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Six things I wish I’d known before I started a career in PR

I realised this week that I’ve been working in PR for nine years this summer. Half of me feels like it’s been a lifetime, whereas the other half can remember my graduation like it was yesterday. But nine years in, and I feel pretty lucky to be in a career that I’m not bored of yet and an office where (99% of the time) I genuinely like coming into work – pretty good going for someone who gets bored relatively easily.  

Saying that, there have been some points where deep breathing and repeating ‘it’s PR not ER’ is the only thing that’s got me through the day. PR agency life isn’t for everyone – it’s changeable, fast-paced and sometimes incredibly stressful. However, this also means that no two days are the same and you’d be hard pushed to get bored. If you are considering PR as a career, here’s six things I wish I’d known before I started.

Resilience is your best weapon

When I think about the main attributes that have done me well in my career, the top one is probably resilience. As well as the massive highs – when you win a new client, or a big piece of coverage lands – there are also serious lows. When the third journalist in a row hangs up on you, or you feel like you’re doing your absolute best for a client but it’s not quite good enough, it can be tough. When this happens, you’ve got to pick yourself back up and try again until you get the result you need – in fact, it being more difficult to acquire can make the end result even more rewarding.

Emotional intelligence is crucial

Yes, there are some ‘technical skills’ you could probably do with knowing about to have a successful career in PR, but these can all be taught on the job. When looking for new people to join our team, I always keep more of an eye out for the ‘softer’ skills. PR is all about relationships (Public Relations: it’s in the name), so being able to read people and use emotional intelligence to make the right decisions is so important. PR isn’t black and white - and you’ll sometimes have clients that don’t give it to you in black and white - so being able to read between the lines will serve you well. So, when you’re thinking about any additional courses, or self-learning, you could be doing to build up your experience bank, don’t always just prioritise the more technical-focused skills.

The role changes, quickly

Because of how quickly the media and the communications landscape changes, it’s important to understand that your role will likely change a number of times over the course of your career. When I first started out in PR in 2011, I was doing a very different job from the one I’m doing now – and that’s nothing to do with seniority or progress, it’s more to do with the fact that it’s a completely different industry now. We’ve moved from doing solely traditional methods of PR, such as press releases, media trips and media placements, to the role now incorporating everything from lead generation and business consultancy, to social media, content creation and link building. You’ll never be bored, but it’s an industry where that passion to keep learning and evolving on the job needs to be really strong in order to succeed.

A good network is one of the most important things you can have

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t love networking. I don’t like small talk and it sometimes feels like a lot of that. But your network doesn’t need to be massive, it instead needs to be strong and dependable. You’ll build up your book of contacts as you go along, but it’s not just about acquiring these contacts in the first place, it’s about putting in the time and effort into keeping the relationship strong. On a very basic level that means: connecting with the person you met at that networking event last week on LinkedIn the day after, sending them a message and engaging with their content; asking that acquaintance to get involved in a project you’re working on that might be mutually beneficial; or checking up with that key journalist to see if you can contribute to that upcoming feature they’re working on.

You’ll make mistakes

A lot of them. But that’s okay. One of my earliest career memories was sending a press release to A LOT of people who I cc’d rather than bcc’d. I’ve like to caveat that with saying that was back in the days where it was pretty standard practice to bcc people into a release – poor practice now! At the time it felt like the end of the world, but I was so horrified that I never made that mistake again. My motto has always been that once you’ve made a mistake, it’s one you probably won’t make again – I find it’s a really good way to deal with it.

It’s okay to ask for help

I used to be really good at keeping problems to myself and feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. As I continued to do this and it started to have a detrimental impact on both my personal wellbeing and productivity, one of my old bosses told me that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. That was back in 2013, and whilst seemingly small, it was probably one of the best career tips I’ve been given to date. Asking for help and relinquishing control of some things was genuinely one of the best professional decisions I’ve made.

Still keen?

If you’ve read this and are still keen to carve out a career in PR, you’ve taken the first step in your journey to an exciting, dynamic and rewarding career. If you want to learn more about the types of work you might be doing in a role in PR, you can keep on top of the latest trends and what’s going on in the sector in titles such as PR Week, Campaign, The Drum, and Marketing Week.

And while we don’t have any roles open here at Refresh at the moment, you can keep checking back on our jobs page for anything that does come up.

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