From theory to practice: four things a PR degree doesn’t teach you

Don’t get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed my three years of communication studies. This blog is not going to criticise PR degrees, nor it is going to be full of regrets of undertaking one. It is rather a reflection of my own experience: from learning things in theory to developing them further in practice. Just a few months after graduating, I was lucky enough to be welcomed into this small PR agency working with disruptive and fast-growing technology brands. To be honest, I had never considered a career in B2B tech PR (and I will explain why later in this blog). But do I regret it? Absolutely not! My first month at CommsCo has been the most rewarding and eye-opening experience as I’ve realised that although universities, in some way, do prepare you for a real-life that is ahead of you after graduation, there will always be things you can only truly learn through practice.

The basics of PR

In general, I would like to believe university degrees give you a great overview of the subject - whether it is PR, advertising or any other. Ever since graduation, I have considered myself equipped with good understanding of what the world of PR looks like, however, after interning at CommsCo for a month I’ve noticed that university degrees tend to teach you things that are either very broad or very specific - and things you do not necessarily get to experience at the beginning of your career (e.g. coming up with viral campaigns).  What lacks is the basics. How do you actually get started? How do you familiarise yourself with a diverse range of clients? How do you maintain a relationship with them? How should you pitch to journalists? There are so many small, but very important things when it comes to public relations - those that get you kick-start your communications career and then lead to more exciting things, such as campaign building, pitching and securing incredible coverage.

Facing the client

Perhaps one of the main things you don’t really learn through a PR degree is how to deal with clients on a daily basis (unless, obviously, you find an internship or work-experience alongside your studies). While my current internship might not necessarily give the opportunity to experience front-line communication with the whole spectrum of clients, I’ve been able to experience the behind-the-scenes of the magical client-agency relationship - whether sitting in on calls, being looped into email chains or asking colleagues to share their knowledge. But most importantly, only real-life agency (or in-house!) experience will teach you the art of facing the client. Although you could argue PR degrees touch upon the importance of maintaining this healthy relationship, the truth is, every situation is different. And while you might feel like you know how to deal with certain issues, each situation is unique and theory modules are not designed to prepare you for hundreds of different situations your client or agency might find themselves in. There is certainly no set of universal rules of how to overcome specific problems and, to be honest, a lot of them require spontaneity and diplomacy.

Small vs. big

During my time at the university, I often felt excited about what post-graduation life will be like: will I join a global PR agency? Work on some ground-breaking campaigns? Attend multiple award ceremonies? All these dreams were mostly influenced by the fact that throughout those three years, I had a chance to meet people from the world’s biggest and most exciting companies, brands and organisations. All the conversations would turn to how interesting it is to be working for them and how great it is to have their name on your CV. But little did I know that small agencies can be just as rewarding. In fact, after interning at a small but very focused PR agency I realised they are exactly those that recent graduates should seek for. Although I have no big agency experience and therefore can only assume from what I’ve heard from other people, I believe small agencies provide you not only with excellent hands-on experience but a very healthy work/life balance.  Finally, the most important thing for a graduate is having your own responsibilities in the workplace. At CommsCo, I have been entrusted to produce tasks and suggest my ideas rather than be a tiny cog in a big, non-stop machine. Additionally, it provides opportunities to work across different accounts and get to know the majority of clients.

Social media for B2B

As a digital-native and a millennial who lives and breathes social media, it was only natural for me to think that I am, if not a pro, then at least advanced at this. Especially keeping in mind that my university degree was very much focused on content creation, strategic planning and campaign building for various social media channels. Yet, the internship made me realise there is so much more to learn. It means not only being at the top of constantly changing trends, new platforms and improved regulations but understanding how to communicate for B2B brands that we work with at the CommsCo. While university might teach you the best times to post on social media and what are the general trends, joining a PR agency with specific clientele means learning things from scratch. I might be writing great captions for my own social media accounts, but technology scale-ups have particular style when it comes to social media messaging, not to mention vocabulary! -- I think the lesson here is clear. I’m not dismissing the importance of PR degrees and the background they provide for young people who desire to work in the industry. But the truth is, if you want to become a true professional in this field, experience is crucial and joining an agency (whether big or small) with an open mind, not taking for granted what you’ve learned in university, but clearly realising that some things you can only truly learn through practice is about as good as it gets.  CommsCo is constantly on the hunt for talented minds. In just three weeks, I’ve been taken on as an Account Executive so there is now space for another intern. If you’re looking to learn new things and enter the PR world, apply now on our careers page!