How to land your first PR job

16th June 2021

What is the difference between PR, marketing and advertising?

A career in PR can be exciting and fulfilling, enabling you to develop a range of valuable skills. But where you choose to work – and the clients you choose to work with – can make all the difference when it comes to your role and career. If you haven’t yet worked in the industry it can be difficult to unpick which agency or sector is best for you. So here are some key things to consider when looking for your first PR role, to help you find the perfect role for you.

Do I want to work in PR, marketing or advertising?

PR, marketing and advertising are very different beasts. But unless you’ve worked in the industry (or know somebody who does) you might not fully appreciate how the three disciplines differ.

  • PR stands for ‘public relations’ and is all about the media. A job in PR predominantly involves securing organic (unpaid) coverage for your clients in different publications – from newspapers and magazines, to radio programmes and podcasts. PR professionals will pitch stories to journalists to secure media coverage, and will sometimes incorporate social media content, influencer collaborations, events or creative content into PR campaigns, to boost their reach.
  • Marketing is a more general term that incorporates a range of different disciplines. For example, a marketing team might include PR people, social media coordinators, influencer marketers and digital marketing specialists. Depending on where you work and the size of your team, a role in marketing will vary wildly. So if applying for a role as a ‘Marketing Executive’ or similar, be sure to find out from your prospective employer exactly what your responsibilities will be and how the team is structured.
  • Advertising is any content that is paid for by a brand. Whereas media stories secured by PR people tend to be written by journalists for free, advertisers will pay large sums of money to have their ads or banners displayed on a billboard or news page. A role in advertising could involve anything from working on the team that comes up with the concepts, to securing ad space as a ‘media buyer’. The look, feel and nature of advertising vs. PR is very different and they each serve a different purpose. Advertising is not organic and is always paid for. 

Do I want to work at a big agency, a small agency or in-house?

So you’ve decided that you’re definitely interested in working in PR. But where do you want to do it? Your role will differ significantly depending on whether you opt for a big agency, a small agency, or an in-house position.

  • Big agencies tend to have large teams of PR professionals working on one client or brief. Starting out you might only support on one or two client accounts. Depending on the size of the agency you might not get much face-to-face time with your clients at the beginning, but you’ll likely get plenty of structure and support by virtue of working in a big team. In an entry level position your role might feature things like pulling together media lists, doing research for a campaign or press release, or sending out products for journalists to try.
  • Small agencies tend to have smaller teams of PR professionals working on each brief. This means you’re likely to take on lots of responsibility from day one, and your contribution will be highly valued by virtue of working in a smaller team. You will likely work across multiple accounts, rather than just one or two; and in addition to research you might be asked to pitch to journalists and come up with new ideas for your clients. Depending on the size of your agency, you might find yourself in charge of a particular client after just a few weeks. At a small agency you’ll learn on the job and will quickly be exposed to lots of different elements of PR.
  • In-house PR is very different to working at an agency. You’ll often be working within a brand’s marketing department and will handle the PR for that brand only. This means you can get to know your brand inside and out, and work closely with the wider team to ensure your output has the biggest possible impact. Generally, when working in-house, there’ll be less variety in your day-to-day than if you were working at an agency across multiple different clients. 

Whether you opt for a big agency, a small agency or an in-house PR role is entirely dependent on your personal preference, working style and personality. Some people thrive in a small team where they’re thrown it at the deep end and can learn lots straight away. Others prefer the comfort of a big team with plenty of structure and support. There’s no right or wrong, but it is important that you consider the environment best suited to you when applying for a job in PR.

What type of clients would I like to work with?

Just as important as the size of an agency is the type of clients they work with. The clients dictate your day-to-day, so you need to make sure you’re applying to brands and agencies that operate in sectors you’re interested in. For example, if you’re passionate about health and science there’s no point applying for a role at an agency that specialises in food and beverage PR. You’d be better off looking for a health-focused PR agency that has lots of clients in a sector that piques your interest.

Do some digging into the company or clients you’ll be working with before applying to any PR role, as the role will differ greatly depending on these factors.

How deep is my understanding of the media landscape? 

Any PR role requires a working understanding of how the media works. So before applying, try to ensure you’re clued up on the media outlets you might be targeting in the role you’re going for. If you’re applying for a role at an agency that specialises in luxury travel for example, you might have a look at the Sunday Times Travel Section or publications like Conde Nast Traveller. If you’re going for roles in tech or startup PR, you might research tech journalists at the national papers, as well as publications like Sifted or Wired and podcasts that are popular in this space.

Any role in PR starts and ends with media coverage, so an understanding of different publications and what their focus is will be an important part of your job. Make sure you feel confident discussing different media outlets at an interview. This will help you demonstrate your passion and understanding of the industry you’re entering into.

What makes for a good story?

PR is all about storytelling. We tell stories to journalists – and if they like them, they’ll turn our stories into press coverage. This means that to work in PR you need to know what makes for a great media story.

This is where PR and other types of marketing differ. What we offer journalists can’t read like a sales pitch or a blog from a company’s website. We need to generate genuinely interesting stories that are relevant to the news agenda and add value for readers.

So before applying to your first PR job, have a think about what makes for a great news story or feature. Have a read around and research key journalists in the sectors you’re interested in. What themes are journalists focusing on at the moment? What are the elements of news stories that draw you in? How would you turn a client’s product into a story that people will genuinely care about? What information or assets might you need in order to do so?

Have a think about each of these questions before applying to your first PR job; as drilling down into what makes a great story – and how to convert a client’s offering into a story with impact – is central to any role in PR.

by Amy Mace, Senior Account Manager at Crest

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