The six degrees of Public Relations

10 November 2022 | 9 min read | Digital
Kirsty Hall
Kirsty Hall

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Back in March, I joined the Clearly team as a Creative Content Assistant. Fresh out of university with a degree in English Literature and Publishing, the imposter syndrome was looming large. Sat in a room of talented PR people using industry lingo I didn’t yet understand I thought to myself, what’s my degree got to do with PR anyway?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot actually.

From undertaking a module dedicated solely to the art of editing and proofreading, to working on large team projects for real clients that required cohesive editorial and design skills, PR and publishing have more in common than you may expect.

And guess what? Only one member of the Clearly team has a degree in Public Relations, and our MD, Paul, doesn’t have a degree at all.

Most of you will be familiar with the concept of transferable skills: teamwork, communication, research… the list goes on. Many of these skills, while extremely valuable, are pretty standard across multiple disciplines. But what about the ‘industry specific’ skills from different specialisms that aid a PR career more than you may first expect?

I asked some of my colleagues about their background and how they ended up in their role at Clearly. Turns out we’re quite the diverse bunch.

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George (Sports Journalism)

Did you ever think that your degree would lead you to working in this industry?

I did not! I was very focused on working within sport and having done a pretty niche degree I thought I would be forced to stick with it, but after a year of travelling around the country to cover some pretty major sporting events and interviewing some incredible people, I soon realised that I wanted my weekends back.

I took a chance in applying to Clearly, relying solely on the fact I could write and that I could learn about PR further down the line, and it paid off.

What specific aspects of your course have aided you in your role at Clearly?

Interviewing people set me up well to be in a client-facing position, giving me the right skills to press a client for more information or the confidence to present a different way of thinking to them.

Sports Journalism was also, for want of a better phrase, quite dog-eat-dog when I was at university – there are only so many sports clubs in the area that can take on a student! – and that forced me to be a go-getter. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not the most sociable person, so being forced into that situation did me a lot of good!

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Natalie (International Business)

Did you ever think that your degree would lead you to working in this industry?

As PR and marketing fall under the wider business umbrella, I assumed I would work with or in the fields at some point, but I didn’t expect to be as involved with PR this early on. I started in marketing and then added PR which has been really interesting and fun to see that side of business.

What specific aspects of your course have aided you in your role at Clearly?

As part of my degree, I was required to take a two-month programme with the International Business Institute where I studied the international dimensions of business, finance, and economics while travelling across 13 European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries.

We visited major companies around the world like KPMG, Visa, and the European Central Bank – hearing from these organisations gave me great insight into the international world of business.

Clearly works with a wide range of different clients, and the things I learnt from this programme really helps me to navigate my client work and the industries they operate within.

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Meg (Politics & International Relations)

Did you ever think that your degree would lead you to working in this industry?

No I didn’t! Although I did want to work in an industry where lots of writing would be required, plus my experience in hospitality meant that I was hoping to find a role with lots of client interaction and communication.

What specific aspects of your course have aided you in your role at Clearly?

Outside of the actual subject matter, my course helped me to develop skills in critical thinking which I think is really valuable in any media relations work. It means not taking facts at face value and digging a little deeper into the context in which a statement or decision was made.

The international relations element has also given me experience in looking at the bigger picture behind the decisions that governments and companies make, considering how the actions of one may feed into and inform another, and understanding that nothing happens in a vacuum.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to exploring how public opinion shapes governmental and company policies and initiatives.

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Olivia (Journalism & Public Relations)

Did you ever think that your degree would lead you to working in this industry?

Yes, my path was planned and very clearly laid out. I originally applied to do Business Management at a different university, but upon learning about what PR was (it doesn’t have the exposure other careers do), what it entailed, what direction it goes in and how far PR reaches (PR is in everything) I was sold. I started on my course which was a double of Journalism and PR which obviously complements perfectly.

In the journalism side, it was a lot of feature writing, interviews, broadcast, media activism, which I enjoyed but wasn’t in love with it. The PR side, which is more reputation, communications, issues/crisis management, and strategic messaging was incredibly interesting to me, particularly the relationship between political affairs and the public.

In my first year I joined the PRCA, undertook countless internships and work experiences at the likes of Grayling and Lansons, and eventually became one of the Presidents of the PR Society.

Before I graduated, I had a job lined up at a boutique PR agency in corporate and property PR. Then I moved to a slightly bigger B2B agency, leading on the legal accounts and branching out into financial, HR/recruitment, executive profiling and some luxury hospitality. So, I always knew where I was going.

What specific aspects of your course have aided you in your role at Clearly?

Doing the journalism side has definitely proved useful in my career. Firstly, writing skills aid you wherever you go, but the journalistic eye for a story and what the public want to read and know about is a great advantage.

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Paul (Clearly’s MD & Founder)

Is a degree really necessary if you want to work in PR?

Attending university and obtaining a degree is a great thing to do. The experiences of those three or four years’ of study, combined with the knowledge gained in a specific subject matter, cannot be undervalued. Nor can the ‘life’ skills developed during this time. But as far as a career in public relations is concerned, or any media discipline for that matter, a degree is not essential for success.

No degree will inform you on how to write a press release, create great thought leadership articles, or produce effective social and creative content aimed at specific audiences. That can only be learned through a combination of on-the-job and professional training.

If you’d taken a different path, what would you be doing now?

Had I completed my university degree I would have become a teacher. Instead, I pursued a career in the media sector – starting off in newspapers and magazines for 11 years before making the switch into PR in 2006. I am now married to a teacher and can say wholeheartedly that I am glad I didn’t pursue my original path. By not having a degree, I believe I found my true calling.

Whether you’re applying to your first job outside of education, or looking to make the switch from another industry, remember that your individual experiences are invaluable and can serve a career in PR more than you may think.