Be aware this content is over two years old
PR: it’s all about people. That’s pretty universal, but what does a job in PR actually entail? What’s the difference between consumer, corporate, financial and digital PR? And where would you fit in? All questions you need to ask yourself if you’re considering this competitive and challenging sector.
This morning, I met with Jack Rich, Consultant at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, to delve a bit deeper into financial PR. Having worked across a variety of sectors, Jack chose financial PR because of the clients and the focus on issues rather than consumer products. “I didn’t like consumer PR, as I found it was purely about how much coverage you can get for a client, whereas financial PR deals more with the issues that interest me. I also find that we’re more valued as advisers to our clients, who are often at board level, as we’re working on issues that can have a real impact on the company and its performance,” he said.
So what happens in a typical day? “It’s really varied work. I usually get in at around 8am, as I find my mornings tend to be busier. I’ll read the newspapers and analyse any relevant press coverage, which I’ll then circulate to our clients,” he said. The job is both proactive and reactive, often depending on the client. “Some of our clients are investment banks. Their analysts will research the results and developments of certain companies with a view to selling them as investment opportunities – for example when Apple released the iPhone 5.” The PR firm’s job is then to gain coverage of this analysis. If a client is very high profile already, the job is more reactionary. For example, Citigate Dewe Rogerson represents a well-known retailer. After an accident earlier this week where a six-year-old fell from an escalator, the firm had to decide very quickly how to act. “We started by examining the company’s incident report, and then called meetings to discuss whether we should make a press statement, as the health and safety investigation was still being conducted.” They decided to issue a statement – and then had to deal with subsequent press reactions to the incident.
On top of writing, redrafting and sending press releases, another aspect of the job is proactively looking for opportunities. “It’s really important to keep on top of news and social media so you can take advantage of opportunities that come up.” Jack also spends about an hour each day on new business. “I’ll research potential clients and try to wangle a meeting for one of our directors, which can lead to a pitch.”
And as for the rest of the day...a huge part of the role is communicating with clients and talking to journalists – which is lucky, as Jack said this is what he likes best about his job. “And I do like it when it’s really busy,” he said. “The days when you might as well throw away the to-do list – it’s really busy, but it’s exciting. Like on results days.” Results days? Every half and full year, each client will publish its financial results and developments. “The night before we’re in for a late one, preparing for the next day. Then we’re in at around 7am.” It’s a day of media calls, deciding on the main talking points and preparing Q&A for clients: “We need to figure out what the journalists will be asking so we can make sure our clients are fully prepared.”
So that’s the job in a brief and streamlined nutshell. Now, who makes a good PR consultant? Jack said: “You need to be personable, outgoing, and calm under pressure. Be prepared to work hard and with a professional attitude – knowing how to write an email and communicate with clients is vital.” What about skills? “Writing is really important, as is a good telephone manner.” A finance background would help although Jack didn’t have one – he said there’s a mix of ex-journalists and ex-bankers/accountants in the firm. Most importantly: “You need to be prepared to take opportunities to further yourself and show willingness to learn. You’ll have to do a lot of the more boring jobs to start with, but put yourself forward for extra work rather than waiting for work to come to you. For example, if you hear that the firm will be pitching for new business, ask how you might be able to help.”
What about work experience? Journalistic experience can be really useful as PR involves so much communication with journalists, Jack said. “I did some work experience with local papers while at uni, and a week at the Times.” What if you’re struggling to get experience in journalism or at a PR firm itself? “Other key experience would be to work on the student newspaper, and be a newshound – really keep on top of what’s happening in the press and social media. This helps to prove your interest in a PR career.” Jack also suggested approaching companies directly rather than PR agencies, and seeing if you can get some experience on their marketing or PR teams. “You need to be creative in how you get experience, and selling yourself is so important: the job is all about proactively ‘selling’ clients so you need to be able to do that on your own CV.”
So what next? From a junior PR consultant, you can sometimes progress in the firm (for example to senior consultant and director level), or go in-house at a company’s internal PR department. In smaller agencies, you may find that it’s harder to move up due to lack of resources, and the loss of a big client could lead to staff redundancies. However: “The job gives you such a good understanding of how companies work and a really broad range of skills and experience, so there are lots of options to branch out.”