In Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1987 film Full Metal Jacket the irascible old drill sergeant looks down the long line of new recruits and barks:
“From now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be ‘Sir’. Do you maggots understand that? You will not laugh, you will not cry, you will learn by the numbers and I will teach you.”
Yes, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman was happy to give out some pretty clear instructions and he certainly knew exactly what he wanted from his new starters.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) it’s rarely so clear cut for most of us when we’re looking to break into the sector or find that new role in PR.
I asked some of the communications people who’ve influenced me the most what key skills and attributes you need to stand out from the crowd and get hired.
I also asked them to try and sum up their thoughts in three words, which is what I used to make the word cloud above (my three words are the headline).
Some of the traits, skills and attributes valued by the leading lights of the profession really stand out when you look closely at the picture.
Here’s what some of the key players had to say about breaking into our industry with a little bit of extra advice. Just for you.
Ben Quigley, Group Chief Executive, e>erything d.fferent
“Show you want it. Take a brand you like and show what you’d do with it as a shadow campaign proposal. Demonstrate how you’ve made a difference on your own personal projects or whilst at college.”
Attitude. Relationships. Lateral thinking
Kari Owers, chief exec of OPR and North East Woman Entrepreneur of the Year
“PR today is a multi-layered creative discipline that is centred on what pushes the needle with target audiences and then takes a clear message that works outwards across whatever channel is needed to reach them. So you need to understand media, social media, consumer behaviour, political, technological and social trends and the commercial world. Put simply – you need an impressive range of work experience to get through my door.”
Connected. Enthusiastic. Curious.
Sharon McKee, Interim Head of Marketing and Communications at NewcastleGateshead Initiative
“To break into PR these days I’d say you have to gain some kind of experience or evidence of showing willing (eg working voluntarily) – have good all round PR skills including social media and ‘new skills’ but definitely NOT forgetting good old fashioned writing skills
“You need to be willing to get stuck in and take anything on (no diva nonsense thinking it’s all glam, be prepared to get your hands dirty!) – and be aware of issues, trends and the wider world (I was horrified recently to speak to some PR students who didn’t read newspapers – even online) and be able to build relationships, which is what it’s all about.
Creative. Curious. Energetic (3 things that would totally put me off are lack of passion, negativity and no imagination – and poor spelling and grammar!)
Darren Caveney, Head of Communications, Marketing & Consultation at Walsall Council and Vice Chair of LGcomms
“Given the huge competition for jobs these days I would say that you would ideally need a relevant qualification, some relevant experience and a clear desire to work within the PR industry.
Stephen Waddington, European digital and social media director for Kethum and President-Elect of the CIPR
“Be brave, create your own content, and build your own social networks. It will enable you understand the challenge that brands face doing this and a strong digital profile will help you land you your first job.”
Confidence. Enthusiasm. Talent.
Tony Bradley, CEO of Publicrelationsconsultancy.com
“You have to be single-minded, with a determination to break into the profession and an absolute commitment to making a measurable difference to your employer or clients.”
Chris Taylor, managing director of DTW and chair of CIPR North East
“You’ll need intelligence, determination, the ability to tell a good story and a bit of luck!”
Michelle Atkinson, Corporate Communications Manager at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service
“Demonstrate you have business acumen and strategic awareness. You can’t be good at PR if you don’t understand the bigger picture and how it fits in. I also think you need to be rounded in your approach; controversial but I think PR is too narrow a field now you need to be able to demonstrate the full range of communications knowledge and expertise to show true benefit to your client/employer; even more important in this climate. People want value for money.”
Tenacity, Enthusiasm. Listen
Sarah Hall, MD of Sarah Hall Consulting
“To break into PR today you should possess the basic PR skills required for the job, be digitally literate, have some commercial awareness and possess an innate curiosity that cannot be sated. Creativity is key and CIPR membership a definite benefit.”
Rachel Miller, director at All things IC
“The key attributes and skills are writing, commercial awareness, a business brain and the ability to multi-task”
Stacy Hall, Stacy Hall Associates
“Bags of enthusiasm and a genuine interest in the subject you are working on really helps, along with drive, determination and an eye for what makes an interesting story – positive and negative – as you’ll need to learn how to handle both during your career.”
Howard Walker via twitter (@1howardwalker)
“listening, talking, writing. The rest is just details.”
Finally, some really practical tips from the other side of the fence courtesy of Gerard Tubb of Sky News:
- Publicise mobile number
- Answer mobile phone
- Think: An opportunity
- Call back quickly