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To succeed in PR you must have talent and tenacity, says The Skills Show’s Gail Cohen

18th July 2013

The UK PR industry is bursting with creative, quick-thinking and smart professionals, and is recognised for its diversity. This comes as no surprise considering the array of businesses the industry works alongside, ranging from blue-chip companies and household names to not-for-profit organisations and independents. Regardless of the size or scale, there’s no denying that PR is an essential driving tool for any business.

The variety of the public relations industry attracts individuals from a range of backgrounds, and, personally, I think we have this mixed bag of people to thank for giving our industry its unique flair and character. But, looking to progress a career in a sector as varied as PR, can be confusing. While historically people fell into PR, there are now more direct opportunities (for example, university and further-education courses and qualifications) and more choices. And, with social media at everyone’s fingertips, the industry as a whole is more technical and this is something the young people of today are embracing. What is changing are the skills required by PR professionals – tenacity, energy, determination and wit are still required, but there are a whole host of other skills that are integral to success.

Throughout my career I have worked with PROs from an eclectic range of backgrounds, from office administration to TV presenting and journalism. Each as successful at their job as the next. This success is not intrinsically linked to their educational background, but instead to their character, mindset and ability.

So what are the key ingredients to achieve a successful career in the industry and what is the best way to get there? As important as training and education is, in PR this will only assist in success and won’t guarantee it. A true PRO, holds three vital skills; the ability to work strategically and create opportunities, the tenacity to communicate well with journalists (and the robustness to get back up if – or should I say when - they get knocked back), and, last but certainly not least, the aptitude to sell-in a story that inspires a journalist and their readers, while also relaying a business’s core messages. Teamed with persistence, hard work and enthusiasm, these skills are inherent in a PRO.

In short, I wouldn’t recommend one route to career over another. Instead, I would advise PR hopefuls to focus on gaining as much hands-on industry experience as possible to understand how the PR process works; I cannot emphasise enough how important this experience will be. Every opportunity needs to be grasped with both hands – whatever sector it is in, whether it’s paid or unpaid. The industry is more competitive today than ever, so young people looking to become part of it cannot afford to be short-sighted. Experience outside of the PR industry can also be beneficial … I have worked with many hacks and politicians turned PROs and their ability to spot a good story, draw the right information out of clients and sell in their agenda, is enviable … so remember to keep your options open and think of the bigger picture before making a rash decision on something that could influence your future.

Gail Cohen is director of marketing, content and commercial development at The Skills Show, the UK’s largest skills and career event held at the NEC in Birmingham

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