Free Trade – the importance of work experience


The industry has changed a huge amount over the 15 (or so) years since I graduated and pinned my first ‘PR Junior’ badge to the freshly pressed collar of my very evidently new suit.

I can’t quite say I remember the days of faxes and physically posting out press releases, but there were absolute definitive deadlines – with the print media still ‘king’ – and lots of time to wine and dine the journalists you wanted to get to know.

I stepped into my first proper role around 2 months after I left university. A software company based in Cambridgeshire that was looking to make a name for itself in the personal finance management arena, and amongst the likes of SMEs.

My mission? To put in place a really basic media relations strategy which, once I had decided to spread my wings and find something a little more ‘sexy’ (I use that word intentionally), they could manage the occasional product launch communication to the handful of relevant trade press themselves.

I should point out at this stage that this pre-dates the wide-spread roll out of social media and digital forums.

My next job could not have been more different, as I found myself immersed in a very different world; working at a well-respected PR agency on the international and CSR brief for Durex I was tasked with writing releases, fielding media enquiries, determining key messages and key audiences and attending client facing meetings and supporting with media training sessions.

All pretty bread and butter stuff, you might think, but having studied English, with only limited scope to explore the true nature of PR as part of my degree, my understanding of what was expected by either employer was by no means a given.

In fact, I owe much of my career progression to a period of work experience that I carried out whilst I was studying.

It’s important to clarify that I put myself forward for said work experience willingly and enthusiastically – albeit encouraged to do so by a university lecturer who set a project which went on to whet my appetite for all things media – and I am extremely grateful to the organisations and individuals who took the time to show me what I was getting myself in to.

For a good few months, and a day or so a week, whilst working around the demands of my finals and my part-time paid job, I oversaw the PR programme (with a lot of guidance!) for a community project that was bringing the wonder of literature to disadvantaged children, and in the press office of my University.

Shortly after I was offered a short-term paid internship at the Uni in question.

The experience amassed during both the work experience and internship was invaluable. I would not be where I am without it.

Indeed, such internships were quite rare back in the day, with most recent grads simply expected to ‘suck it up’ and work for free for the foreseeable. It was just part and parcel of joining the industry.

More recently, however, there has been a real shift in the way that interns are perceived, and quite rightly PR companies are being asked to commit to pay a fair wage to even these most junior members of the team for their contribution to the functioning of the business.

Indeed, here at MK we recently signed a pledge committing that we will do just that. Not a problem for us, and certainly nothing new, having always had such a policy in place.

Alongside such internship opportunities, however, we are also committed to welcoming ambitious young people to spend a week or two with our team to get a taste, a flavour, an understanding as to what we do day to day, so that they can make an informed decision about their path before they commit full time.

It has always baffled me that we’re expected to decide what we want to do forever more when we are as young as 16, and indeed few of my friends pursued any form of English related career despite their degree choice.

MK itself is actually made up of Politics, Geography and German graduates, amongst others, to further that point.

What we all have in common, however, is that most of us have turned out to be very happy with our choices, and almost all of us attribute that success to an individual, or individuals, who took the time to give us some experience and insight into their worlds.

I hope that firms in the industry will continue to commit to work experience, as well as the slightly more formal and expectation-led internships. Both have their place, and both are very much needed to ensure the candidates who choose PR over, say, marketing or events, understand what it is to be a PR!