“You could sell ice to the Eskimos.”
Although the correct term is ‘Inuit’, my nine-year-old self overlooked this faux pas in the Young Enterprise workshop as visions of world financial domination flooded my impressionable young mind. Before my eyes, my future as a brain surgeon and part-time lawyer morphed into the ambiguous and unimaginative title of ‘someone who sells things’.
Primary school Georgia: The next Richard Branson
As you can tell, I was never a particularly focused child. A magpie at heart, I latched onto whichever professional prospect shone brightest to me at that fleeting moment in time. However, the Great British Education System in all its stark realities quelled my buoyancy by bringing me down to earth with a dull yet resounding thump.
“Yes, Drama is all well and good, but science is where all the jobs are.”
“Business is a cut-throat world. Have you considered teaching?”
“Medicine applicants discuss uni here, law applicants there. English? I suppose you could go with the undecided group.”
In the words of John Lennon, “When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years / Then they expect you to pick a career.” How was a will-o’-the-wisp like me supposed to commit to a lifetime of 9 to 5? Sifting anxiously through university prospectuses, one course subtly glinted to me despite the matte paper: Communication Management and Public Relations. I knew I could communicate, but PR? There’s a thought.
4 years later, I type this essay as a fully-fledged, eager beaver, signed sealed and delivered CMPR student – Public Relations career, I’m yours. Here’s what made this job-market Jezebel into an honest PR professional in the making.
Full disclosure, my indecision did not preclude me from the part-time work necessary to thrive in the 21st century – iPhones don’t grow on trees after all! Working in the opening crew for Northern Ireland’s first self-serve Frozen Yoghurt shop, I was adept at communicating its novel concept to all strata of society wanting their dairy-free fix. Whilst I’ve spilt more 10 litre tubs of liquid froyo than I care to recall, any tricky customers or awkward new starts were sent straight to me and left smiling. In a grassroots way, this was Public Relations 101.
My first attempt at a latte – perhaps the real reason I stuck to manning the till
As Public Relations is a tool used across nearly every industry, my flighty nature soars in this profession. Almost every industry is realising the effectiveness of Public Relations to their business, so successful PR practitioners can flit between locations and lines of business until they decide to make nest in a particular niche. With skills stretched and knowledge and connections amassed, the hard work will only serve to show your versatility.
PR is often tarred with the brush of impracticality, when in reality it is highly skill-based. The aforementioned skills and connections therefore are not only a desirable condition on job applications, but essential criteria. Many office-based jobs have set functions which rarely require upskilling from an employee unless new legislation or software requires it. A career in PR requires constant expertise updates, seldom through stuffy seminars but more likely through on the job training (often constructive criticism from experienced colleagues) and your own initiative. PR is a rare line of work where frequently asking questions and spotting gaps in your skillset is not an admission of weakness that will adversely affect your progression, but in fact shows ambition and an aptitude for successfully navigating an ever-evolving external landscape. Curious cats might find a reprieve working in a PR department and I would be happy to have them as colleagues (and long as they can give me tips on Google analytics)!
Daljit Bhurji in ‘Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals’ cites being a prerequisite quality of a successful PRP is that of a technology enthusiast, as PR often involves near-constant interaction over as many platforms pertaining to an organisation as possible. Now if you ask my mother, I have this in the bag, as in her opinion I’m in danger of all manner of health problems due to overuse of my phone. Whilst I beg to differ, I can agree that technological literacy is a trait that has been baked into me, as I bridge the cut off between ‘Millennial’ and ‘Gen-Z’ with a 1997 birth date. I have grown from MSN Messenger and Bebo into a stereotypical fervent Instagrammer, as expected of a 22-year-old. I love (attempting to) master different media platforms – why not get paid for it?
Even from my experience in an in-house capacity, PR practitioners are called to be all things to all people, with no daily workload the same. Yes, come Monday morning I’ll be wholeheartedly belting 9 to 5 in the shower, but in my opinion, the variety of PR work is second to none. Firstly, not only do you need to work cohesively with your own team, I believe cultivating personal connections in each business department can allow successful circumvention of internal issues and also provide expert sources for credible communications with external parties. Secondly, you are one of very few parties in an organisation given the proverbial hall-pass to step foot outside the office walls in everyday activity. After placement year, I cannot tell you how liberating a drive to a business park in Omagh can be as you smugly wave goodbye to your desk-bound colleagues! Thirdly, PR work keeps your ego in check, as you’ll be expected to chip in with anything and everything, especially when running events. Be prepared for early starts and late nights, parallel parking vans and sellotaping 500 sunglasses under chewing gum riddled chairs (don’t ask). However, facilitating focus groups in different areas of the country with a healthy lunch allowance, setting up photo opportunities in fishing boats and glamming up for awards ceremonies do more than make up for the grind!
A day in the life of a PR Professional
Being on the front lines of an organisation’s outward interactions gives Public Relations practitioners (PRPs) invaluable insight into how best to shape the future of a company, as they surmount mountains and molehills of disasters, frequently spotting them ahead of time to maintain a company’s image (just call me Olivia Pope). From this, PR is now being argued by modern scholars to be a highly effective management tool to inform organisational strategy. The dynamism of PR cannot outweigh the satisfaction of being able to look at an improved organisation and silently patting yourself on the back for a job well done.
Any Public Relations practitioner worth their salt will be able to spin an issue to present it favourably to particular publics. However, for a sustainable PR career, one must be able to do this authentically by genuinely connecting with interested parties, using credible sources to do so. Being stubbornly optimistic and grounded in a strong belief system, I am genuinely so excited to get down to the nitty gritty and sincerely endeavour to improve business operations. Sound a bit wide-eyed? From a cursory Google, Impactreporting.co.uk cites that “94% of Gen-Z think companies should address critical issues” and “55% of consumers are willing to pay extra for products or services from companies that have dedicated social impact plans”. Idealism is the new realism.
On this point, one of the largest employers for PRPs is the voluntary sector. I have always wanted to use my skills to benefit of others, so a PR career allows me to do so every day. Through the now broadly recognised importance of Corporate Social Responsibility, many businesses are creating mutually beneficial partnerships with charities spearheaded by PR departments. I find this issue so interesting I have decided to investigate it in greater depth through my dissertation in the hopes of carrying it forward into my PR career, either on behalf of or alongside a worthy cause.
Though less glamorous, Public Relations is more frequently being utilised in internal communications to motivate workers and involve them in the company’s vision for the future. From placement year, I learnt that truly motivated employees don’t feel like cogs in a machine, but valued contributors linked up with other players to achieve a shared goal. A PR job is perfectly placed for this, inextricably linked to an organisation’s vision, embodying it by giving it a voice and occasionally lending it a face. My PR ‘dream job’ isn’t specific, I only hope to be fortunate enough to immerse myself in a passionate, practical and positive company that’s willing to listen to others in other to maximise its potential.
And that, dear readers, is why a career in PR interests me. Have I sold you yet?
Georgia Galway is a final year student in Communication Management and Public Relations (BSc) at Ulster University. She can be found at – Instagram: @imthatgalwaygirl and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgia-galway-24a568153/