due to their creative use of podcasts, Facebook and video. I know other people who work within the industry that were hired because their experience with SEO, web design, photography and AdWords marked them out as different.

For a list of ‘not very’ technical skills that it would be very useful to learn, check out these great posts by Ged Carroll and Jed Hallam. I’d be interested to hear from employers, employees and students to discover what top tips they would give to someone looking to breaking into the PR agency world.


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