Guest blogger, Sophie Mackintosh, explores how the range of jobs she did post-university provided unexpectedly useful skills for when she finally entered the world of agency public relations
My route into PR wasn’t simple. Like most graduates nowadays, I suffered through unpaid internships supplemented by working in a coffee shop, working freelance at night, and temping as a PA. While this was frustrating at the time, now that I’m in my dream job I’m realising that without these experiences I might not have been prepared for the PR world at all.
From what I’ve heard from wiser (older) colleagues and others in the industry, PR is changing enormously. Gone are the days when the main skill required was being able to blag your way through a press release for a technical product you didn’t fully understand, or write shining copy in fifteen minutes flat. Nowadays, in such a huge and rapidly-growing industry, the most valuable skills you can have are flexibility and confidence. With journalists being bombarded with pitches on all sides, making them believe that your client is the one they should be writing about is a daunting task.
The fairly recent addition of social media to the B2B PR landscape means that the traditional PR role now includes coming up with Facebook page content, blog posts, and maybe even infographics to share on Pinterest. It’s a strange mix of the sophisticated and casual; increasingly scientific theories and formulas about ROI and influence sit side by side with contacting journalists through Twitter because they won’t answer your emails. As a result, the industry is becoming more integrated as agencies realise they have to move with the times and come up with more innovative solutions for clients. For some that means incorporating SEO, for others it’s specialising in social media or offering production services. And that means that those working in the industry have to quickly adapt to follow these developments. A PR professional’s role no longer fits into one pigeonhole.
This is where my patchwork, post-graduation career comes in handy. While my English degree is enormously valuable to me – writing is still crucial to PR, especially given that we now find ourselves writing copy for a widening variety of mediums – the commercial world is very different to university. A degree alone wouldn’t have prepared me for the realities of PR, but dealing with stroppy customers and organising the schedules of high-flying bosses became a crash-course in the essential people skills that I eventually used as my PR launch pad. Doing all the jobs I did taught me tenacity, how to turn my hand to anything and, of course, how to take a deep breath and make very important phone calls without dissolving into jelly.
The PR industry is evolving in step with the media and getting increasingly complicated. As such there is no one specific skill that will carry you through – or one specific trajectory to get you where you want to be. But for me, and for a lot of graduates, this can be a bonus. Suddenly all the jobs I’d been doing made sense. They gave me writing and editing experience, flawless organisational skills, and the capacity to placate customers distressed by the foam on their wet lattes, all without breaking a sweat. Whoever thought those skills would come in just as useful – if not more so – than my first-class degree and array of marketing internships?
Sophie Mackintosh works at B2B PR firm TopLine Communications, and you can find her on Twitter on @sophmackintosh