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Public Relations | The Careers Service Public Relations – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Are you news aware? Can you work quickly and accurately to very tight deadlines? Are you good at writing interesting and creative copy? Do you have good communication skills? and Do you cope well under pressure? If yes, then a career in public relations may appeal to you.

Public relations is all about reputation management. The CIPR define it as “the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. […] Reputation is often the one feature that can make a fundamental difference to a company and thus, give it a competitive edge”.

PR professionals create, maintain and manage a positive public image for the company they represent. The profession covers a broad range of areas, from crisis management to re-branding an organisation to producing publications. Another key role of a PR company or agency is to identify potential clients through market research, and to establish how companies can best reach them through advertising campaigns and targeted marketing.

Industry overview

The PR and communications sector is one of the fastest-growing professions in the UK. With the explosion of online media over the past few years, PR is more important than ever, and companies are hiring more agencies and PR staff to manage Internet relationships. The skill is being able to keep up-to-date with huge amounts of information in the fast moving platform of digital media. Social media is a challenge for PR executives as sites such as Facebook and Twitter are beyond the control of companies and their marketeers. Other work includes organising press conferences and media briefings, issuing reactive statements to journalists, dealing face-to-face with journalists and with their requests and enquiries, briefing spokespeople, and acting as a spokesperson yourself. It also includes event management such as attending exhibitions and trade fairs. The publications element includes producing corporate publications, such as in-house magazines, promotional literature and corporate websites. The role may also include internal communications and crisis management – keeping staff and key stakeholders informed about company developments through briefings, blogs and staff intranet sites.

Types of job

Public relations takes many forms in different organisations and comes under diverse and differing titles, including public information, investor relations, public affairs, corporate communication, marketing and customer relations. Whatever the title, as a PR professional you can either work in-house or in a PR consultancy.

In-house

Working exclusively for the firm you are employed by, managing the reputation of the firm and running campaigns for the firms services or products (and potential services or products). You will gain an in-depth knowledge of the firm and the market within which it operates.

In a consultancy

PR Consultancies range from International to niche companies, they will work for a range of clients and most likely you would be working with more than one at any time. Over half of the UK’s top 30 PR consultancies are now owned by global marketing groups such as WPP, Publicis, Chime, Interpublic and Omnicom.

You will gain a broad insight to different organisations working in a consultancy but it is also common to specialise in a particular industry after time such as sport, retail, finance or public sector.

The main areas that PR Professionals work in are:

  • Consumer/lifestyle public relations – gaining publicity for a particular product or service.
  • Business-to-Business.
  • Financial public relations – communicating financial results and business strategy.
  • Crisis communication – responding in a crisis.
  • Internal communications – communicating within an organisation.
  • Government relations/public affairs – engaging government departments to influence public policy.
  • Food-centric relations – communicating specific information centred on foods, beverages and wines.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility.
Entry points

Small PR consultancy firms will hire individuals at entry level when there is business demand and as such this will be on an ad-hoc basis. Job titles may include;

  • Media Assistant
  • Press Executive
  • Account Executive
  • Associate Programme Executive
  • Junior Consultant

Larger PR consultancies’ offer graduate training programmes which usually open sometime between September and November, with a company taking on anything from two to ten new graduates. The following are a good starting point to consider as they tend to recruit more than one trainee at a time:

  • Hotwire Group post internship opportunities on their careers website
  • Fleishman Hillard offers internships ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months and a graduate programme
  • Ketchum run the James Maxwell rotational graduate programme, applications generally open in January and close in April
  • Edelman offer an apprentice scheme open to both graduates and non-graduates, the 2016 programme opened late in 2015. They also recruit for interns and entry level positions year round
  • Chime offer a 12 month graduate programme, the 2016 programme went live in November 2015 with a closing date in January 2016. Applications for the 2017/18 scheme will open again in early November
  • Weber Shandwick offer work experience, internships and graduate positions
  • Lexis run a year-round work experience programme and an annual graduate programme
  • Blue Rubicon runs a graduate programme which tends to open in the autumn and close applications by the end of January
  • Bell Pottinger offers internships and graduate positions
  • Ogilvy PR offers internships and a graduate fellowship, register on their talent portal to see opportunities
  • Burson Marsteller offers a 12 month graduate programme to between 12-15 graduates each year. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the year.
  • Four Communications offer work experience, internships and a graduate programme. The graduate programme deadline was mid-march in 2015 but continue to check their website for updates.
  • Lansons take a least 10 trainee executives each year, apply by sending in your CV & cover letter
  • Also see the list of 150 graduate jobs and internships issues by PR careers : www.prcareers.co.uk/2017-pr-internships-and-graduate-schemes/

The overall number of such vacancies on CareerConnect tends to be small, with openings occurring throughout the year.  Some of these will be permanent jobs, others will be short placements.  However, they are often a good first step into PR.

You’ll find a number of roles in PR agencies use varying job titles for entry level positions from Media Assistant, Press Executive, Account Executive, Associate Programme Executive, Junior Consultant and more. Below are two different examples of PR roles within an agency and an in-house environment. They should give you a good idea of the variety of work you could be doing in any given day.

Postgraduate qualifications are not an entry requirement, however, there are a number of specialist postgraduate courses that are CIPR accredited.  Look carefully at destinations of alumni from the course to weigh up the financial commitment with the potential reward.

Skills & experience

Roles in PR are very varied, tasks may range from planning strategies and researching and writing press releases to sourcing sponsors and liaising with media and community groups. As such a broad range of key employability skills are required including;

Skills needed

  • Good interpersonal skills, with the ability to interact with people from all backgrounds and at all levels in an organisation.
  • Strong communication and presentation skills.
  • Good project management skills, with the ability to juggle different priorities and meet conflicting deadlines.
  • Commercial awareness: an enquiring mind with an interest in current affairs, particularly in socio-political and economic developments that impact upon business and potentially your client.
  • Analysis Skills: you should enjoy analysing problems and be able to suggest creative solutions.
  • Technical Skills: you’ll need an ability and interest in working with all digital and social media channels.
  • Flexibility, adaptability and ability to think of solutions quickly.

Experience

Employers will want evidence of your interest in PR, and work experience is central to this. Get involved in activities at university such as: writing for student publications, raising funds and organising events for your college, a charity, drama or sports group. The understanding and use of different forms of social media is essential, so get involved in producing your own blog, Twitter feeds, podcasts and join discussion groups on LinkedIn.

Many PR consultancies offer work experience placements throughout the year, or summer internships. See the list above, CareerConnect and the sector vacancies list at the end of this briefing for some initial ideas.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

To be successful in finding a job in PR, you must be able to market yourself as really wanting to be in PR and knowing what the work involves. To help accomplish this:

  • Stay up-to-date with the industry, companies and campaigns via periodicals and online journals such as PR Week, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, PR Moment, Brand Republic and Mashable.
  • Become a Student member of the CIPR. Membership costs £35.00 and enables you to access training and networking events.
  • Talk to someone doing the job. If you are a student member of the CIPR, access their website to identify a local PR practitioner to conduct an informational interview, either in your home area or here at Oxford. You may also wish to attend events run by the local regional CIPR group.
  • Produce an online ‘brand’ of yourself via media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs. Use networks such as LinkedIn to make connections with new people and build your network of influence. Do this by joining groups – or setting up a group if there isn’t one already – and participating in online discussions. Keep it fresh. It’s important that you keep reviewing your brand at regular intervals. Are you portraying yourself the way you want to, consistently?
  • Make speculative applications using Hollis UK Public Relations Annual (an invaluable source of contact names and addresses for PR consultants) and the PR Week Global Power Book 2017.  
  • There are two principal PR trade associations in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). Use these links to research best practice and build up your knowledge of the PR industry.

Equality & positive action

A number of graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as a ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The PR industry is keen to improve the diversity of its staff and a number of initiatives exist to encourage applications from diverse backgrounds; particularly black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates. One initiative is the Taylor Bennett Foundation Programme which provides internships, mentors and training with organisations such as Edelman, Talk PR, MHP and Brunswick. Creative Access offers internships and mentoring too, for those interested in PR and communication roles.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

 

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Public Relations Handbook (4th Ed), Alison Theaker
  • Careers in Advertising and Public Relations, Wetfeet Insider Guide
  • Careers in Brand Management, Wetfeet Insider Guide

Videos

Getting into Advertising – This panel talk includes representatives from M&C Saatchi, Diversified Agency Services (DAS) and Possible/Grey. Hear more about the various roles available in advertising from account management, to copy writing and account planning. The talk includes top tips on how to get into this exciting and diverse sector; giving you suggestions of people to follow on Twitter and how to get noticed.

This information was last updated on 21 August 2017.
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Recent blogs about Public Relations

Exploring Careers for Arts Students

Blogged by Julia Hilton on November 14, 2017.
  • When: 16.00-17.00, Monday 20 November
  • Where: Denis Arnold Hall, Faculty of Music

Have you wondered what to do with your degree? What have alumni studying English, Music, Classics or History of Art done? How do you navigate the huge range of options out there and are there any relevant internships available? Come along to answer these questions and more at this Careers Service event. There’ll be plenty of examples to inspire next steps and practical information on how to be successful in the graduate labour market.

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