I’m going to be honest here, when I first started my public relations (PR) course, I really didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I had some awareness of the role PR professional’s play in organisations, but I didn’t realise the amount of hard work, dedication, and passion for the job that is required.
I’m now in my third year and luckily have now figured it out! Thankfully, it hasn’t turned me off pursuing a PR career – in fact, quite the opposite!
I’ve seen my class sizes shrink as people figure out just how tough it can be, so, this post aims to answer some of those critical questions for those of you who are thinking of studying PR.
As I am still at uni and have limited firsthand knowledge, I have sought the help of an expert, one of Melbourne’s most successful PR practitioners – James Howe.
James is Media Relations Manager at Telstra and has previously worked in PR at the Metropolitan Ambulance Service. He has vast experience and is very successful, so if you’re seriously thinking of studying towards a role in PR, I strongly suggest you read on!
Through this post, we seek to explain what it’s like to actually work in this role, and help provide insight on how to obtain a great PR position.
What does someone in PR actually do?
The thing about public relations is there are so many different things you can do! From helping raise funds and awareness for non-profits, to lobbying in the government and working in social media.
For James, his main role as Media Relations Manager at Telstra is to communicate with customers and protect Telstra’s reputation. He does this through “managing media relationships, responding to queries and managing issues and looking for opportunities to get people thinking about Telstra in a positive way.”
James says he loves the fact that he “can be managing a media issue one minute, working on a social media campaign the next and contributing to an internal communications strategy after that.”
What critical skills are needed to work in PR?
People throw around all kinds of skills and attributes needed when talking about PR; confidence, public speaking, creativity, writing, reading, persuading, social media… the list goes on!
But, in James’s experience, the most important skills are to be able to stay calm under pressure, quickly analyse a situation and make swift decisions. James believes that technical skills come second to these areas.
He also says that it’s “really important to be able to learn quickly and to be prepared to do whatever it takes – no job should be considered too small if it is going to make for a good outcome.”
Do I need to gain experience while I’m studying PR at uni?
YES! While it’s important to study hard and get good grades, one of the biggest things I have learnt is that to get into this profession – it’s experience that counts.
When James was at university, he was involved in a number of social clubs and did some work on the uni newspaper, but he says most of the benefits he gained came from outside uni. “I was a student member of the PRIA (Public Relations Institute of Australia) and attended a number of their networking sessions and seminars; I also initiated a number of visits into different media outlets just to get a feel for how they worked.”
How do I make sure I will get a PR job after uni?
I recently spoke to some girls who studied PR a few years before me at uni who commented that only 5 of their class of 20 now have professional PR jobs!
James got his break from gaining an internship with the Metropolitan Ambulance Service in second year uni. He says he had “grown up with ambulance in [his] blood and was very passionate about it”. Hard work in this position secured him a temporary (six month) role which led to him securing a full time position.
James says that what is required to get a job in PR is very similar skill set to what will make someone a good PR practitioner, “Much as you would do when trying to promote an event or product and get some media coverage; you need to understand what is going to make you stand out from the others, what are your differentiating features and what can you do or offer that others may not have.”
He also stresses that it’s important to make yourself known to and stay on the good side of your lecturer; “I was offered to apply for a role at a large PR firm through one of my lecturers and had to make a choice on which way to go, so it’s certainly worth staying on the good side of your lecturers as they do get the inside word on openings.”
What are the biggest challenges of working in PR?
One of the things I hear very often is that in PR, you should never expect to work regular 9-5 days. Crises can always occur, and the digital age ensures that the media (and social media!) never switch off.
James would consider people in communications roles as the “organisation’s fire-fighters” and says “our emergencies can occur at any time.”
Although for many people, this would be stressful and not ideal; James describes himself as “a big adrenaline junkie” and loves being in the thick of these situations.
What James sees as a real challenge is disconnecting himself personally from what people are saying about Telstra. “I can sometimes get a bit too involved and need to take a step back and realise that people are not having a go at me for who I am, they just have a different experience and perception of my organisation.”
For this reason, he stresses the importance of maintaining a work-life balance so you don’t get burnt out.
SO if you’re still reading and you think you have what it takes, James offers some advice for those considering a career in PR:
“Be patient and keep your mind open to always be learning. As someone coming out of university and entering a career in communications you have a good 40 years (at least) of working life ahead of you – you don’t need to achieve everything in the first five years. Even once you start working, don’t feel that you have to specialise in and be limited to just one area, if you’ve started in media, have a go at internal communications or social media or events. The more you experience, the broader your skill set becomes and the easier you can fit in different situations.”
So there you have it! A public relations career in a nutshell.
A great big thank-you to James for his fantastic insight and advice!
If you have any questions or want more advice, feel free to comment and I’ll help the best I can.