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How to reskill into a career PR

Changing from one career to another, at any stage, can be frightening. From the outside, It can be hard to know if reskilling into the PR industry is even possible with the experience and skills you have from previous employment, where to focus your self-learning efforts on, and at what level you can expect to start at.

It also raises questions of whether it is worth it for employers. What do reskilled employees add to agencies? And, ultimately, should more efforts be taken to help reskill others into PR?

To help shine a light on these questions, we’ve reached out to a myriad of experts across the PR industry. Below, PRs and PR recruiters give their takes, advice and insight on reskilling into PR. Following that we’ve compiled industry specific advice for those coming from the financial sector, journalism, and recruitment.

Broader skillsets make for better PRs and more robust agencies

Iman Spearman, head of training and development at PRCA: “A large proportion of mid-career entrants into PR are from an adjacent industry - media, journalism - they understand what they are getting into and have confidence in their transferable skills.

“There are other professions that require strong communication and strategic skills, so if we were able to widen the understanding of the PR industry then we would expect to welcome a wider pool of people. Outside the UK, it is more common for people with a finance or a legal background to move into PR. Mid-career entrants into PR tend to want training in strategic planning, new business pitching but also in writing and presentation skills. Soft skills are in high demand.

“Within the industry itself, there’s a lot of churn: for example, people leaving internal comms roles in the public sector for in-house PR roles in the private sector, and agency people moving into charities. With around 100,000 practitioners in the UK, we’re still a small industry with a heavy representation of graduates of all disciplines. The more we can do to widen the demographics of the industry, the better we’ll be able to serve our public.”

It can be challenging, but it is possible!

Lucy Cairncross, managing director at recruitment agency VMA Group: “Reskilling into PR, though challenging, is possible. Some may find the switch easier than others. The key challenges are building a network of contacts, and having the confidence to pick up the phone and sell in a story, or manage a crisis in all the many forms they can take.

“Fundamentally, PR revolves around storytelling. Someone who can capture a narrative that entices and engages their audience will thrive. I think a key factor now in PR is recognising that the means of communication have changed. Those who can adapt to different communication channels, especially digital ones, and utilise new tools such as AI are sought after.

“PR is an exciting industry to be in and sits at the heart of so many organisations. Reaching out to those in the industry for guidance is a great place to start, and of course recruitment consultancies, like VMA GROUP, are always happy to offer advice.”

Agencies can benefit from new perspectives

Eesha Phakey, HR & talent acquisition manager at PR agency Rooster: “PR agencies get better and stronger when they mix the life and work experience held within the business. When we’ve had joiners from other disciplines, we make sure that the PR foundation skills are laid and developed quickly, avoiding making assumptions about learned ability. This also builds confidence quickly in the team member, so they can draw on their own experience more effectively.

“We create personalised onboarding plans, alongside SMART goals aligned to areas of development. A person's transferable skills and motivation for joining are key to helping someone make the PR pivot. The agency benefits from new perspectives, such as a client-side mentality or deep industry experience to underpin our sector thinking and service.”

Get to know the PR industry as well as you can ahead of time

Alishia Chitolie, director at Stir PR: “Reskilling into PR is more accessible than ever. There's an increasing variety of roles, thanks to agile agencies offering hybrid models or specialised services like integrated digital marketing, e-commerce, influencer, events to content development. Post-COVID, flexible working hours and locations, offers much more inclusivity as well for parents and caregivers for example.

“I think how easy reskilling is depends on who you're working with. Entering PR requires time and coaching, especially for first timers. While on-the-job learning is valuable, those coming in fresh need to understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what they're doing, as it can often be skimmed over in a fast-pace, high pressure, campaign period.

“You can learn PR process, but the best PRs I know have attention to detail, flexibility, curiosity, emotional intelligence, and resilience. My tip would be to read everything; get to know your media and the PR industry as well as you can.”

You may need to lower your starting level expectations

Dean Connelly, founder at PR recruitment agency Latte Recruitment: “It’s extremely difficult to reskill and move into PR, unless you are wanting to start at the bottom.

“The challenge for non-PR professionals is that if you want to move into PR at Account Manager level or above, you’ll be expected to know how to hi-jack the news, create storylines, understand how the media landscape works and more importantly, be able to check the work of junior level talent.

“It means that a career changer is often being taught PR skills by those that they are meant to be checking the work of.

“This is one of the reasons why PR struggles to improve diversity, especially at the senior level. They are unable to hire non-PR talent and hence diversity in the sector continues to come from entry-level talent. We have seen people make the jump but it’s often required a major reset of their expectations around salary.”

Self-learning is crucial to successfully reskilling into PR

Alex Aldrich, founder of agency Alex Aldrich PR: “Many creatives believe they might not have the necessary experience to lean into the industry, but PR all comes down to the art of storytelling. You likely already have this skill but need to realise it. In fact, you’re probably exceptional at it.

“If you come from a marketing, sales, or editorial background, you're already well-equipped for a career in PR. Skills like data analysis and copywriting can be applied seamlessly.

“For example, I have a journalistic background. After I completed my degree and gained some copywriting experience, I became aware that my skills were almost entirely transferable. We are contributing to the news agenda, just as a journalist would.

“I recommend working on your copywriting skills if you feel this is an area of weakness. PR relies heavily on conveying a message and engaging an audience. Undertake self-learning that covers the basics of PR outreach and more general link-building tactics to familiarise yourself with the industry too.”

Food for thought

We reached out to Jon Gerlis, head of public relations and policy at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) to look further into the data on individuals reskilling in the PR industry. It’s an area that isn’t often researched, but he did inform of a very interesting bit of data that could impact how agencies think about reskilling:

“The State of the Profession 2022 report shows that the fourth biggest challenge identified by those in the industry is the skills shortage (27%).”

Could more people reskilling, bringing those needed skills into PR from other industries, be the answer to closing the skill gap?

First-hand experiences on moving into PR

From the financial sector

Elizabeth Rayment, director at PR agency Your Mind Media: “Reskilling into Public Relations, particularly in financial services, can be a seamless transition for those with prior experience in the financial sector. Having previously worked in finance provided me with a unique perspective of the industry's intricacies, which can be invaluable when entering the world of media relations.

“Transitioning from financial services to financial PR can occur at various stages of your career. For me, it happened during the mid-career phase when I realised my passion for storytelling and communicating complex financial concepts to broader audiences and thus founded YMM - the marketing and PR agency that specialises in financial services. This shift not only aligned with my interests but also offered a pathway to merge my financial acumen with creative communication strategies.

“By focusing on financial PR, I could channel my experience in financial services into a role that allows me to navigate the industry's nuances effectively while crafting compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders. This tailored approach underscores the importance of aligning a career switch with your existing expertise and passions for a seamless transition into a new field of work.”

From journalism

Richard Griffiths, managing director at PR agency Citigate Dewe Rogerson: “For context, I was a business and financial reporter with BBC News for more than a decade before moving to the communications side.

“I never considered a career in PR in my early 20s. All I ever wanted to do was report on the news. I enjoyed understanding how the world worked and while I never considered myself especially gifted, the one thing I could do was write. There are a few transferable skills that I’ve found useful advising clients on comms. One that is crucial is an ability to listen and understand what’s going on.

“You also need to be unafraid to ask plenty of questions so that you can advise clients on the right response - what they should do - or not do - in what might be a challenging situation involving multiple stakeholders. We advise listed businesses and plenty in the private markets who face a myriad of different issues. They might be in financial services, the consumer and retail space, industrials and the built environment or TMT.

“While we all have different specialisms, we all need to get up to speed on issues quickly.

These kinds of skills and an ability to listen and then guide a client with tact but directly are crucial.”

Simon Coughlin, director at Babel PR: “Like many others, I moved into PR after a few years as a journalist - firstly as a reporter on a tech trade title and then on regional newspapers. I spent the first few years as a PR working in-house, with brands including Allianz and HSBC, before moving agency side.

“Many of the skills you gain in journalism are transferable to PR, including being inquisitive and having a nose for a good story. In both roles, you also need to have strong writing skills, and the short-hand I learnt before becoming a junior reporter is still useful when interviewing client spokespeople and taking notes during a journalist briefing.

“The main skill you need to develop when moving from journalism into PR, particularly agency side, relates to client service and commercial awareness. In a senior PR role, you need to keep your clients happy while ensuring the financial viability of the services you provide. Those are two skills they do not teach you in journalism school.”

From recruitment

Jack Street, account executive at PR agency Kindred: “PR is a great industry to reskill into, especially if you’re able to work on campaigns that you’re passionate about. I moved into PR from recruitment, so was used to working with clients, building relationships and managing a fast-paced workload. However, I felt like I needed more purpose in my job.

“If you’re moving into PR, I’d say that it’s important to be all-in! I think you need to be willing to act as a sponge and throw yourself into any opportunities to really get the most out of moving into the industry, but doing this means you can learn quickly. The creative part of PR is something I especially want to spend time immersing myself in, looking at awards and case studies of interesting work, and understanding techniques for developing creative ideas.

“Having previous client facing & sales experience has really helped, I was in recruitment for nearly two years and worked with a really broad range of clients who presented different challenges - in PR, challenges are in the form of briefs, and building relationships with both clients and journalists is fundamental.”

Although it can be challenge, and definitely requires a lot of forethought, it’s not only possible to reskill into PR, but the breadth of roles in the industry may make it perfect for a career change.

From an employer's perspective it can be overlooked how beneficial to an agency it can be to bring in professionals from outside the PR industry.. Bringing in skills and perspectives from outside PR can help close the skill gap many agencies are facing, and it’s worth considering how best to encourage new talent, as well as how to effectively train them in the PR essential skills.

Which sector you have previous experience in can dramatically impact the approach of those reskilling into PR, but across the board it’s clear that with dedicated self learning, transferable soft skills and a desire to embrace the world of PR, you really can thrive reskilling into PR.

If you’re already working in PR and are looking for advice on how to upskill within the industry, you can find out more in last week’s article on upskilling in PR.

Article written by Alex Beach, acting features editor at PRmoment.

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