Published On: Sat, Sep 4th, 2010

So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My 10 Top Tips

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.
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.

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 Tosney have 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.

About the Author

- Content Marketing guy @Indeed. Interested in PR, Content, Big Data, Inbound, Employability, Storytelling, Social Selling, Analytics, Search, Food & Drink, QPR.

Displaying 58 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Sarah says:

    I completely agree with the first one. I spent my placement year supporting the media relations, public affairs, internal communications and community relations teams as part of an in-house communications team and gained a variety of skills. However, upon graduation I have tried to secure an agency role only to be told by numerous agencies that I need between 6- 12 months agency experience before they would consider hiring me. It is quite disheartening to know that although I have a years experience working for a large and dynamic organisation these skills do not seem to hold a lot of weight with the bigger agencies. Getting an entry level job in-house is also very challenging as the few in-house job adverts that I have seen tend to require 2 or more years experience in an in-house role. As if PR wasn’t hard enough to get into already, it seems that not only do you need heaps of experience, it has to be the right type of experience for you to even get a foot in the door. Had I anticipated that this would have been the case, I would have ensured that my placement year was spent in an agency.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I completely sympathise with your experience as it mirrors my own. On reflection, I believe it would have made the PR job search a lot easier if I had gained more agency experience during my time at university. That’s why I would strongly recommend getting agency experience ASAP.

      Indeed, it was this lack of agency experience got me thinking about how I could creatively promote myself and land that agency job. I devised a three pronged strategy:

      1. Gain unusual PR experience e.g. working in a PR research centre, famous sports club and press office
      2. Promote myself via my blog, e-portfolio and guest posting
      3. Network via social networks and commented on other people’s blogs

      I consider myself fortunate that Edelman was prepared to hire me with little perceived agency experience. However, I understand that they noticed me thanks to the above strategy, as well as my supplementary skills and extra curricular experiences.

      It still frustrates me that some agencies are unwilling to take the chance on a graduate due to a lack of experience. At that stage, early in someone’s career the emphasis should be on what they can achieve, not where they have previously worked.

      Thanks,

      Ben

  2. […] So you want to work in PR? Here’s my 10 Top Tips (via Social Web Thing) by fbl blog on September 6, 2010 Great article from our alumni blogger Ben Cotton…great insight into PR and ideal for all the Leeds Business School freshers starting in September… 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 … Read More […]

  3. Thanks for the great article, I shall definitely check out the resources you have offered as I have an interview tomorrow in PR and I was certainly needing some tips.

    I found the first tip on agency experience very interesting, as I too have in-house experience but no agency experience. I shall look into this thank you.

    Keep up the good work!

    Heather Haggis

  4. As you will know, it isn’t just PR Agencies that can be unwilling to take on fresh unused graduates…It’s everything else out there! It doesn’t seem to be about grades anymore and not even experience… from what I have observed and it looks as though this seems to have happened here in PR; you now need RELEVANT experience. Problem is, SOMEONE has to take you on to GAIN the relevant experience in the first place. A perfect catch 22. Don’t worry, we all feel your pain.I certainly am…

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Heather,

      You’re right; sadly, this pattern seems to have emerged across most sectors during the recession. I sincerely hope a ‘lost’ generation, which feels misled by the last government does not materialise.

      However, it is not all doom and gloom as your success shows; congratulations on landing your job!

      Good luck,

      Ben

      • Thanks Ben.

        Yes it isn’t all doom and gloom, I just think grads need to be more entrepreneurial about finding work. I have actually landed in in-house training, but I’m happy not to be working with an agency at the moment. As prgirlonamission said, it takes about 5 years in an agency to get a glimpse at real work, but in-house will allow me to be able to gain some real experience.

  5. Mazher Abidi says:

    Wow – point 1 is so, so true. I have about 6 years in house experience (including some time spent in recruitment). I took a year out to do a Masters, and now looking to get back into work.

    The recession has completely changed the employment market in the past year/year and a half. Even a decent amount of experience is no substitute for DIRECT experience of the EXACT role you’re applying for anymore.

    Great post this one.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Mazher,

      Thanks for commenting, it is much appreciated.

      Your experience seems to mirror my own. Earlier in my career I applied for junior agency roles which did not explicitly require candidates to have worked in an agency environment.

      However, my own personal lack of agency experience, was often given as the reason for not landing the job. This happened on a couple of occasions and to be honest I found this extremely frustrating and whilst, I confess I’m far from impartial, I’m still baffled by this stance, particularly for junior roles.

      If agencies are not prepared to nurture and train their staff, in particular the inexperienced, it begs the question how much they really value developing their greatest assets.

      Thanks,

      Ben

      • This is kind of weird isn’t it.. why don’t they take on grads and people with little experience? We are their blood line, their survival, so why don’t they nurture us? This isn’t just towards grads, but anyone who is interested in PR. How come many if any don’t do training programmes?

  6. how about college education? How much does that matter?

  7. […] been inspired by Edelman’s Ben Cotton to share some stuff I talked (nicely) through internally recently. It’s a list of 10 things […]

  8. How about college education, How much does that matter in the area of PR & what courses do you recommend?

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hi Yousif,

      From my experience a good college/university education is the most typical way to take your first steps in the PR industry. Indeed, I believe it is having a degree which enables you to demonstrate a certain aptitude which employers often find appealing.

      Judging from my colleagues, a degree from a red brick university, former Polytechnics specialising in PR, such as Leeds Met (of which I’m an alumni) or Bournemouth or a professional qualification from the CIPR seem to be the most typical routes into the industry and the ones I would recommend.

      However, I also recognise that the UK PR industry must be one of the least diverse and that change needs to happen. I’m part of the Edelman Diversity working group and feel we need to do more to recruit bright individuals who have not gone to university.

      You can see what Edelman is doing to tackle the issue here:
      http://www.edelman.co.uk/edelman-insights/archive/diversity-public-relations-learning-research-and-best-practice

      Thanks,

      Ben

  9. Gary Andrews says:

    London Bloggers’ Meetup: Blogger and PR relations – no change…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  10. Katy Ross says:

    Great article & insight. I am a graduate student who would like to enter the PR arena upon completion. I am currently interning at an agency and hope to intern at another one in the spring. Do you have any insight on the best way to present an online portfolio? I would like to create one but am unsure what all to include and where to host the site.

    Thanks,
    Katy Ross

  11. prgirlonamission says:

    I realize this post was geared towards those looking for agency experience primarily, but I did want to chime in and say that as a “recovering” new grad (I graduated in 2008, so I’m a few years out now from that just-out-of-college, looking for a job place) I did not need to have agency experience in order to secure an entry-level PR/communications job, and now I am the Communications Manager for a mid-sized nonprofit organization. I don’t doubt though, that especially in this economy if you are looking for that type of work (or any PR work for that matter), you will be hard-pressed to find something if you have no direct experience in that field/area. Students MUST utilize their time wisely with internships, pro bono, and volunteer work and I would highly suggest doing this in a variety of organizations/subject areas. Perhaps do one or two internships with a small-midsize agency, some volunteer work for a non-profit in communications & PR, a work-study/project for a local area business, etc. so you have a)experience in a variety of areas and b)a better idea of what YOU want to do post-grad. So many interns/students think they want to nag that agency job, and then show up for the first week and discover they’ll be clipping press mentions and updating media lists for a minimum of 5 years before being granted any real account experience, and then you’ll have the even harder task of transitioning to something else after having built up all that experience/work towards that one role/area.

    Also, I wholeheartedly agree with #2-10- yes, yes, and yes to all these things. Great post and valuable advice.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Ashley,

      Thanks for the comment.

      As I said at the beginning, I do recognise the limitations of this post and the tips are based purely on my experiences. On reflection, at the time I graduated within the UK, there seemed to be a reluctance by agencies to recruit a graduate who did have agency experience. I’d be interested to know if this was the case in the US too?

      People were (perhaps) patronisingly told they ‘may not be able to cope with the fast paced agency environment’ etc. Whilst, agency life is fast, with the correct attitude and support over the crucial settling-in period of 4-6 weeks, the vast majority of people will make it through and have long and successful careers in the industry.

      Ashley, it’s great to hear your words of advice and the strategy you adopted to get into the industry. It seems to have paid off and I hope you’re doing well at Community Support Services?

      Thanks,

      Ben

  12. Graham Lee says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

    • Ben Cotton says:

      No worries Graham, thanks for reading the blog.

      I’d be interested to hear your perspective on getting into the photography industry and how that mirrors/differs from PR.

      I hope Seattle is treating you well?

      Thanks,

      Ben

  13. Angela Ten Clay says:

    Great tips, Ben! Thanks for sharing.

  14. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top Ten Tips (from Ben Cotton – Social Web Thing) […]

  15. cat casady says:

    Thank you for putting this together. Perfectly detailed and quite helpful. I’ve been directing a non profit since graduating in 2008 making every attempt to transition into more prestigious PR work. Your ideas have given me plenty to chew on, but it is also nice to know I’m heading in the right direction with social media and networking.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hi Cat,

      I’m pleased you found the article helpful.

      I would be very interested to hear what tips you would give somebody wanting to work in the non-profit sector.

      Thanks,

      Ben

  16. Hi there Ben,

    As always a very helpful and informative blog post! I agree with everything that you say (having recently graduated and begun an entry-level position in a PR firm myself). I’ve just written a blog post about how PR students or wannabe-PR-pros can use social networking channels tactically during their job hunt. It can be found over here: http://shelleygeorge.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/4-social-networks-prstudents/

    What I’ve written really supports your points 3 and 4, as well as possibly 5 and 6, so we are clearly on the same wavelength!

    Best wishes,

    Shelley

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Shelley,

      I’m pleased you found the post helpful and informative!

      I’d strongly recommend that other graduates check out your blog post – there are some great tips on using social media to land a PR job.

      Thanks,

      Ben

  17. Andy West says:

    Great article. As an agency, we trawl through hundreds of applicants each year for the Hotwire Graduate Training Scheme. Advice like this is invaluable and would, if taken up, give us an even harder job to select the best next year.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Andy,

      Thanks for the kind words. It is extremely competitive at the moment, so I hope students find this post useful and make things that little bit harder for you guys :-)

  18. catherinewarrilow says:

    Hi Ben
    Nice to meet you!
    As a fellow PR, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this, great advice right through.
    My other tip would to be keep the creative side of your brain going. Even if an idea isn’t relevant for a current campaign keep hold of it, some ideas come out of nowhere and you never know when they will be the perfect fit!

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hi Catherine,

      I’m delighted that you’ve found this post useful!

      You’re completely right about keeping the creative side of your brain going. An agency is nothing without a great idea and then a healthy does of pragmatism (planning). We have a bulging folder of good ideas which weren’t quite right for a particular campaign, but could certainly be used in the future.

  19. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top Ten Tips (from Ben Cotton – Social Web Thing) […]

  20. Leah says:

    Hi Ben – really loved this post. Have to agree that networking is the key! Can’t believe what a few tweets here and there and following the right people can do.

    This post has been very helpful for me as a student – thanks Ben. Another one I would suggest would be to be proactive – if your a student, does your SU have a PR department? If not, why not set it up? Or does your SU need a bit of sprucing up – how about doing a PR campaign to get more students into the SU?

    It’s great to get experience in companies and agencies and of course I agree it must be done but I think its great for employers to see that your pro active and are passionate enough about PR to do something without being told too.

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hey Leah,

      I’m pleased you liked the post and hopefully found it useful? I completely agree that the opportunities which can occur from a couple of Tweets sometimes is difficult to believe.

      Nonetheless, I speak from personal experience, when I say there are unrivalled opportunities to be seized via Twitter. Indeed my current role at Edelman came about after exchanging a few Tweets.

      Thanks,

      Ben

  21. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top Ten Tips (from Ben Cotton – Social Web Thing) […]

  22. Rosie says:

    Hi Ben

    I am currently applying for a Public Relations course at university and hope you would be able to provide any useful information as to gaining employment once I have completed a degree.

    Also, taking your tips into consideration I was wondering which blogging websites would you recommend?

    I found your website extremely useful – thank you!

  23. […] So you want to work in PR? Here’s my 10 Top Tips – 40 comments and 4 Likes […]

  24. […] So you want to work in PR? Here’s my 10 Top TipsGreat post and sooo cool that he picture of the I-love-PR-mug made its way into the post. The shot was taken in the early days of Spotlight PR – but I think that this was either when we sat at Sturegatan, but it might have been earlier in the second office on Brahegatan in Stockholm. […]

  25. Vicky says:

    As a long in the tooth PR professional I found plenty of interest and help in your piece – thanks for taking the time.

  26. Lauren Jackson says:

    Great resource, thanks. I will def be following your blog.

    Lauren

  27. […] so-you-want-to-work-in-pr-here%E2%80%99s-my-10-top-tips This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Public Relations. Bookmark the permalink. ← All it took was 2 weeks and 44 children to steal my heart. LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  28. […] So you want to work in PR? Here are my 10 Top Tips […]

  29. jayne says:

    Hi Ben
    I’m from Asia and just returned from an interview and again was hugely disappointed. As a recent graduate who’s keen to work in the PR industry, I opted for an internship to various pr agencies instead of getting the typical full-time job. Because I know that it’s important to get the experience. However, I’m facing the problem that no one takes me seriously, likewise for many of my friends, fresh graduates who do not have prior agency experience and want to work in PR.

    It seems to me that these interviewers are looking for the ideal candidate to be their interns. But isn’t internship about starting off fresh, learning, getting the experience and constantly being challenged? I feel disheartened that no matter how much I’ve said and tried to prove that I want to learn, that I’m really interested in this area, I’m not even given the opportunity. Everyone needs to start somewhere, that’s where the internship comes. I’ve been told by one interviewer that often many students go into the pr industry not knowing what to expect. Therefore they are just looking for interns who understands the pr industry very well. I find this statement rather contradicting. How do students or anyone without prior experience understand the industry well enough to be an intern? I believe that will happen only when he or she has done in internship before. I’m feeling utterly disheartened by my prospects of searching an internship and it makes me wonder whether I should continue trying to get an internship even though I’m really keen to do one.

    Also, does it make sense to tell the interviewer honestly that doing a pr internship is to test whether does one like the industry or see oneself as a practitioner in the future? I’ve pondered over this question for a long period of time and everytime i’m asked, i said no. I wonder if saying yes changes things.

    Do correct me if i’m wrong.
    Jayne

  30. Martha says:

    This is fantastic advice. Point 1 is indeed important. I went to the University of Central Lancashire and at the time the course didn’t offer a year in the industry. I knew I’d be competing with Leeds (my home town) PR graduates (who did do a year in the PR industry). I spent every Easter, summer and Christmas holidays working stints (for free) at PR agencies including for in-house PR departments and in my final year I worked for two days a week at a local PR agency. This opened so many doors for me and I found a job straight away after leaving university because of my varied experience. It was great too, because my colleagues (at the time) in the agency helped me with my portfolio, research for my dissertation and printing all of my work – double bonus!

    • Ben Cotton says:

      Hi Marta,

      Thanks for the kind words and commenting on the post.

      Your experience is a case study in what proactive students should be doing if they want to increase their chances of landing an agency role.

      Having spoken to a wide range of people it is clear many PR agencies are unwilling to choose a candidate who has no real-life work experience – and to be honest, with many candidates chasing every role, why should agencies choose someone no experience, especially if they’re are many equally qualified, but more experienced candidates out there?

      Thanks,

      Ben

  31. Lisa Addie says:

    Hi Ben,

    I find your first point very interesting. I am currently in my fourth year studying PR & Marketing at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and I have around 2 years agency experience.

    I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the reverse situation to what you experienced. Are employers still unlikely to hire on the basis of you not having both in-house and agency experience?

    Obviously the role you are applying for will have an impact on this decision but do employers want to see that potential candidates are flexible in terms of their experience?

    For someone who is set to graduate in July 2012 your post was very interesting and helpful! Ta!

  32. Ben Cotton says:

    Hey Lisa,

    Thank you for the comment.

    Whilst, there are cases of people being turned down for in-house roles due to lack of PR experience, I’ve always found this to be the exception, rather than the rule. Generally speaking, for entry-level, in-house PR roles there is a completely reasonable understanding that the candidate may not have much experience yet, but this will come in time as the person grows into the role.

    From experience I would say the opposite is true with many, but not all agencies. Indeed, earlier in my career I consistently came up against something I call ‘agency arrogance'; an attitude amongst some agencies that as I lacked agency experience, I couldn’t possibly pick up the skills for the role on-the-job. Granted, you need to be very organised and proactive when you enter the unique world of PR agency life, but at entry-level, the day-to-day tasks are not rocket science.

    I realise that with budgets being squeezed, agencies want a junior member of staff who can come in and do the job immediately – and well, but this unwillingness to take a risk, shows a remarkable lack of faith in the candidate, but more importantly, the agency’s ability to train and develop its staff, as well as limiting their pool of candidates.

    I’ll be forever grateful to Edelman for employing me with relatively little agency experience and I’ll remember those agencies that were simply not prepared to take the chance and nurture someone who had not already sampled agency life.

    So my tip to any PR student is get agency experience! It’ll open more doors for you at the beginning of your career.

    Thanks,

    Ben

  33. […] I’m realizing more and more is pretty dang important. Thus, it’s articles like this, proclaiming at least one internship to be an essential prerequisite to finding a job, that really […]

  34. Hi Ben,

    I think that what you did with this article is of great help for anybody who makes his first steps in the industry. I really feel the things you are stating and I realise that each one tip is worth making sense of it. I am really impressed by “8” and “1” tips. Now i am on the doorstep of placement year and already got two pieces of internships in different PR agencies. While reading your article I already knew how important agency experience is, not to mention how good it makes you feel when structuring your CV- so far i’ve done this, and this, and this…you are building confidence.

    Look forward to reading other similar posts from you.

    All best!

    Viktor

  35. PR Jobs says:

    I find 7.) and 9.) particularly useful. Knowing recent examples is always a bonus.

  36. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top 10 Tips […]

  37. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top 10 Tips […]

  38. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top 10 Tips […]

  39. […] So You Want to Work in PR? Here’s My Top 10 Tips […]

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Pin It
Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

n/a