PR: Routes into the industry

There are two very distinct schools of thought on PR training.

One says that entrants should have a PR degree or postgraduate qualification and others that on the job training is best. Before the invention of the PR degree, most people came into the industry via journalism, with a general degree or worked their way up from office junior or secretary.

These days most companies are looking for a degree. Many of the major PR agencies run their own graduate training schemes (listed on the CIPR website), while other qualifications are CIPR's own foundation, advanced and diploma courses and the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) qualification.

These qualifications are mostly studied by people while working. While a PR degree could help you with your first foot in the door, once you're in what you learn on the job will probably be far more useful. No training course can bring you face to face with a real-life crisis management or a hard to please the client.

Late starters to the industry still come through journalism. There are also sometimes opportunities to move into PR from highly specialised industries, such as science, where knowledge in the subject is difficult to obtain unless you have experience working within it.

If you're starting out on your career and you want to work in PR you're not alone - it's one of the top three choices of career for graduates. The best way to get experience at this stage is probably to do work experience with an in-house team or agency or unpaid work with a charity.

Or look at what's on your doorstep - student events to promote, writing for a college or university publication or even doing some PR for a friend or relative's start-up company, exhibition, or band. Joining the CIPR as a student member can be extremely useful. This will open up opportunities to attend workshops and events and also find out about paid and unpaid employment, training courses and general information on the industry. Its website is an excellent source of information whatever level you're at in the industry.

It's very unusual for someone to work as a freelance PR consultant without having any experience in-house or within an agency. In fact, according to IPSE (Independent Professionals and Self-Employed), the average age of a freelancer is 45.

Working as part of an in-house team or in an agency gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas off other people and pick up tips that would never come your way as a solitary freelancer. But with a few years' experiences under your belt, you pretty much know which ideas are likely to work and, most importantly, which are not.

Most employers are happy to send staff on courses, such as those run by the CIPR. If you're a freelancer you've got to find the money for the course and lose out on a day or half day's work while you're there.

An inexperienced PR freelancer is probably best suited to working with a PR agency or in-house team set up, filling in for holidays, maternity leave, etc. That way you'll learn while you work and still enjoy the benefits of being freelance.

Whatever way in, PR is a competitive industry, so having as relevant experience as possible is the best way to get a foot in the door.

Judith Gaskell

More on working in PR as a freelancer