Career Coach: How to get started in the world of PR
What led you to start exploring a career in PR?
It was serendipitous, quite honestly. I’d worked for a number of years as a journalist and as an event manager, so you could say communications and PR was my third career move - so far.
I realised that I wanted to work in this field in something that would be as much fun when working on a strategic level as it would be with the operational. I can get really bored when working without being involved in the big ‘why’ and ‘how’ decisions, but not getting my hands dirty with the nitty gritty is also not very stimulating.
Did you do any study or undertake qualifications in this field, or is it something that you’ve learnt on the job?
I did do a Masters in marketing and management at Stockholm University’s business school when I was doing my transition to this career. I’ve studied topics that have opened doors for my first jobs, like Corporate Social Responsibility, and Expressive Communications Strategies, where we focused a lot on place branding. Later on, I landed a job promoting the brand of Sweden outside of the country.
Otherwise, I still do at least one course every year. I don’t think you have to have formal education to work in this area, though. I’ve worked with many competent and creative people whose background wasn’t PR.
How did you land your first PR job?
First one in communications was a short gig as a consultant. I’d finished my Master’s thesis before the deadline, was bored and needed money. I knocked on the door of an intergovernmental organisation to introduce myself, and before I knew it I was given a writing job for an anniversary publication.
Specifically with PR, I became the media relations manager of the Swedish Institute, a governmental agency promoting the image of Sweden abroad in 2011. I applied for the job and got it.
Was working in PR like what you imagined it would be?
I don’t really remember what image I had of the job back then, but I certainly didn’t imagine myself having access to certain parts of it - like, working as a communications director or working with crisis communications, for example.
I was young and - like many others - didn’t really understand my own value. I’ve had the very good fortune of working with people who dropped challenging, high responsibility tasks on my desk without asking me if I felt comfortable about it. Today, my attitude is much different, thanks to that. I say yes first, then I figure out a way of delivering - it works.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I wanted more variation with the types of topics and industries I got to work with. I also wanted to earn more money.
What are some of the skills or attributes that you need in order to build a career in PR?
It’s hard work, and there are many twists and turns in every project. If you get upset by those unforeseen events and prefer a linear work process, this might not be for you. You need to be good with words and listen to your environment, your client, and the media discourse. You should be good with subtleties, so that you can decode what someone is ‘really’ saying.
If someone was thinking about PR as a career choice, what advice or guidance would you give them?
Watch out for the people who want you to become your job. I once went to a job interview in one of the big agencies and was told that I was expected to work 60 hours per week. When I told them that I can do that when the job requires, but not as a system, they proudly specified - 60 hours, week in, week out. I politely thanked them and withdrew from that recruitment process. Work is just work – no one will give you a medal for ruining your health because of your job.