PROs describe how they moved over from other industries to begin a life in PR. Some careers, such as journalism, have many transferable skills, but it is surprising how many other jobs – from running a pub to working as a pharmaceutical rep – can prepare you for a life in comms.
How I moved on…
Clare Moggridge, practice director at PR firm Ketchum: “Before working in PR, I was a pharmaceutical representative in Sheffield. This involved speaking with healthcare providers and discussing how we could make positive changes in peoples’ lives with new medicines. It was a funny old gig, driving round Yorkshire with a boot full of sandwiches, pens and post-it notes, and quite lonely.
“After almost four years I resigned and went travelling. It was during this time I decided I wanted to try something completely different. So I came back and moved to London. I was seduced by the idea of PR; working in an office (what a treat!), Friday drinks and hobnobbing with media. I tried a few agencies, but didn’t have the right experience, then the founders of a boutique healthcare agency gave me a chance.
“PR was so different to what I was used to! I loved the environment, I loved the people and I hugely enjoyed being part of a team. After five years in health PR, I moved into consumer, which was a lot of fun and has enabled me to work across a diverse range of clients. In my current role working in Brand for Ketchum, we’re seeing a lot of hybrid briefs coming through, with many typically consumer brands looking to enter the health tech/wellbeing space, which is where my health/corpsumer background really helps.“
Eleanor Frere, group account manager at agency Firefly Communicaitons: “There are important skills for PR that you also use and learn in other professions – you just need to recognise and demonstrate them to a potential new employer. For me, previously working in recruitment, communication skills, organisation, multi-tasking and juggling different expectations and demands were all key – and the same holds true for PR.
“Once I’d made that decision to switch professions, it certainly wasn’t a quick process, but be tenacious. The hardest part is getting that first interview, then that’s your opportunity to show those transferable skills and what you can bring to the role. It’s also about your general interests and attitude. The ability and willingness to learn is almost most important of all – and as the world of comms continues to develop, that quality will hold you in good stead for the rest of your career.”
Rebecca Fairbrother, PR strategist at marketing agency connective3: “I started my career in recruitment, and did copywriting/blogging as a hobby on the side. Moving to PR from recruitment (with a short segway in digital marketing) was quite a smooth transition; all of my previous experience served me well as I was able to sell-in stories to journalists, write press releases and manage my time effectively.”
From pub management
Ben Robinson, head of media at agency PPR: "Truth be told, when I transitioned into PR, I didn’t actually know what it was. I finished university in 2012 and took over the reins of a small pub in Cambridge. I was a live-in manager for around two years before looking for an internship in London.
“I found a small PR agency, interviewed, and got the gig. During the interview, I admitted that I didn’t know how PR operated, or what it entailed, but I had the people and real-world skills to give it a good shot.
“Little did I know at the time, but looking back running a pub is a lot like PR; you always serve until the closing bell – just like working to deadlines, you advise on the best refreshment – we help clients see the best route to press, and customers – like journalists – can be demanding and picky.”
Nicola Younger, content marketing executive at digital agency makemelocal.com: “Since leaving university in 2002, I have worked in marketing roles, firstly for publishing houses and then publishing learning materials. Last year, I turned 40 and decided that the traditional print, direct-marketing roles that I had always worked in were not challenging enough for me anymore (funny how turning a certain age makes you re-evaluate yourself) and I needed to address my digital skills gap. I made the switch to a content marketing/digital PR role for a Make Me Local. It has given me a boost on many levels. What I've learnt about SEO in the last six months is astounding and has given my career confidence a much-needed makeover. Plus, on a personal level, I’ve gained confidence knowing that the skills I’ve learned in previous roles are valued and recognised and worthy of investing in to take them to a whole new level.”
From wedding planning
Lauren Grech, CEO of comms specialist LLG Agency: "Running my own wedding planning business, LLG Events, I was always keeping an eye on media trends and where future couples would be going to search for vendors on their big day. From this, I honed the skills of dissecting proper event media from our weddings and events that would attract new clientele, and I then used public relations to distribute this content across various platforms.” "Once I earnt such success in wedding and event public relations for my own company, interest from other vendors, venues and even tourism boards began popping up as I started pioneering 'wedding tourism' through wedding PR strategies. This led me to create my second company, LLG Agency, which is a global event communications company. Simultaneously, I created a Masterclass for Entrepreneurs and an Event Training Program where I teach other vendors and industry professionals how to conduct their own PR to attract more leads and generate revenue."
From the charity sector
Nicki Rodriguez, director at R&R PR Management: “I fell into becoming a PR agent, by going from working as a charity champion for an Austin Charity back in 2015. I was headhunted by a London-based PR company after being spotted with my ability to organise and host events, my people skills and also my enthusiasm to think outside the box. I was initially very taken back when the role was offered to me as I did not think I could ever do PR, but then once I had been taught the ropes, found it second nature.“
Sam Pudwell, content and insights manager at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: “I moved over to PR after spending four years as a b2b technology journalist, so was familiar with how the industry works and some of the challenges involved. Taking up a content-focused role meant that many of the skills I had developed as a journalist were transferrable – such as structuring engaging content, getting the right information out of spokespeople and turning technical stories into something that appeals to a wider business audience.
“But there has also been plenty that I’ve had to learn in a relatively short amount of time. For example, I’ve had to improve my knowledge of digital and content marketing strategies, along with the finer aspects of client handling and account management. I still miss the press trips, but experiencing the other side of the media industry has really helped me expand my expertise. And it turns out PROs aren’t so bad after all!”
Cameron Ward, account executive at agency Holyrood PR: “My transition from journalism to PR has certainly caught me by surprise. As a journalist looking from the outside in, with my face firmly press against the window, PR seemed to be a land of mollycoddling frivolity where people clinked glasses and exchanged the occasional dinner jibber-jabber with their clients. I was grossly mistaken.
“PR instead has exceeded my expectations. PR is fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled and extremely challenging. I’ve found myself being involved with clients from all walks of life, each with their own goals and agendas. This diversity has proved a challenge, but one I have certainly relished. Often journalists’ perceptions of PR are negative. However, I can honestly say this is the best career move I have ever made.”
Jonny Sharp, freelance PR consultant: “I started as a newspaper journalist aged 21 and continued in this role for nearly 15 years working on local and regional daily newspapers before a stint in London operating as a reporter on many nationals, including The Sun.
“I knew my nose for news and ability to write clean copy should serve me well in PR. I now work from home and operate as a media relations expert.
“Now I write press releases in a similar way to how I used to write news reports for newspapers. But there are differences of course. Sometimes a client might want to keep something out of the news, but my experience of being a 'poacher turned gamekeeper' helps me see these challenges with a broader perspective.
“I was hard-nosed as a journalist, but in PR you have to learn to reign in these instincts and realise while you are still creating 'stories' they may need to be presented in a different way to best represent a client's interests. Waiting ages to get press releases approved can be a pain but, most importantly, I still feel lucky I'm still in storytelling 33 years on.”
PR is a career that demands many skills, from writing, to selling to a knowledge of SEO. That is why it is an industry that attracts (and retains) people who have previously worked in such a broad range of sectors.
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