The journey from a creative to a creative PR professional

Creativity is deemed to be an essential quality of a PR professional as discovered by Parker, Wayne, and Kent Ltd. (2005) through their survey conducted amongst 104 professionals belonging to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Their survey discovered that 96% of these professionals considered creativity to play an extremely important role in the public relations process.

It could be argued that I was always destined to explore a career in public relations as I was often described as a very ‘imaginative’ and ‘creative’ child throughout my younger years. ‘She has some imagination’ my relatives would have said – and so I did. I had two imaginary friends: Lizzy and Dumb. They went everywhere with me at the annoyance of my sisters who were often demoted to the boot seats of our jeep so that my imaginary companions could sit beside me. I’m not sure whether this made me an imaginative child or just downright weird. I had great aspirations for my two best friends at the time. Lizzie progressed to be a hairdresser whereas Dumb, the more academic of the two (ironic I know), went on to attend University to become a doctor – but what did I want to be when I grew up? Well, a dancer of course, what else? I dedicated many of my junior days to blasting music in my living room, dancing until my heart was content and attending several dancing classes until one day, I decided it wasn’t for me, as most children do. Expressing my creativity and imagination through my work, however, is something I always knew I wanted to do, and I knew my future career had to involve this side of myself which I discovered from a young age.

During my teen years I began involving myself in creative pastimes such as drawing and painting which motivated me to opt for Art as a GCSE subject. My creativity also transferred to paper through my writing in English which I decided to take on for A level. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this decision would be beneficial in my future career when targeting publics as throughout A level English, I was taught to provide a deep analysis of written pieces composed from different points of view. I was never an overly scientific, mathematic, or athletic student in school. My performance was very much average in these areas and I didn’t really show much interest in pursuing them in the future. It was quite demotivating when I seen many students commended for being brainboxes and strong athletes, whereas there weren’t as many opportunities for the more creative students to portray their talents. However, growing up, my daddy ensured that my two sisters and I had a strong work ethic instilled in us from a young age. This work ethic enabled me to achieve my desired grades at both GCSE and A level and to this day it still enables me to work hard against any oppositions I face to do what needs to be done. I know that this will be useful throughout my PR career as I very rarely let anything stand in my way and will put in any amount of work needed to get a job done.

When it came to applying for UCAS in September 2016, I’m not going to lie, I had no clue what I wanted to apply for! At the tender age of 17 how are you expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life? I had expressed interest in mental health nursing as I had an unrelenting desire to help people and have an impact on the lives of others, however, upon taking part in a two-day work experience it was revealed that you had to be a very emotionally strong person with the ability to detach yourself from your patients – an ability I didn’t think I possessed and so it was back to the drawing board for me. When I was researching what I wanted to study at university, I discovered that a job in public relations would allow me to express my creativity through innovative ideas on how to make a brand stand out when developing PR strategies and campaigns (which is a concept I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout the 3 years of studying my course so far). This was what first sparked my interest in PR and applying to study Communication Management and Public Relations.

What does Public Relations mean to me?

Despite the copious hours I have spent studying CMPR over the past 3 years, when people ask me what PR is, it is still something I struggle to underpin and define as it is constantly evolving. CIPR define public relations as, “The result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour” (CIPR, 2015).

It wasn’t until I spent my placement year working at The SHS Group, Belfast, and was given the opportunity to put the theory I had learnt into practice, that I gained a better understanding of what a career in PR included. I spent my year shadowing Kellie-Ann Hoey, Head of Group Communications, working as a Communications and PR intern. The knowledge and experience I gained throughout my placement year has been invaluable and has without a doubt boosted the beginning of my career in PR. My typical daily tasks at SHS included designing graphics, updating social media platforms and company websites and circulating PR communications such as press releases and emailers. I quickly realised that the ability to social network is essential in PR. Throughout my time at SHS I connected with many different contacts in the industry who only spoke highly of the work I had completed, which massively heightened my confidence in the career path I had chosen. Although I would describe myself as a very sociable person which made it easy for me to connect with these contacts, I also discovered that it is just as important to humble yourself, prepare to be flexible and adapt to different situations in the PR world to ensure you present yourself and your brand in the best possible light – especially during a crisis.

It was at SHS that I learnt that public relations is an extremely fast paced industry with each day guaranteed to be different from the last. To me this is a very appealing aspect of the industry as I am someone who tends to get bored with the same old repetitive patterns and processes. A career in PR can also quite literally take you anywhere in the world you want to go. The reason simply being that every company needs public relations to some extent and travelling with the job is a definite career perk for someone with huge wanderlust. Another perk of the job is that you are not confined to a desk like most other 9 to 5 professions. This only enhances my perception that I would love a career in PR and as they say if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life!

Although a degree in public relations can take you down many different routes, the route I mostly gauged an interest in during my time at SHS was events management. I was heavily involved and had a great sense of responsibility in the organisation of launch events, company conferences, briefings, and seasonal parties. When organising my first event, I realised there is so much work necessary to host a successful event that I hadn’t even considered before, however, the sense of accomplishment you feel when the event you organised is a success not only to you but to others as well, is second to none and satisfies my need to impact the lives of others by providing them with a time to feel enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, each event brought it’s own set of challenges and stressful, ‘on the verge of tears’, moments as I navigated my way through the organisation of table plans, entertainment, guest speakers, taxi lists and charity activities. That is another thing about a career in PR; to be successful you must be on top of your crisis management game and be prepared for the worst to happen, armed with several back up plans and solutions for X, Y and Z. The stress that emerged from the trials and tribulations presented to me when organising events, could not outshine my desire to be successful and instead it provided me with an adrenaline rush that spurred me on and motivated me to overcome them.

In the PR world, it is essential that you keep yourself up to date with the latest trends to become fully aware of what your publics will want to see and engage with the most. As an avid social media user active on most platforms, who has a slight obsession with pinterest and reads far too many news articles, this is an enjoyable pastime for me. When I had finished my normal 9 to 5 day at SHS I often found myself screenshotting news stories and saving social media posts in the evenings which included material I thought could be beneficial to incorporate in our own PR strategies. This is the kind of work, to me that does not feel like work but that I get a great sense of pleasure out of.

Despite most of my work experience consisting of customer service and retail jobs, I value my past retail work experiences as great opportunities that have allowed me to develop skills which are frequently used in PR. I now have a better understanding of how customer needs can vary among different demographics and how in turn, they react to different situations. I hope to one day be working as part of a public relations and event management team at a global brand, but for now I look forward to improving the PR skills I have acquired so far and graduating in 2021.

Katie McKeown is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and LinkedIn.