Being a successful PR Student

by Andrew Clowes

Public Relations aims to build mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their various publics. A good PR specialist will engage with their target audience through the media to create strong relationships. Effective PR is an art, and it’s an art you can learn easily through a degree and relevant experience.

Studying public relations at university is one of few degrees that makes you infinitely more employable. It’s also one of the most appropriate courses for students looking for real-world experience in PR. Over the course of the time I’ve been here, I’ve learnt just as much from my work experience than I have from lectures, and that’s a good thing. Not everything can be lectured. Sometimes you just need to learn from your own mistakes.

At university, Public Relations is a relatively light course in terms of contact hours. Unlike some other degree courses, you won’t feel locked inside a lecture theatre all day – you’ll have some free time. Of course, you’ll be using some of that free time to do some of the recommended reading, or even filling it with a work placement.

During my first year on this course, we were asked to gain a work placement to fill a portfolio with real work. I found my placement in the Communications Department of WDH, a social housing company based in the Wakefield area. On this placement, I put into practice many of the skills I had been taught in lectures. All of the basic principles that you read about during your seminars are suddenly real, and your understanding of PR grows tenfold.

During my time on placement it was really time to get my head down and collect some real work. Working in a busy office definitely feels a world away from the lectures and seminars you receive at university, but it’s surprisingly easy to settle in to. After what felt like a short four-week placement, I was asked to stay on for another couple of months to help the communications team while they were understaffed. I of course took the opportunity and made some great friends and industry contacts to use in the future.

There are several defining qualities that you should have to be a successful PR practitioner and have an easier time getting through the degree course. Firstly, you need to be willing to work hard on learning outside of University. Extra reading is essential for reaching the top grades, and despite not being the most theoretically-based course, there will be a fair few essays to write along the way. Reading around your topic and doing your own research will always stand you a better chance of reaching the highest possible marks.

Secondly, you should always focus on being as adaptable as possible. PR offices and communication teams are often very busy places working on many separate projects set to many different deadlines. As an intern, you’ll mostly be given filler jobs – often involving a lot of different tasks. One moment you could be writing press releases, the next could see you organising a press list or researching something you’ve been asked to look out for. You need to be able to do all these things efficiently. In University, you’ll be working on projects independently or with a team. You can design presentations, compile reports, write essays, or be asked to make portfolios of work you have created. The more you can adapt, the more you can succeed.

Lastly, you need to be sociable. You’ve chosen a degree that leads into a customer facing role. You need to be able to communicate effectively with clients and the press. You have to be confident enough to handle yourself under pressure and make the right decisions. As long as you know how to engage effectively with people and form a persuasive argument, you’ll fit right into a PR career.

Wherever you go you can find the influences of good PR. This makes you one of the most valuable assets a company can have.

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