September 11th, 2014
With school and university terms starting I thought I’d put a few words together to answer a question that I get asked a lot…..how do you get a break in PR?
PR is a fiercely competitive industry with top jobs commanding huge salaries and an endless stream of tickets to the best parties in town and freebies falling out your ears from handbags to the most irresistible food imaginable!
The simple answer, I believe, is ‘work experience’, good old fashioned work experience. I’m not talking about selling your soul to the devil for months on end, with absolutely no return. I’m talking about giving one or two weeks of your time to prove yourself and increase your skill set, because it opens doors.
I also believe you should start doing this from a young age because the more ‘brands’ you have on your CV the better your CV looks and the more people that give you a break to do the next lot of work experience, the more your CV builds. As your portfolio builds, so does your knowledge and you become increasingly more attractive to a potential employer who will finally pay you and enable you to get your foot in the door.
I started out doing work experience when I was just starting (or maybe finishing) my A ‘Levels. I worked for Galaxy 101 in Bristol for a week. It was a pretty cool station and I even made it onto Nino Firetto’s Breakfast Show! I was star struck as this guy was a hot TV personality with a rather fetching mullet, who I quite fancied (I’ve just Googled him and had a little chuckle at my teenage taste in men!) and I ran around his studio, trying to help as best as I could with phone ins and the general chaos of the show! I also met some other great characters, including Deli G, who was a big DJ around the clubs of Bristol, which I, you know, occasionally ‘hit’ in my teenage years!
At Cardiff University, where I went on to study for a degree in Modern English Studies (or something!), my work experience enthusiasm continued and I did a weeks’ stint at BBC Wales, TV News. I believe that with work experience you either sink or swim because busy media departments are generally flat out and they rely on you helping, rather than standing there gawping, asking for signatures of the presenters or the weather man!
At the BBC I helped the BJ (Broadcast Journalist) with a piece on the Welsh speaking film, Hedd Wyn, which was the first Welsh language film to be nominated for an Academy Award. After the BJ got all the interviews and footage she needed it was back to the Beeb to edit it, or rather it was back to the Beeb for me to edit it! I honestly thought this journalist had a screw loose. She plonked me down in the edit suite (what’s that?!) and duly told me to edit the piece. I did as I was told, with the assembled help of anyone I could find and ‘my’ edited cut went out across BBC Wales at 18.47 (I can’t remember the date, only the time as I remember my Fray Bentos was ready just as the piece went out!).
At university I continued my work experience on the college paper, Gair Rhydd. I started out as contributor, quickly rising through the ranks to Interviews Editor, interviewing everyone from Bill Hicks to Mudhoney and from Jesus Jones to Barry Norman. From here I became Features Editor, with a team of writers and I’d still only just turned 20. The paper went onto win the Guardian’s Best Student Newspaper of the Year award – result! I worked hard (not at my degree, although still got a ‘Desmond’!) and got into every gig and party, gratis, throughout my university career. I just didn’t get the shiny salary to go with it but there were always student loans to fall back on!
I also did work experience when I studied for my Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism. I worked at a PR Agency in Bristol for a week, called Golley Slater and remember having a very long, drawn out conversation with a journalist about ‘dog’s dinner toothpaste’. He must have felt sorry for me as he covered the story and I got my first piece of press coverage! I believe my parents still have said piece in a frame at home!
As well as being a great believer in work experience from a personal level, I’ve seen how well work experience has worked as an employer and I‘ve recruited many in my time. One of the best work experience students I ever had was Dan Wedgewood, who worked for me, initially unpaid, during the Round Britain and Ireland Race during my time at Challenge Business. Dan was exceptionally hard working, a phenomenal writer and became an accomplished interviewer. I took him on, without hesitation, after his work experience as a paid writer/ PR for the Global Challenge and I couldn’t have done the race without him, as busy does not describe adequately how mental it was for us! Dan went onto work for The Adventurists after the Global Challenge and he managed to recruit Jack Osbourne to do one of his Adventure Races to help generate national/ global publicity for the Mongol Rally. Superb result. I like to think I had a hand in making him a good PR (the truth is he was just incredibly good anyway!).
I also had the pleasure of working with another great talent, Carly Laing, who I recruited on work experience at Fat Face . Her CV was absolutely full of work experience posts, from Top Shop to, get this, Vogue Magazine and I had to give her a shot. She proved herself instantly and once again, I managed to find Carly a paid position at Fat Face and was constantly smitten with her work ethic, dedication, good humour and ability to get the press eating out of her beautifully manicured hand! Carly was another person who started out filling her CV with work experience – not just relying on a good university degree – and she got herself the big break into PR that she needed and, after 5 years at Fat Face, is now working for a leading lingerie brand in London.
This weekend, once again, I came across another talent, Danni Masters who helped me with the social media feeds at the National Watersports Festival. Danni was running around taking pictures, uploading stories and generally creating a massive buzz for the event, which was difficult for me to do on my own, especially as I was looking after a large press contingent. Once again Danni was not being paid for this and was genuinely thrilled when I told her to put her money away when she went to buy an event sweatshirt. I would have given her two sweatshirts but we only had one left!
So, to go back to my original question, how do you get a break in PR (or any chosen field you want to get into really) my best advice is give work experience a shot. You won’t get paid and you’ll have to work exceptionally hard but it’s incredibly good fun, it really does give you essential experience (hence its name!) and can give you that big break you need.