The universities seem to be pumping PR graduates out like they’re going out of fashion. There aren’t enough places in agencies or in-house for half of them. As a small agency today, we receive at least 10 applications every week from PR students or recent graduates wanting work experience or a paid position. We ensure that we reply to every single one, but I thought I’d share some tips about how to stand out from the crowd.

1. Do your research

When you’re applying for a position at a company or PR agency find out what kind of clients do they work for. Do they specialise in a particular industry? If you’re keen on a career in fashion PR there’s no point in sending your application to an agency that specialises in technology for example. Same applies for the person you’re addressing. Get a name. Pick up the phone. Personalise it. ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ doesn’t cut it.

2. Get experience

A degree only shows you can attain a certain level of academic excellence and let’s face it more and more people have degrees these days. Theory is not the same as practice. I got my first job in PR working for an agency in London because I’d spent my summer after my second year working for a PR agency, for free. Now before you start telling me ‘it’s not legal’ or that I shouldn’t support ‘unpaid interns’, I did this for four weeks. After those weeks I explained to my employer that I would have to go back to my bar job to earn some money before I started my final year of study. They agreed to pay me, nearly twice the hourly rate I was being paid at the bar and they kept me on for an additional six weeks.

3. Get an international perspective

Employers value international experience. If you can get into an agency overseas, preferably in the UK or US, it will be highly regarded by a future employer. I went along to a Young Communicator’s Event a few weeks ago hosted by the PRIA in Melbourne, where they had a panel discussing their experiences overseas and how to find work. In the current economic climate, finding work overseas is tough, very tough, as people are holding onto their jobs. We’ve been shielded a bit from this in Australia, so even more reason to ensure you stand out from the crowd.

4. Get out there

Meet people. Have that coffee. It’s about relationships. Employers are much more likely to hire someone they’ve actually met. Don’t wait until you’re submitting your résumés before you begin networking. Start doing it now.

5. Understand industry issues

It is really important to have a firm understanding of the main issues within the PR industry. This can come from reading a variety of news sites and blogs like Marketing, Mumbrella, PR Week, PR Daily, Mashable or the Media Guardian. In addition, read books, listen to podcasts, read blogs, or better still set up your own blog. I’ve received applications from graduates keen to learn more about the advertising industry. That’s great I think, thanks for sharing, but that’s no help to me and my business. I want to work with people who are passionate about PR and understand its changing role and influence.

6. Immerse yourself in social media

In this day and age, it’s not good enough to leave social media to ‘the experts’, a separate ‘digital’ division or an external company that specialises in social media. If you’re going to make it as a PR professional today you need to understand social media and how it can help your clients. So set up a LinkedIn account, join groups, join Twitter and get involved in discussions.

7. Join a professional industry body

This might be the PRIA or the IABC for example. Student fees are offered. They host regular events and provide regular content, articles and resources which will not only help you for when you do get a job in the PR industry but can facilitate meeting new friends and contacts.

8. Get published

I’m constantly surprised at the number of people calling themselves ‘Communications or PR Professionals’ that can’t write. Of course it’s not all about writing, there are many other skills you need but this is a fundamental basic requirement. Perhaps approach a publication or blog and write an article for them or a guest post?  University newspapers or special interest blogs are all great places to get published.

9. Read. Everything

You need to understand the issues the media are talking about and the only way to do this is to read. Read newspapers daily, online publications, magazines, anything and everything you can get your hands on. Understand the different angles or stories publications run and know the difference between a feature, a news item, a case study and an opinion piece. The best PR professionals don’t actually read, they skim read everything.

10. Don’t give up

PR is a tough industry, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s hard to get a foot in the door sometimes, but if you do your research, work on improving your skills and can make a good case as to why an employer should give you a go, you’ll get there.

Jocelyn Hunter
BY Jocelyn Hunter ON 8 September 2011
Jocelyn is founder and managing director of BENCH PR, a Melbourne PR consultancy specialising in the B2B and technology markets. Jocelyn has over 17 years experience in PR, spanning big brands to small start-ups and strong international experience, having worked for some of the most awarded agencies in the UK and Australia.