Want to work in a PR agency? Here are some tips

This week I had the honour of presenting to PR students at the University of Newcastle (my old university) on the topic of working in a PR agency. Above is the presentation I gave. It was intended to be light-hearted and was pitched assuming minimal knowledge of the agency environment. The simple reason for this is that when I was at uni I had no idea about what a PR agency did or how it all worked.

I often get asked what skills you should have to get a job in PR and how you go about getting a job at an agency. My advice typically covers the following points:

  • Do work experience - every junior hire we make is via work experience, I know of almost no exceptions to this. If you want to get a job in a PR agency the best route is to identify the agencies you would like to work for and approach them about work experience opportunities.
  • Know the media – understand the media. Watch all the television news regularly and not just the news you like. Understand the difference between ABC, Ten and SBS. Read the papers and not just the one you like best. Know the difference between the tabloids and broadsheets, understand the difference between the SMH and The Australian. Listen to the radio, think about the stories they cover. Read online voraciously. Google News is a good start. It provides a good overview of the Australian landscape but also gives an insight into international media too.
  • Read and comment on blogs – read PR, marketing, social media and other personal interest blogs. Understand how writing for a blog differs from a traditional media outlet. Make sure you comment and engage. The beauty of blogs is that it is about  a two way conversation. Take part and enjoy the benefits. This post by the PR Warrior Trevor Young provides a good overview of some blogs to get started with. The fact I am listed in hist post is not the only reason I suggest following his advice either. icon smile Want to work in a PR agency? Here are some tips
  • Understand how Facebook can be used to build a community – Facebook is a brilliant platform for sharing photos and staying up to date with your friends, but it can also be a platform for building a community around a particular topic, brand or passion point. Join and analyse some of the Facebook pages of your favourite brands. In fact why not try it for yourself? Set up a page for your football club, your university club or other organisation.
  • Have a digital footprint – I always perform a Google search when I receive a new CV. What will I see if I search for your name? Having a blog is one of the most obvious ways to grow your personal brand. Your traffic will not be high to start with, but it is not about traffic rather is more about having your thoughts and opinions there when someone searches. If having a blog is too daunting Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are easier places to start. For extra points you may want to start building an understanding of basic SEO and HTML. Check out my advice on growing your personal brand online.
  • Get a university degree - having a university degree is one of the things I look at. A comms degree is the obvious choice, but really I am not all that fussed what degree you have. The reason I mention a degree is because it shows you understand how to research, know how to form and present an opinion and perhaps most importantly can stick at something and get it finished without having someone looking over your shoulder. Having said that I have also worked with some amazing people that don’t have a degree.
  • Get involved and help a local charity - if you are a PR student odds are you already know a lot more about PR than the average punter. Why not volunteer some of your time to a local charity to assist them with their PR and social media planning. The experience you gain will likely be invaluable and will make a difference for a needy charity.
  • The marketing mix is converging, so understand the whole marketing mix – gone are the days of clearly defined roles between marketing functions. Media, advertising, digital and PR agencies are all increasingly offering similar services as the roles blur. The more you know about all these disciplines the better.
  • Finally, be creative in getting people’s attention - PR agencies receive a lot of CVs each and every day, so think about how you can stand out from the rest of the pack. Rebecca Griffith from the University of Wollongong got my attention by posting a job request on the Mumbrella job boards and this effort by an advertising hopeful in America is brilliant.

This is just my advice. What other tips should we be giving to students and others looking to start a career in PR?If you enjoyed this post why not subscribe to my blog via RSS or email by following this link. Also whilst you’re at it why not follow me on Twitter .

  • http://twitter.com/karenylh Karen H

    Thanks for these tips – useful for anyone, anywhere, who's interested in building a career in PR.

    • http://matthewgain.com Matthew Gain

      Thanks Karen – I am glad you found the tips useful.

  • annashelly

    Lecture was great- it totally skipped my mind that while I was studying the theoretical context of PR, I actually had no idea what an agency did. Funny how they don't teach you that. It gave me something to think about, and I will be putting on my cap of creativity when promoting myself for internships etc.

    • http://matthewgain.com Matthew Gain

      Glad you enjoyed it Anna – look forward to seeing what our creative mind comes up with.

  • simmointhecity

    Great post Matthew – even for an old timer like myself that is job hunting again for the first time since being a graduate.

    The only thing I would add is that in an interview really talk about what your specific role was when you undertook that internship or was part of the team executing or planning a project. The amount of times I have had to prompt from a person what their role was specifically and not get a vague "i worked on the event" is numerous. As a potential employee you want to be able to show how you were specifically able to deliver on the client objective and work in a team environment.

    • http://matthewgain.com Matthew Gain

      Great advice Simone

  • http://thewriteexperience.blogspot.com/ Frances

    Very insightful, thank you! I'm a student who has been umm-ing and arrhh-ing about whether to enter the blogosphere or not and your 'digital footprint' hot tip got me across the line. Thanks again.

    • http://matthewgain.com Matthew Gain

      I am glad you found it useful. Working in an agency can be a lot of fun!

  • http://twitter.com/JohannaBD @JohannaBD

    I really enjoyed reading this post Matthew, both as an ex Newcastle student myself and as a PR business owner who hosted a work experience student and then hired them as a virtual consultant. All your advice is spot on, especially the tips on work experience and blogging. The only thing I would add is researching the niche you want to work in so you know the issues in the industry.

  • Exdream

    I understand that agencies only hire people with experience, but the question is how much experience?

    • http://matthewgain.com Matthew Gain

      Agencies hire at junior positions with no experience. Agencies hire all sorts of people, just because you haven’t worked in an agency you shouldn’t assume you won’t be considered.