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A crowdsourced post for a 6th form student on routes in public relations

Ask a dozen people for advice on how to land a job in public relations and you’ll get a dozen different answers. An event in London on 26 September will aim to make sense of the public relations market for people starting out.

I had an email from Monique Ebanks-Clarke, a recent 6th form leaver recently, asking for advice on routes into public relations.

I asked my networks on Facebook on LinkedIn what they’d suggest: direct entry into work; apprenticeship; or a public relations or other degree.

Agency owners and managers, in-house managers, teachers and recruiters, all offered opinion.

Thank you to everyone that commented. I’ve tried to include as many as possible in this blog post but you can read the full threads for yourself.

As you’ll see there’s no single answer. In fact this post isn’t really that helpful for a student seeking advice and a clear point of view.

Independent practitioner and CIPR board member Stuart Bruce nailed it.

“[It’s] impossible to answer without knowing much more about the student, their background, their hopes and ambitions. Best just to briefly explain the options,” he said.

Public relations is practical, which means common sense, networks and experience form a good basis for a career in the industry.

It’s a young business that is growing up and slowly becoming a profession, and so formal training and continuous learning are starting to become important.

“All routes can work to be honest; the real truth is that so much depends on the person and many of those attributes can’t be taught although can be encouraged and developed,” said recruiter Liz Gadd.

“It depends, if they want the university experience and qualification then a degree is great. If not, from experience, I would highly recommend an apprenticeship. I was keen to get straight into working and to learn and earn at the same time.” said Text100 account manager, Jessica Kirby.

The Hoffman Agency’s managing director Mark Pinsent and I will join Alice Weightman, CEO, Hanson Search on 26 September in London to explore what it takes to land your first job in public relations. If you’re starting out in public relations we’d love you to join us.

Apprenticeship

“A year ago I would have said university but having had an apprentice I have become a bit of a convert. Depends on individual but if they are not set on the wider university life then would say go apprentice.”
Martin Cresswell

“I’d encourage an apprenticeship if the opportunities are there, and agencies are willing to provide the option and commitment to development.”
Steve Ward

“I think an apprenticeship should be the strongest route […] and complete a degree by distance learning/part time after qualifying. However, this relies on apprenticeships being available, and if not, degree is the best route.”
Brian Mcleish

“Apprenticeship or direct entry. Nothing beats learning on the job. Alternatively a four year degree course with a year in industry.”
Verity Cash

Degree

“As a recent graduate with a degree in communication, who’s struggling to find work, I say get the degree because you can always use it to your advantage and universities often times have connections with the working world that you could take advantage of. Everywhere I have applied has a minimum of a four year degree so it’s almost always required.”
Deeba Izadpanah

“You need a natural appetite for writing, and they should have that already. So do another degree in an area that gets you thinking more broadly. History, politics, public policy or sociology.”
Andrew Ross

“Communication or business related degree with mandatory 6 to 12 month internship as part of it – employers now seem to require both the university certificate and the experience.”
Iliyana Stareva

“I still like a degree. Time away from home to grow up a little. Be responsible, take responsibility for your own learning and development. Make mistakes. Value money and support. But cost wise it is not for everyone. Attitude ultimately will win through.”
Kirsty Leighton

“Study something rigorous and academic at a decent university (history, English literature, classics) that has transferable competencies and engenders a broader perspective. Also, gain experience of wider business and current affairs – not just the communications element.”
Paul Brannon

“In my opinion a degree. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life. Know a few people recently who have become a bit unstuck as they’ve gone straight into a role from school and later on in their career then hit a barrier progressing without one. Make sure you use that time at university to work part time in either the local paper, radio station or start your own blog. Do anything but just do something while you are studying that proves you’re passionate about communications.”
Rachel Lloyd

“Not a public relations degree – electives in the subject for understanding is an option. But something like psychology, or a business related course gives folk an understanding of people. […] That with some internships would give them a leg up – there’s plenty of professional development training available after that via the CIPR. Never stop learning.”
Jonny Stark

Direct access

“Get a job. Now. Period.”
Mark Adams

“Vocational experience rules. I’ve hired many young people over 25 years of owning and running Gravitas PR. My best recruits had done at least some journalism, public relations, blogging, content or design. They had some ready skills and had a better sense of self and direction. With graduate hires, I’d seek law, history or life-science graduates where possible, to get a forensic or analytical brain capable of interpreting client briefs. We mostly do healthcare work.”
Kay Williamson

“Experience (internships in different disciplines, working with varied clients and people) and willingness to learn is more important than a public relations degree.”
Jonathan Temerlies

“I don’t think a public relations degree initially – a degree is important in such a competitive jobs market, but public relations experience is more important. Also you have to decide that public relations is the right job for you. Then do more vocational training such as the CIPR diploma at a later stage.”
Erin Hickey

“Experience tends to prevail over education; however we have a number of clients, from small to global agencies that insist on a degree as an absolute prerequisite and some requesting from Russell Group universities only.”
Rohan Shah

“Do your utmost to get an internship with a decent agency in London, even if it means taking a weekend job to pay the bills. In my opinion, even three months of real experience beats a university degree hands down.”
Tom Stroud

“Following what everyone else is saying, I would start a blog and publish [content on LinkedIn] so an agency can view your work to land [an] internship.”
Andrew Lewis

“A decent A-Level leaver with some solid writing skills and an ability to make friends and contacts will do much better than waiting for an expensive public relations or typical arts degree of old.”
Graham Day

“I think it totally depends on what sort of person they are. I hated studying at A-Level and knew that university wasn’t going to work for me (though I did a year). If you like studying and have found something that interests you then go for it. I went into tech recruitment (five years) then into tech public relations in 2004 aged 24.

“The advice above about starting local at the very bottom is something I would advocate too. Earning £15,000 and commuting into London is a non-starter and bound to put people off so keep it local with someone prepared to give you a chance. After two years you’re in a strong position to hit up agencies in London or other cities and have the advantage of real experience and office life over graduates.”
Matt Cross

Public relations as a second career

“6th form and they want to be in public relations? I don’t even know where to start. Go and do something you are passionate about. Learn how to tell that story. Then be a public relations ? for that thing. And make sure it does some good in the world.”
Mike Butcher

“I would actually encourage them to get more hands-on experience in the sector they want to work in. I started my career as an engineer which then translated into a successful role as a technology public relations manager.”
Alexandru Voica

“Develop an understanding of the industry [you] want to enter. My first job in public relations, a public relations degree would have been of less use than experience in international finance, geopolitics, law or a commission in HM Forces.”
Paddy Blewer

Further thoughts

“It might be a bit unorthodox, but I’d be inclined to suggest that they try a bit of careful DIY first and see how that feels. There are so many small local charities that need help. I did that and it lit the pilot light. It also shores up the part of the brain that is iconoclastic, which I think is no bad thing before you get shown the ‘rules of the road’.”
Hamish Thompson

“My experience is based on falling into public relations rather than choosing it as my career from the start. Curiosity about a subject, willingness to explain it to others, and knowing your strengths are the three essential points for me. If you can do those things, regardless of your route, then you should be successful. Attitude will normally count for more than what you have done in the past, particularly with smaller agencies where you aren’t going through a more formal recruitment process.”
Mark Kember

“Learn to write, and then write and write and write. Good writing is still the most absent skill in public relations.”
Steve Schuster

“Volunteer with an NGO or political party. Experience and passion are key factors. The skills of campaigning for a cause can be applied to commercial clients – if that’s the path the student chooses.”
Quentin Langley

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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