I’m now almost at the end of my PR degree at Liverpool John Moores University. Where on earth has that time gone? These may have been the quickest four years of my life as it feels like yesterday I was sat in my room in Grand Central student accommodation cursing the fire alarm that was going off at 5am.
And now, here I am living in a much nicer non-student apartment feeling much more mature than my fresher days and also feeling like I’ve aged 10 years since then.
Four years ago, when I chose to study a Public Relations degree, I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I didn’t really know what PR was or where I was going to end up at the end of it. I knew that I wanted to work abroad somewhere in a media-type role. Was this course going to help me get there? Who knew? Better yet, I still don’t know where I’m going to end up.
Could I have picked a better course? I definitely don’t think so. Picking to study PR in Liverpool was probably the best decision I ever made, as I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t.
Was the course worth the crippling debt I’m going to have at the end? I don’t think so, but I don’t know if I would be where I am without the course. Although my PR degree has taught me a lot, when it came to working full-time in my first PR job, I realised there were many things it hadn’t taught me.
1. How to connect
A career in PR is made of connections and who you know. A contact at a news organisation, a local radio station or an event planner for example. Sometimes in order to get hired, you have to list contacts that you have in that relevant field. If you don’t have any? Well you need to start making some.
One major thing I learnt from my placement year at Coty was how small the beauty journalism industry is. It was only a matter of weeks before I could rhyme off who worked where and what their job titles were (and also the address and postcode of the building they worked in – mailing duties). More often than not, you seen a lot of the regular journalists hopping from magazine to magazine, but you rarely ever saw any new names appearing on the scene.
For example, during my year at Coty, Joely Walker left her position as Beauty Editor at ELLE to become Beauty Director at Grazia, Lottie Winter left her position at Vogue to become Beauty Editor at Glamour and Jo Elvin who was formerly Editor-in-Chief of Glamour became Editor of YOU Magazine.
I can’t say this is the same for every industry, but as a PR, you need to make a name for yourself in your chosen field and connect with those at the top or who are the main names you need to know. This is something that wasn’t really enforced on us for when we go to go out into the working world. In the new era of social media, there are now so many new ways to connect; through LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and blogging. Without my blog and placement year, I wouldn’t have ten connections in the PR world.
2. What you do outside your degree may be worth more than the degree itself
Yes congratulations, you have a piece of paper and have survived three or four years of university. But what experience in the working world do you have? What clubs/societies were you a part of? What did you do in your spare time when you weren’t in class?
You may have learnt the basics, but there is only so much a lecturer can teach you. What he or she can’t teach you is how it all falls into place on the job. Employers want to know about your previous experience, how much you’ve had and who it was with. They seem to place more favour on those that are more equipped for the job role (those with more experience).
What you do in your spare time can tell a lot about you. If you’re part of a sports club then you are most likely competitive, active, social and hardworking. If you are a member of a political society then you have a great interest in what goes on in the world and current affairs. Maybe you can debate and negotiate and want to fight for what you believe in. Perhaps if you have a part-time job or two, you know the working world and know how to fend for yourself.
This is 2019. Competition between students is as fierce as ever with those eager for top jobs gaining as much experience as they possibly can while at university or during the holidays. They’ll have a LinkedIn profile that won’t leave out a single detail of their life. They will also have professional social media accounts, or if not, they’ll be private. Those of us that are almost ready to go out into the working world know that any employer is going to Google you as soon as they see your application. Don’t be invisible, but be visible for the right reasons.
I can’t recommend getting work experience enough, especially when at university. You’ll have a few days off per week, or even during your study weeks and definitely make use of summer holidays. It may seem unimportant while in first year but trust me, you’ll majorly thank yourself when it comes to graduating and you already have a list of past experiences and contacts to help you in the pursuit of a graduate job.
3. How to perform the job itself
As there are so many varying careers from a PR degree, it would likely be quite impossible for lecturers to teach how one should perform each and every role available out there. However, an office role can have common aspects, no matter what industry. A lot of press officers will carry out similar duties, even if in different sectors.
The degree will give you the background information that you may actually never need. However, the practical aspects of the degree always come in useful. The presentations you make, group work and simulations allow you to practice and get an early feel for what will happen when you get your first PR job.
When it came to my placement year, there were many aspects of my job that I had to learn from scratch. Invoices, ordering stock, organising events, liaising with journalists, pitching ideas, talking to clients and even how to properly write an email. Yes, really. I loved my Assistant job as every day was always different and I was constantly busy and always on email.
From my uni, I would have loved if we had a PR careers day. Past graduates from the course in as many different job roles as they could possibly find. They could have came in and told us about their job and their typical day-to-day routine. Then perhaps afterwards, everyone could break off and students could have the opportunity to speak to the graduates in their desired job and talk to them some more about what it is they do. Just an idea.
I wasn’t too nervous when I started my placement role with Coty as I already had a few work experience posts before and had been working in an office throughout my second year, so knew what to expect of an office job. If I hadn’t had this experience, then I would have been pretty clueless. The main thing a degree cannot provide you, is physical experience in the job itself. That’s something you have to go out and find yourself.
*Disclaimer: I love my degree and couldn’t imagine myself on any other course. However, over the years, I have noticed a few things that were missing from the degree that would have been valuable. Was it worth the £30,000 tuition fees? No. But the experience and opportunities to make a name for myself in the PR world before even beginning a career definitely was. I’ll be writing a post reviewing my PR degree very soon.