I remember the day I got my A levels results, vividly. I left Plymouth in the evening after sitting my last A level English exam and my mum drove me to London, I had got a short placement for the summer, working for the BBC. I had to call home to get the results, and much to everyone’s relief, they were fine.
I had a place to read English, but I got another contract at the BBC and then my staff contract, complete with staff number and I was on my way to becoming a reporter, then a radio producer and a TV director. I didn’t take the English place at Bristol University.
After a decade at the BBC, I left to go into my first PR job; I joined Christian Aid as the PR manager, working for an inspirational head of department, who had also moved from journalism into PR. Cheryl Campbell gave me the space to make mistakes, learn and set me up for my PR career. She encouraged me to join the CIPR, supported me when I started my diploma and gave me so many opportunities to learn and develop. When I left Christian Aid in 2002 I joined a regional charity, then I worked in the bus and rail divisions for the UK’s largest surface transport provider, moved back to Bristol and worked for the NHS and in January this year, I founded my own company.
I am writing this looking at the certificates on my office wall: one for my CIPR membership, one for being a CIPR accredited practioner, one for my Post Graduate certificate in Management and one for winning the inaugural CIPR IoD PR Director of the Year award in 2011. What do these mean to employers and now, to my clients? It demonstrates my commitment to continuous learning and that when organisations employ me, I can clearly demonstrate that I uphold clear standards of ethics, professionalism and I am held to account by a published code of conduct, through the industry’s only chartered institute. It also shows that whilst I never got to read English at Bristol University, I funded myself to take a post grad management course at the University of the West of England. I think, ultimately, it shows I mean business – and I understand it.
A career in communications and PR is an honourable one. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. The route to get there can and should be, many and varied. I have worked with excellent colleagues who have PR degrees, Art History degrees, MAs, PhDs and no degrees. One of my mentors has no formal qualifications after his A levels, but is a member of our institute and demonstrates through that, his commitment to continuous professional development. I have another mentor, who is a professor, twice over. Both are brilliant communications professionals.
So whilst there may be no easy, clear route into the profession, there is loads of help along the way. As chair of the CIPR in the South West we run a mentoring scheme, I know of many organisations and agencies that welcome post A level students on placements and work experience. The CIPR has clear guidance on internships (you should be paid) and there are many available. There are apprenticeships, degrees, diplomas and certificates in our profession, to help you understand the theory that must always underpin our practice.
My top tips? Don’t go after a career in PR unless you thirst for knowledge and experience and have a fire in your belly for change. Do it if you love information, facts, people, and ideas and if you want to find new ways to change the world. I cannot think of any career I would rather have and my CIPR colleagues are here to help you, encourage you, train and educate you and ultimately support you and ensure you uphold the honourable standards of being a public relations professional. Check out the CIPR website for more info and if you live in the South West, we’ve loads of events going on!
This post first appeared on the CIPR Conversation