By Amanda Williams, MD of Storm Communications
Making that decision about what you want to do for the rest of your life at the age of 18 or even 21 is tough. You have just spent the best part of two to six years studying and now the real world beckons… PR is a popular choice, but is this tough and demanding industry really for you? Can you shine against the 1000s of others all chasing the same starter roles? And importantly, are you prepared for some serious hard graft to climb the career ladder?
The first question I suppose to answer is: do you need a degree to get on in PR? Well, not these days. Take it from someone who left school after A-levels – my lack of further education has never held me back, and I was lucky enough to be a founding partner of Storm at just 26.
Today, unlike when I started out, apprenticeships run by our industry body, the PRCA, give anyone, regardless of qualifications, a foot in the door. Whether you are 18 or 24, they provide an 18-month placement at a member agency or in-house, and many stay on after in full Account Executive roles, indeed higher up the ladder than many graduates leaving university looking for their first job. At Storm, we have had a number of apprentices and they have all gone on and had great careers, so I would highly recommend anyone to consider this route.
Work experience, although contentious if not paid, is also vital. After all, how do you know what PR is really like if you have not had at least a glimpse inside an agency? I wish I had a pound for every time someone has said “I didn’t realise it would be so much writing / talking to people on the phone / admin”.
If you are lucky enough to bag yourself a placement this summer, even if it is just for a week or two, then make it count. The best work-experience candidates ask loads of questions, get stuck in, are willing to help with any task no matter how big or small, and generally make an effort to get to know the team and what we do. Make an impression and you never know, they might ask you to stay – we have employed many ‘workies’ over the years purely because they were a joy in the office and fitted in with the team and our culture.
However, all too often we see the flip side of this: those that don’t engage, or even worse, have an attitude about what they are being asked to do, or just sit there and don’t say boo to a goose. You have to ask, why PR? Brutal that might be, but are you really right if you are going to burst into tears if asked to get on the phone (yes, that has happened!) or are shy and don’t like to talk to people?
PR is a tough, competitive world and fortune really does favour the brave. I have been in the business over 35 years, and even though it has changed dramatically during that time, it still takes the same talents to succeed.
So what do I think is the secret to success in PR? It’s simple really – having the right attitude, boundless energy, an innate curiosity and tenacity by the bucket full. If you have all of that, then this really is the right career for you!