Getting a Graduate Job in Public Relations (PR)

Public relations is a key part of how companies maintain their public brand presence. Here’s how you can get started in this line of work.
Ivy Simon
Editorial Writer
Public relations is a key part of how companies maintain their public brand presence. Here’s how you can get started in this line of work.

What is Public Relations (PR)?

As the name implies, public relations (PR) is about influencing public perception of a company or organisation. This is important because public perception of company plays a huge role in whether it survives or succeeds. 

PR practitioners accomplish this by tacking the issue from multiple angles. They advise management and staff on how to maintain a good public image, spread awareness of an organisation’s accomplishments in the media, and also mitigate damage to an organisation’s reputation if a crisis occurs. 

PR roles can be divided between external and internal communications. External communications involve managing relationships with the media, suppliers, the government, key customers, and investors/shareholders. Internal communications are about managing the relationship between the organisation and its employees through tasks like disseminating internal bulletins, advising management on how to communicate with staff, and mediating internal issues before they spill out into the public sphere.

What are the differences between PR and marketing?

Both PR and marketing professionals share one common goal, and that is to promote a company’s brand. At times, PR and marketing professionals may even work together in the same team. Though in larger firms, they are more likely to be in separate teams. 

Both PR and marketing professionals may share some of the same tools. For example, a business social media account may include content about product launch and partnership promotions (marketing), as well as brand identity and company values (PR). 

However, some differences between PR and marketing are:

  • Marketing generally supports a company’s sales by promoting products or services, while PR focuses on maintaining the company’s overall reputation and building relationships with external parties. 
  • Marketing is paid for by organisations in exchange for ROI (return on investment). For example, marketing professionals may spend a certain amount on online advertising to increase the number of click-throughs to their website. PR, on the other hand, is often “organic” and unpaid, but grants benefits for both parties. For example, a PR press release gives journalists something to publish, and the organisation gets exposure in exchange. 
  • A company usually has more control over marketing messages, placement, and timing because it is all paid for with potential ROI in mind. In PR, messaging is often published by a third party (e.g. a news outlet) and there is no hard guarantee of positive results or even being featured. However, PR professionals can still influence this through the press releases they distribute and the relationships they cultivate. Because the resulting coverage looks more “organic”, it will likely have more credibility in the eyes of the public than whatever the organisation directly says or pays for. 

What is it like to work in PR?

There are generally two types of PR positions: working in-house for a company (across any industry sector), or working for an external PR agency. Both with require you to handle media campaigns, deal with press communications, and write press releases as well as track media coverage and handle outside enquiries.

To succeed in PR, you'll need excellent face-to-face communication skills, strong writing skills, and the ability to think creatively. You will need to be great at networking – meeting new people in all kinds of settings and following up with them afterwards. You'll also need to be comfortable with technology and social media, as these platforms are now essential tools for PR professionals.

There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved. Expect to spend a lot of your time building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, negotiating with media outlets and channel holders, and stepping in to do damage control if something goes wrong. Working hours can therefore be long and irregular, as you may have to rush to meet press deadlines, attend events or conferences outside of office hours, or be on-call to make last-minute adjustments before something goes live.

With that said, if you are the kind of person who is creative, great at managing relationships, and thrives in fast-paced, high-pressure environments, this could be a very rewarding career line for you. To balance out the multi-faceted, high-pressure pace of work, PR jobs often pay very generously the higher up the ladder you climb. 

What degrees are preferred for PR jobs?

There are typically no hard subject requirements for entry-level PR jobs. However, if you have studied a related undergraduate degree (e.g. PR, journalism, marketing, communication, etc.), it may give you a head start in gaining experience and building up important skills.

While you don’t need any formal qualifications in PR to get started, what matters more is relevant work experience. As a student, be on the lookout for internship or work experience opportunities that let you do tasks like write press releases, compile media clippings, or work on marketing communications for a company or brand.

Many PR agencies and corporate communications departments do offer internships to students, and this can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Another alternative method of getting experience is to volunteer for a non-profit organisation, helping them with their external communications and PR work.

How to get an entry-level PR job

PR jobs are usually quite publicly advertised. Keep an eye out for postings on job portals, LinkedIn, or company websites using keywords like “public relations”, “communications”, or “corporate communications”.

PR graduate programmes don’t usually exist, but a graduate programme in marketing could be a route into a PR career. Some marketing graduate programmes explicitly cover PR as one area of rotation. PR is sometimes also a rotation on general business graduate programmes or similar management trainee programmes at large employers.

Regardless, networking is a crucial part of a PR career, and the odds of you finding a route into this industry increase if you make the effort to do so. Talk to potential recruiters at career fairs or networking events. Connect with PR professionals on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, and engage with their content. This will help you build relationships with people in the industry and stay up-to-date with job openings.

Entry-level roles in PR will usually start you off as a PR assistant in a supporting role for the rest of the team. You will be asked to track media coverage of the organisation, put together press kits, or assist with research for campaigns and smaller presentations. However, this line of work usually moves quite fast. Once you have sufficiently demonstrated your skills, you may be trusted to liaise with clients or media outlets, write full press releases, or handle aspects of a campaign within a couple of weeks. 

In general, promotion prospects in PR are quite steady and you should be able to progress relatively quickly. Once you are no longer an assistant, your job title might be PR officer, PR executive, press officer or communications officer. With enough experience, you could be promoted to PR manager. 

If you're looking to upskill, there are postgraduate courses available in PR and related fields, such as a Masters of Communication or a Masters of Public Relations. These courses can be designed for working professionals and often offer flexible study options, such as evening classes or online learning.