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PR (Public Relations) activity covers all aspects of an organisation's business processes, from product marketing to internal communications. However, in short, its central activity is the support and development of a company's image and brand to help increase market share and profitability. Within this function, the PR department will often be responsible for anything from product launches, issues-based management, news and content development and crisis management. A PR graduate career is very desirable for those seeking a challenging but rewarding future.

Despite being dominated by the large US agencies, the UK public relations sector is arguably the most mature market of its type in the world. Over the past couple of decades, PR has become an integral part of all business communication, and has joined marketing and advertising at the board room level. During this time, the sector has also shed its "glamorous" image tag, as new boutique agencies have increased competition within the market. Work within PR is now often characterised by tight deadlines and long hours, and with these challenges organisations are looking for specific graduate skills, such as attention to detail and strong written capabilities.

The PR sector generally consists of two streams; in-house roles or working for an agency that is contracted out to clients. Graduate PR Jobs are available for graduates in both streams, and each can provide a varied and engaging career path. Both require the ability to handle campaigns, deal with press communications and write press releases as well as keep organised cuttings and handle outside enquiries. Social media and search engine optimization (SEO) are becoming increasing more important tools for those seeking to make it in PR. Graduates will need to be exceptionally good at networking, meeting and greeting as many people in a room as possible and also keeping in touch with them afterwards.

PR In House Team- Businesses rarely conduct their PR activity without support from external agencies, and therefore do not have a need for large in-house communications teams. As a result, there are less graduate PR opportunities within internal PR departments, although larger multi-national companies will recruit PR assistants on a regular basis.

PR agency - In the UK there are thousands of agencies offering PR services to clients across all sectors. The landscape is dominated by the four big players - Hill & Knowlton Strategies, Webber Shandwick, Brunswick and Edelman. These large agencies offer all aspects of PR communication, including corporate, consumer, finance, public affairs, technology, crisis communications and healthcare. In addition to these, boutique players tend to supply specialised services within one specific sector.

Average PR Graduate Salary

PR Graduate Career Path

Those entering a PR graduate career tend to join an agency model as they can offer greater opportunities and better training programmes. The learning curve within agencies is also much steeper, and therefore promotion and advancement is generally more achievable. Graduates can expect a varied workload, including the following:

  • Client management
  • First hand dealing with the UK and international media
  • A variety of day-to-day work (typically an agency consultant will work on 4 or 5 clients at a time)
  • Significant writing projects
  • New business activity and client pitching
  • Presentation work

Within the agency model, there is opportunity for graduate jobs in a number of fields, such as:

  • Corporate - working on the corporate image of a company, and how that image is perceived by other organisations or the public at large 
  • Financial - supporting the image of an organisation within the very specific field of finance. Activity is often conducted around mergers and acquisitions and financial results reporting 
  • Technology - developing communications strategies on a business-to-business level and a business-to-consumer level for technology companies 
  • Consumer - supporting clients which supply directly to the consumer market. This activity can range from food to cars to fashion, and concentrates on direct product promotion to specific consumer audiences 
  • Healthcare - developing communication strategies for a myriad of organisations within the health industry, including drugs companies, government bodies and food producers 
  • Crisis communications - protecting or minimising the effects of bad publicity 
  • Internal communications - supporting organisations in their communications with their own employees 
  • Sports / Sponsorship - developing communications plans to support an organisation's sponsorship of a specific sporting event 
  • Public affairs - the lobbying of government and public bodies to support an organisation's business strategies

Today, more than ever, companies need to communicate directly with a vast amount of markets and audiences. As a result, there has been a substantial increase in PR spend across all industries as organisations have realised the benefits of a strong public image. For example, it can be extremely important when it comes to communicating a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy as this can have a huge impact on their image. With this growth in budgets has come a greater opportunity for graduate employment as agencies look to develop a broader service offering.

Due to the nature of their work, PR agencies can offer a varied working brief and a strong career path. Graduates can expect to join a specific graduate training scheme or as an Account Executive within a number of account teams. Promotion from these roles can be reasonably rapid, rising to Account Manager, followed by Account Director, through to Associate Director within 5 to 8 years.

Graduates will often benefit from international travel as part of their job, and more importantly be at the very heart of many of their clients' business decisions. For instance, it is not uncommon for a consultant with a year's experience to be working directly with their client's board members and CEOs.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into PR graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for PR by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

PR agencies look for strong, all-round candidates with the gravitas to deal with clients of a senior level. As a result they require:

  • A top 50 university education with a minimum 2:2 grade
  • A strong degree. Successful candidates tend to have business-related degrees, life science backgrounds or essay-based courses such as English 
  • Candidates must have strong attention to detail, advanced writing skills, good presentation skills and the confidence to deal with board-level clients
  • A demonstration of related work experience on your CV or knowledge of the business environment is highly desirable
  • If the PR company to which you are applying works in a very specific sector, you must be able to demonstrate a strong interest in that area on your CV and cover letter

Sources for Further Information

The Charted Institute of Marketing
Institute for Public Relations
Institute of Promotional Marketing
Public Relations Consultants Association