As I start into the second semester of my final year at university, it’s interesting to reflect on just what lead me to study communication, management and public relations. Just over four years ago, I had a very different plan.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a primary school teacher. I had performed well all throughout school, I wanted to work in a job where I was helping people and, to be completely honest, I really did quite like the idea of summers off. I carefully chose my GCSE and A level subjects around a potential career in teaching and even progressed further throughout my grades in vocals and piano, knowing that it would serve me well as a teacher. But now, those skills simply serve me well at karaoke nights.
In January 2015, I went for my entrance interview for Stranmillis University. With the predicted grades I needed for admission, the interview was a key aspect of gaining a place on the course and I was determined not to fall at this hurdle. Following the advice from my parents, I went into the interview calm and collected and let my personality shine through.I nervously waited for weeks for the letter that would urge me on to achieve the grades that I needed. But when that letter arrived and I learnt that my application wouldn’t be taken any further, I didn’t know what to do.
All of my life, I had planned to be a teacher. I never thought I would even need to consider a plan B. Devastated and desperate for clarity, I got in touch with the university. I needed to know why I wasn’t considered good enough. The answer I got was simply; “We don’t think that you’re teacher material”. I started to re-evaluate everything; who I was, what I wanted to do and what type of person exactly did I come across as during a 20 minute interview?
In a discussion with one of my teachers, he mentioned jokingly that my personality really was ‘more fitting for a PR executive for a vodka company’. Whilst it was said in humour, I couldn’t deny that he was probably right. This was nothing to do with my love for every single flavour in the Absolut range, but I knew myself well enough to know that I was outgoing, organised, creative and thrived off deadlines and goals. Surely all of the skills and qualities that would serve me well working in public relations?
But at this point, I didn’t even know exactly what PR was, never mind whether it would be the correct career path for me. My knowledge of PR stemmed from Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and thankfully I was smart enough to know that a career in PR wasn’t all about organising glamorous launch parties, going to power lunches and barely ever spending any time in the office.
But now, as I edge closer to graduation and prepare to throw myself into the big bad world of public relations, I know exactly why a career in public relations interests me.
Ask any of my friends and family and they would probably tell you that I never have a free moment. I am constantly doing something, making plans, working on projects, planning my next trip. I tend to thrive when I have more going on- I don’t like being bored! A recent study revealed that PR is one of the most stressful jobs being listed alongside careers such paramedics and advertising executives (Krietsch, 2011). It isn’t the apparent stress that is attracting me to the career, but instead the fast-paced environment. I believe that when you have a passion for what you do alongside an understanding of what is required from you, the stress of your job is minimised and stressful moments become moments that add a little bit of excitement to the day. As someone who has previously worked in jobs where the only excitement would be if somebody brought a dog into work, this is definitely an important factor that I look for in my career.
Another personal attribute of mine that I believe has encouraged my interest in a career within public relations is my ability to ‘spin’ and persuade. Despite the negative connotations that spin within PR receives, I simply mean that I have the skill to communicate in such a way that has the ability to change how people perceive what I am saying. By no means am I claiming to be a professional liar, but I naturally try to see the good in every situation and focus on that. As for my persuasion techniques, I’ve managed to persuade my boyfriend to make me lunches for work nearly every day for the last two years- so if that isn’t skillful persuasion, I don’t know what is….
During my time at university, my course has provided me with the opportunity to study a wide range of modules that cover topics such as; marketing, political communication and media and society. The combination of media related topics that I have been able to learn about is one of the main reasons why I recommend my course to other people. I believe that it has been a great foundation in preparing me for a career within public relations as public relations can consist of a combination of many media related jobs. When coming up with ways to promote a client via a multitude of channels, you use skills relevant to advertising. In maintaining a strong brand image for a client, you are practicing brand management. I even believe that the skills taken to write an effective and informative press release are those that would be required from a journalist. When pursuing a career in PR, you really are pursuing a blend of many media related jobs- all of which I believe to have gained experience in through my varied university course.
As a career in public relations involves many different media related roles, it can provide you with the chance to work more specifically within an area that interests you. According to Johnston and Zawawi (2004), there are more than twenty roles and areas within the PR industry that you can specialise in. I believe that as work takes up such a large part of your life, it is important to be doing something that interests you and matches your motivation. Although I have a great interest in politics, which would suit me well to work within public affairs and lobbying, my one true skill that I believe will serve me in my future career is planning and organising. I am quite lucky to come from a family who are very laid back and even more lucky to have found friends who are happy to let me take control of most of our plans we make together. They all know that it brings me happiness to organise events, make travel plans for holidays and to have control over situations. My personality would definitely be best suited to event management. But the best thing about a career in public relations? No matter your personality, you would be able to find an area within it to suit you.
From press releases to blogging, writing is a major element of a career within public relations. I have always enjoyed writing from a very young age. I remember our old family computer when I was in primary school; it didn’t even have the internet, but I spent most weekdays after school on this computer, writing short stories and daily diary style entries (I was basically way ahead of my time with the whole blogging craze). Whilst I never thought that I would be pursuing a career in which I would get the opportunity to use my creative writing skills, I have to say that it is one of my biggest motivations now for my growing interest in a career in public relations.
As I write this essay, it is a little over 4 months before I will be graduating from my communications and public relations degree. Given the opportunities and experiences that I have gained through studying my course, I have never been more thankful for that rejection letter I received in 2015.
Lucy Sempey is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – @LucySempey ; LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucy-sempey-482ab9130/