Getting hired and getting ahead in PR
PR practitioners shared the stories of their careers and advice on landing that all important first job at a recent event for students at Newcastle University.
Nicola Quinn leads communication for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in the North East. Her career spans agencies and corporate organisations in London, New York and her native Newcastle.
She headed back to the North East ten years ago. Along the way she studied a MA in PR at Newcastle.
The lifesaving communicator
The RNLI has a very clear purpose focused on water safety and preventing drowning in the sea around the UK. It does this through lifeboat search and rescue, lifeguards, water safety education and flood rescue.
The organisation is both a charity and emergency service, 95% of which is made up of volunteers who operate lifesaving and prevention services around the UK coast.
Nicola is a regional member of the national communication team and responsible for delivering campaigns and a press office in the region.
The Internet democratises job search
When it comes to job hunting Nicola advised students to scour the internet for job openings. Do It is a good site to gain voluntary experience where you can often work remotely she said.
Nicola said she has benefited from applying the theory and models that she’s learnt in class in practice.
“What you’ve learnt at university is invaluable. I’ve found resources such as stakeholder mapping and campaign planning tools incredibly useful. Highlight competencies and experience in your CV,” said Nicola.
Following a passion and creating a job
Matty Aston is passionate about both music and the North East. He’s successfully combined the two over the past five years since graduating from Newcastle.
He started his career as an intern at Generator helping promote bands, and organising gigs and festivals in the region.
Since 2014 Matty has worked for Super Cat PR, a music marketing agency. It works with emerging artists from launching a single, through to their first album. In time artists are able to build a team of promoters, publishers and booking agencies.
“Public relations is critical to the early stage of a musician’s career. It’s at this time when a group needs to build an audience. I persuaded Super Cat PR to open in Newcastle to tap the growing local music scene,” said Matty.
Storytelling, and a strong backstory helps engage music fans. The Hype Machine blog network and Spotify are important media for reaching an audience, and building a community.
Matty encouraged students to follow his passion. It lies at the heart of his entrepreneurial success.
Agency versus corporate career choice
Natalie Falkous leads PR for Sage in the UK and Ireland. She’s a graduate from Sunderland University.
Sage was founded in the North East in a pub by two Newcastle students in 1981. It’s now one of the largest businesses in region, listed in the FTSE 100.
Natalie challenged students to consider whether they wanted to work in an agency or a corporate organisation.
She started working for local firm Karol Marketing where she learnt the importance of understanding business objectives and creativity.
A desire to focus on a single organisation led her to Newcastle Building Society, where managed a huge communications remit including corporate social responsibility (CSR), and internal and external communications.
Writing press releases and making media calls
Natalie joined Sage for the opportunity to work for an international business. She leads communications with two agencies across business, trade and vertical media.
“Always be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get involved. It’s critical to maintaining relevance to both your business, and the media.”
“There’s huge pressure to get a job once you graduate,” said Natalie. “Take your time and don’t compare yourself to your peers.”
Natalie worked in voluntary roles, and used the experience of a job in the civil service as a springboard for a career into public relations.
Christian Cerisola set up W North in Newcastle 12 months ago. It’s the northern arm of the consumer agency W. The agency works for clients including Lynx, Levi’s and Marmite.
Christian’s career in PR started when he worked as a journalist in Yorkshire in the nineties.
“I was badly targeted with stories, that weren’t researched, by people that were getting paid a lot more than me,” he said.
He moved to London to work for Freud the eponymous agency set up by Matthew Freud. It was one of the first agencies to spot the opportunity for celebrates to work as brand advocates in the eighties and nineties.
In time he returned to the North East and ran his own agency before joining W after a conversation with a former Freud colleague.
Building a case for northern PR
Christian’s view is that you no longer have to be based in London to work for national and international brands.
W North has spotted a trend for brands wanting to connect with customers across the UK, and are seeking out agencies that offer a regional point of view. PG Tips and Three are among early wins for W North where a regional presence has been instrumental.
Christian is focused on growth and hiring talent in the North East. W North is hiring talent from local universities.
“We’re looking for people who are self-motivated and have made the effort to gain relevant experience, even a couple of weeks can cut through,” he said.
“We typically get 30 to 50 CVs per job. Think about how you can stand out. I’m not expecting carrier pigeons but do something that’s going to cut through and get my attention.”
Explore and take risks
Philippa Brock is the communication director for the Great Run Company in the North East.
It’s the largest mass participation sporting organisation in the UK. It was founded by Brendan Foster when he launched the Great North Run in 1981.
Philippa graduated from Glasgow and went to New York and Vancouver before heading back to the North East. She’s a MA Politics graduate from Newcastle.
Great Run organises runs and swims around the UK. More than 250,000 people participate in its events.
Philippa’s roles covers brand, storytelling, commercial partnerships, and media management.
She told the story of the Manchester event in 2017, and the decision to go ahead and host the event after the Manchester Arena bombing.
“We took more than 300 media calls in the 24 hours leading up to the event.”
She advised students to be curious.
“You’ve got the opportunity to take risk at the outset of your career. Use social media and websites to understand an organisation and its culture,” she said.
Sarah Stimson’s book How to Get a Job in PR is an excellent primer on landing a role in communications or PR.
My thanks to Nicola, Matty, Natalie, Christian and Philippa for joining the session and sharing their advice. You’ll find them all on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Summary: Location, experience and passion
#1 Location, location, location
You can work in public relations anywhere in the world not just capital cities. Regional markets offer an increasingly broad range of career opportunities without the need to head to London to kick start a career.
#2 Show then tell
Educational background is important but it’s rarely a differentiator in landing a job. Demonstrate expertise through content and experience. Consider voluntary experience but be aware of the value exchange.
#3 Enthusiasm and passion
Public relations is a vibrant, growing profession. There’s huge variety. Follow your passion and seek out organisations whose purpose you share.
#4 Importance of networks
Relationships are as important as formal methods of recruitment. Two of the panellists cited them as the basis for their current role. Invest in building a network.