By Samantha Cook
Finish high school, go to university or college, get your diploma or degree, get a job. This is the career trajectory that most teenagers and young adults are encouraged to follow. But what if you complete your tertiary course, only to discover that the very skills you have toiled to acquire are of no use to you in getting employed? For students learning about the art of public relations, this can be a very real concern, as the required skill-set for an entry-level PR employee is clearly not what it used to be. “The world of PR is constantly changing and, in recent years with the rise of social media and conversation management, the PR skill set has changed remarkably,” says Nelson. “In this vein, we are finding that recent graduates don’t always have the right skills for the job.”
Nelson adds that it is no longer just students with PR qualifications who are best suited for this evolving industry. “It’s interesting that most graduates coming from so-called ‘creative’ backgrounds (i.e. graduating from AAA or Red & Yellow School) have a far greater aptitude for the ‘new’ forms of PR and we’re often deploying them to manage online reputation for our clients; while those coming from ‘traditional PR’ training (i.e. Cape Technikon or UCT), are stronger at traditional forms of PR, including press releases, media liaison and crisis communication.”
With a new generation of PR babies coming into the working world, it is understandable that some agencies choose not to employ the newly graduated, rather waiting until they have some working experience under their collective belts. Ogilvy Cape Town, however, has made it a key strategy to develop young talent by employing account executives straight from tertiary education.
“As one of the larger agencies in South Africa, Ogilvy Cape Town has always had a policy of sourcing and liberating new talent and our PR business is no different,” Nelson explains. “We also find that new graduates are usually hungry for success and eager to learn the trade and, by employing straight from university/college, we’re able to train them in our methods of PR rather than change existing habits.”
Designed to take over where tertiary education ends, this strategy has also highlighted several key issues with formalised PR training programmes, many of which were highlighted in a recent article
by Publicity Update
’s Christine Greyvenstein. “One of the skills which is definitely lacking across the board is writing skills,” Nelson elaborates. “It’s increasingly difficult to find new public relations officers (PROs) with adequate writing skills or with a solid understanding of the different types of writing needed – whether B2B or consumer PR, or simply the difference between a press release, a short snippet and an opinion editorial.”
Despite these short-comings, Nelson emphasises that a graduate’s natural talent and great attitude can go a long way towards securing that first PR job.
“We’re primarily looking for bright, motivated young individuals with great communication skills. A good attitude is essential to our business, as is a passion to learn, the ability to take criticism and, perhaps most importantly, attention to detail,” she says. “Again, as mentioned earlier, good writing skills – whether in a press release or simply in drafting a pitch email or a status report to a client – are imperative. PROs, even at entry level, are at the coalface of brands and represent them in all their communication. A poorly written release or a client email littered with spelling and grammatical errors reflect badly on brands and on the agency.”
Have you had any experience in dealing with public relations graduates? Do you believe that they are being properly equipped for the industry? Give us your opinion on our blog