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How to craft a successful career in PR

Posted by Chris King on 15th November 2022

As part of my role at Wildfire, I look after recruitment. One of the things I love most about that is doing first interviews with potential candidates.

Sometimes those interviews are with senior pros who’ve seen it, done it and got the t-shirt but more often I’m talking to fresh-faced grads or junior hires with little or no experience.

Over the years I’ve seen it all, from real standout individuals to the indifferent, and the downright bad. You can usually tell within the first five minutes if they’re suited to a PR career, but it takes longer to work out if they’re suited to us.

As well as the interviews I’ve also started doing graduate mentoring and giving talks to university students on roles at Wildfire and more generally what a career in PR is all about.

During those sessions, I’m often asked for advice on how to craft a successful PR career. While the first person who asked me that got a crap generic answer, as I’m asked that question more and more, I’ve refined my advice.

I’ve realised Wildfire’s five values — Be bold. Be informed. Be exceptional. Be yourself and Do Good — aren’t just core to who we are as an agency, they’re also a good bellwether to base your PR career on.

Let me explain. 

Be yourself: PR is for introverts, extroverts and everyone in between 

Be yourself means being authentic to who you are. Whatever you do, don’t feel pressure to conform to an old-fashioned stereotype of what PR people should be.

If you’re an outgoing, socially confident extrovert then you’ll have a natural affinity for certain aspects of the PR role. Pitching to a journalist probably won’t phase you. Nor will presenting, networking, contributing to client meetings, etc. But other parts of the role will be tougher to master.

Similarly, if you’re an introvert like me then that’s OK too. Don’t exhaust yourself by putting on a fake extrovert persona. Own being you and play to your strengths. You can be an introvert and be good at creativity, strategic thinking, and listening. You’re probably good at just cracking on and getting shit done.

There’s a place for introverts and extroverts in PR. One isn’t better than the other.

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you’ll inevitably run into your own unique set of development challenges and career hurdles as you progress — for some it might be time management and attention to detail, for others it could be confidence and gravitas. Whatever they are, yours will be 10x worse if you’re pretending to be someone you’re not.

Be informed: Face-to-face meetings are still important and so is knowing your stuff

Be informed has multiple connotations. On one level it’s about making an effort to know your facts. From a media relations perspective, that means being disciplined right from the start about staying on top of who is writing about what subjects.

Make time to keep track of journalists changing publications or topics. Get out there and network, build relationships and meet journalists face to face. Join any communities (e.g., in the tech sector there’s the UKTJPR Facebook group) and go to events. It will make your job so much easier.

At the start of a PR career, securing opportunities and getting coverage for clients is a huge part of your job. Be tenacious. Enjoy the buzz of securing a great win.

On another level, being informed means staying on top of what’s happening in the wider world and trying to get under the skin of your clients’ businesses, technologies, and sectors, so you can be ‘in the know’.

This discipline will dramatically improve your productivity and the quality of your work. You’ll also feel smarter and more empowered to share ideas, be proactive and talk confidently with senior colleagues or client subject matter experts.

If you can find a good balance of being interested and interesting, then you’re on to a winner. Over time, as you learn the ropes, try to position yourself as a consultant that adds value rather than someone who hides in the background doing what they’re told without thinking.

Always ask plenty of what you might be worried are ‘silly’ questions to aid your understanding. And ask for help where you need it.

Be bold: Challenge the status quo and don’t be afraid to fail 

Again, boldness means different things to different people. For me, being bold means being confident and brave. It’s easy to say it, and much harder to do it in practice, but you should always be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone.

Don’t coast along letting new challenges scare you or pass you by; embrace them. Challenge yourself. Take on something you’ve never done before. Ask if you can get involved in a new campaign or something you don’t have a lot of experience in. This valuable experience will help you learn and develop a well-rounded skillset. And the people around you will love and respect your enthusiasm.

You’ll make mistakes. Everyone does. Don’t beat yourself up when you do. Just be sure to reflect on and learn from them.

Also, don’t be afraid to question why you’re being asked to do something or challenge the status quo. Don’t be scared of respectfully saying no, of pushing back on colleagues, clients or new ideas. The best PR people are constantly challenging themselves and the people around them.

Admittedly, being all “why? No! You’re wrong! I think we should do this instead” on your first day in your first PR job probably isn’t a good idea. Give yourself time to settle in but then go for it.

You might have to kiss a few frogs as some agencies only want submissive doers not employees with opinions and ideas. But that’s a reflection on them, not PR in general. Most agencies value people with gumption.

Be exceptional: Strive for excellence 

This is a quick and easy one. Nobody gets anywhere in their career by aspiring to be average. Set yourself high standards and hold yourself to them. We all have bad days from time to time and lose our motivation but don’t let laziness, ‘that’ll do’ or ‘good enough’ become what you’re known for. Never settle for less than the best and let the quality of your work speak for itself.

Have a passion for what you do. Finding joy and pride in your work helps you stay engaged and find job satisfaction. If you can’t get a fire in your belly for PR, then there are far less stressful careers you can coast along in.

Do good: Kindness in the workplace is key

I’m not talking about recycling or donating to charity (although sure we do that too); I’m talking about not being a dick.

Be honest, kind, respectful and helpful to people you work with (whether that’s your clients, your boss, or the work experience kid you’ve been asked to mentor). You never know when you might cross paths with them again.

I’m not going to pretend the PR industry is free from terrible people, but they usually get their comeuppance in the end. Don’t put up with any intimidation, harassment, workplace bullying or toxic cultures. There are lots of great agencies out there. You don’t need to make yourself ill working for a bad one.

To conclude, I’ll come full circle to where I started. When I interview PR hopefuls, what I’m looking for more than anything is personal drive and ambition. There’s plenty of training that’ll develop your core skills, or in our case help you understand the technology, but what we can’t do is teach you to care and have an enthusiasm for PR. That’s got to come from you!

Come work with us at Wildfire PR 

There’s always room in our team for great people. Even if your skillset is not described below, we’d still love to hear from you.

We’re actively looking for:

  • Experienced account managers or talented senior account executives who are ready for the next step
  • Graduates with (or without) experience looking to kickstart a tech PR career

All candidates must be hardworking, creative and have a passion for all things tech. Sound like you? Then send us your CV.

To find out more about what it’s like to work at Wildfire visit our careers page.

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.