Are you thinking about getting a job in public relations?
Landing your first job can feel scary—especially if you’re doing a complete career change, or starting with no experience.
But it is possible; you can land a job in PR without tons of experience.
In fact, you’ve likely already got skills that can serve you in your first PR job. And, it’s easy to get some basic experience to prepare you for that first role.
In this guide, we’ll talk about:
- What a PR job looks like
- The different PR roles
- The skills you need to get a job in PR
- Whether PR qualifications are actually important
- 5 practical steps to land your first PR job
Ready? Let’s get to it.
What is a job in public relations like?
Before we dive in, let’s start by taking a look at a day in the life of a PR professional.
It’s a PR person’s job to take care of a brand’s image. It’s their responsibility to get coverage in media such as newspapers or online publications, and think of new and exciting ideas to help them raise awareness for the brand.
(PR agencies are the same, except you might be doing that for a range of different businesses.)
Somebody working in PR typically works on jobs like:
- Brainstorming new ideas
- Creating surveys and collecting data
- Writing press releases
- Pitching those press releases to journalists (either by email or over the phone)
- Forming ongoing relationships with journalists
- Monitoring newspapers, social media, and print for media coverage
- Finding unlinked brand mentions
- Reporting on links and coverage (and delivering that to clients, if necessary)
The different types of PR jobs
Everybody on your PR team cobbles together to get those tasks done. But, the exact tasks each individual person does depends on their role.
Typically, there are four types of jobs when it comes to PR:
- PR Assistant: This is the entry-level job for someone just getting into the world of PR. They’ll be helping other executives on their team with smaller tasks—such as brainstorming new ideas, or pulling coverage.
- PR Junior Executive: A person at this level has a solid understanding of how PR works, but not much experience. Their tasks include finding brand mentions, and asking for those to be turned into links. They might also draft press releases for their PR Executive to review.
- PR Executive: At this stage, you’ll be able to do most of the PR tasks we talked about—such as writing press releases and forming relationships with journalists. You might also be involved with training your lower-level PR team.
- PR Manager or Director: This person is responsible for a brand’s entire PR strategy. It’s their job to approve campaigns, plan timelines, and report on success. They’re often the client-facing PR person if you’re working in an agency.
What skills do I need to get a job in PR?
There’s no doubt that working in PR means you’ll need to have a specific set of skills.
However, there is some good news: you probably already have those skills. You can pick them up through other non-PR-related jobs or side projects.
For example: an essential skill you’ll need for a successful PR career is communication. In your daily job, you’ll be talking on the phone with journalists, working with your team, and sometimes communicating with clients.
Poor communication can sabotage all of those tasks, and put your PR campaign on the back burner. Yet you might’ve already picked up and developed that skill from a previous job.
Somebody working in PR needs to be able to communicate not just face-to-face, but in written form, too.
You’ll be writing lots of content in your PR job, including emails, press releases, and coverage reports. Poor writing skills might mean you suffer with landing coverage, in the first place. After all, how can you land coverage for a press release that’s badly written?
The final important skill for a successful PR career is creativity. A huge part of your job is finding ways to secure coverage; you don’t always land that by taking the most obvious strategy.
For example: what happens when your great idea doesn’t perform as well as you’d expected? Or your press release gets overpowered by a breaking news story? Or your client pushes back on an idea you’re confident about?
Creativity will see you through all of those incidents.
Do PR qualifications matter?
Some universities offer degrees in public relations. They teach you the basics (like writing a press release and getting coverage), but also promise to dive deeper into psychology and brainstorm PR campaigns that are more likely to work, scientifically.
However, research shows that just 17% of PR practitioners have degrees in either PR or communications.
That’s because of the important skills we just talked about.
You can work on your writing, communication, and creativity skills with other jobs. They’re three versatile skills that you can develop from any job—hence why over half (57%) of people currently working in PR have degrees in a completely different subject.
The bottom line is that official PR qualifications don’t matter.
What’s more important is whether you’ve got the skills needed to be a successful PR executive—and the experience to back it up.
How to land your first PR job: 5 simple steps
Ready to get your first PR job?
Even if you’ve got no experience (and aren’t really sure where to start), here are five simple steps to help you land your first job in public relations.
Get some PR experience
Earlier, we mentioned that most PR professionals don’t actually have a qualification in public relations. So, how did they land their job?
The answer: through experience.
Experience is everything when it comes to PR. The people hiring for their PR team want to know that the person has some idea of what they’re doing—it’ll give them some confidence knowing they’re hiring someone with the basics.
But here’s where the good news really comes in: you can land your first PR job without any professional experience. You can take your experience into your own hands, and start to build your knowledge without an official PR job.
For example, you can:
- Practice writing press releases and save them as samples to show the company you’re applying to work for (even if it’s for a fictional brand)
- Play with popular PR tools and start learning how they work—especially those with a free or personal plan
- Try getting press coverage for yourself using tactics like guest posting for sites like Huffington Post
- Volunteer for charities or nonprofits and help them with their own PR
- Read PR and marketing publications like PRWeek, Campaign Live, and PR Moment to see real-life examples, and stay updated with best practices
Start building relationships
Once you’ve got some PR experience, you should start to focus on building relationships.
This includes relationships with journalists—the people who’ll give your business coverage on their newspaper or website.
The easiest way to do this is to start following journalists on social media. Look at the publications you’d love to get coverage on (such as The Sun or The Lad Bible), then search LinkedIn to find journalists who work there. Start engaging with their posts.
That way, you start to build recognition with them—which could help secure coverage when you start pitching press releases to them.
But you should also start to build relationships with other people, too.
The saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” really comes into full force when you’re working in public relations.
Why? Because you can get coverage (and help with PR ideas) from your network.
Let’s say you’re writing a press release for a client, for example. You can use your network to get quotes from other people—potentially boosting the chances of getting coverage because your content seems less biased.
(The same applies in reverse: you can contribute quotes to other people’s press releases and get coverage or links off the back of it.)
Strong relationships are the best-kept secret in PR. Remember that before you start applying for your first PR job; it’s a huge advantage to have a black book of contacts when trying to beat other people for the same job.
Browse PR job boards
You’ve got experience to back-up your skills. Next, you’ll need to search for a place to work (if you don’t already have one in mind, that is.)
You can find PR jobs by searching media job boards. Often run by the publications PR professionals read, it’s a great way to sift through job postings and see which companies are hiring.
Here are some popular PR job board options to help you get started:
Once you find one you like, shoot your CV and cover letter, making sure each plays to the skills and experience a hiring manager would want to see.
Research the company you’re applying to work for
Managed to land an interview for a PR job you recently applied for? Awesome!
Next, you’ll need to do some research on the company itself. This will help you during the interview process—and make sure you’re not caught off guard by any questions. (It’ll help you show off, too, because you’ll be able to talk about them.)
The simplest way to do this is by figuring out where they get coverage, and which type of content they use to do so.
Head over to Google and search their brand name in quotation marks.
Then, select the “News” tab. This shows all the pieces of coverage they’ve secured which contains their brand name:
Applying to work at a PR agency? You should also look at their clients, and scan the agency’s website for tips that might help you during the interview.
This includes answers to questions like:
- What type of clients do they work with? (B2B, B2C, or a specific industry?)
- Where do their clients usually get coverage?
- Do they list their process on their website?
- What results have they got for clients? How? (Check their case studies for this)
Knowing this before your interview means helps you prove you actually know what you’re talking about—even if you don’t have any PR experience.
Plus, you can prepare a list of questions to ask at the end of the job interview based on things you couldn’t find during your research.
Prepare for your PR job interview
Got an invite to interview? Great job—but you’re not finished yet.
You might have 8 other people interviewing for the same PR executive role. You’ll need to spend some time practicing the common questions your interviewer might ask, including
- Why do you want to work in PR? Show the interviewer that you’re able to communicate by giving them a handful of clear and concise reasons why you’d love to work in PR. These might be: you’re always reading newspapers and notice how bad coverage tends to be, or you’ve spent your childhood learning how to use social media, and now you want to apply that to a brand’s profile.
- How would you handle a social brand crisis? PR isn’t just about getting new coverage; you’ll also likely be handling brand crises when things go wrong. Think about how you’d handle this—you might get asked during the interview.
- What do you like about our business/PR agency? Prove you’ve done your research! Feedback to them about their process, coverage, or clients. For example: “I want to work for your PR agency because ABC is one of your clients, and your recent campaign got XYZ results on this publication—which I read every day.”
- Which PR tools do you know of? Again, your research sets you up for a perfect answer. You should’ve played around with certain PR tools (or at least have a vague idea of what they do) before your interview.
- What’s your favorite type of PR campaign? Spend some time learning about the different types of PR campaigns—such as news-related releases, content using original survey data, or newsjacking. Pick a favorite.
Use these tips to land your first PR job
As you can see, landing your first job in PR doesn’t have to be daunting.
You can pull skills from other areas, and create your own experience, to help you get your first professional role. Just make sure to rely on your connections, research the company you’re applying to work for, and prepare for your interview.
There’s no reason why you can’t land your dream public relations job.