For students: A guide to PR

Last Thursday we attended the University of Waikato’s Gordon Chesterman PR Campaigns Awards in Hamilton. This long-standing event is the cherry on top of the Waikato communications degree – allowing students to present their implemented campaigns and showcase their abilities to a room filled with PR practitioners, family, friends and a panel of judges. Each of the four student groups was tasked with creating a campaign for the Electoral Commission that would increase voter turnout and/or awareness.

It was an extraordinary event – the quality of the presented campaigns was high and the amount of work that had gone into each was no small feat. The creativity within the campaigns was memorable, humorous and well-executed, and it was great to see so many future PR practitioners in one room.


University of Waikato PR students. Photo credit: University of Waikato

On the same night as the Chesterman Awards in Hamilton, future PR talent was also the focus of the AUT-student organised ‘The night of your career’ networking event held for employers and alumni.

PRINZ was pleased to attend and observe young people at the start of their promising careers, and we all know they’ve chosen a great one!

We wish all graduating and continuing students (onto a Masters anyone?) all the best and don’t forget about the recently introduced ‘Graduate membership’ at a reduced rate for your first year after study.

Those entering the workforce will find the below very valuable – a guide to your first PR job, by Sophie Kurta, former Account Manager at Network Communication. This blog was originally posted in May 2014.

So you’ve started your first PR job. Your big break. Goodbye retail, hospo and shift work… Hello, 9-5.

You’ve made it. Except, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have been asked to complete, aren’t you? The vast number of media you are meant to know the names and deadlines for? The intimidatingly articulate practitioners around you? Those acronyms you hear in meetings –   you have to Google them, don’t you? And at the end of the day, you go home and feel like you’ll never get the hang of it and before long people will find out you don’t know what you are doing.

Never fear, my first year in PR was exactly the same. And rest assured it does get easier…eventually. Heck, you even start to enjoy it. “PR” becomes an instinctive, intrinsic way of life – you can find a story in anything, you dream up ideas in your sleep and you squeal in excitement when your campaign is on the 6pm news.  A job in PR is exciting; you just have to give it time to get that way.

To help you navigate the common challenges we young PR kids face, I thought I’d share a few of the tips that helped me move from an Account Executive to Account Manager in just over 6 months.

Challenge 1: You have no idea what media we have in New Zealand or who you should be pitching your stories too.

magazinesJust breathe; many of us started our jobs not knowing who all the editors were for publications. Although those above you blurt out their names with ease as though they just had dinner with them and have them on speed dial… at one stage, they had no idea who they were either. Take some time to look through the mags, papers and websites out there, see what kind of stories they are writing about, what sections they run, little features they are prone to doing.  Learning names is less important than learning publications. If you know your story will fit in to the publication, that it works within their format, then you are highly likely to be successful.  Media will appreciate you for pitching them a story that is actually relevant and you’ll subsequently start to build relationships. And guess what? You will begin to learn their names.

Challenge 2: The colleagues around you are so intelligent, are amazing with words and are editing your writing to shreds.

Good! The best thing you can do when you first start your job in PR is to let those above you review everything – emails to clients, briefs to suppliers, tweets to celebs and pitches to media. If you are anything like me you will experience some intense tracked changes, making the end product look nothing like what you sent them, but what you slowly learn is the art of crafting, making every word count and every point clear. The more you get your words butchered, the quicker you improve.  I continue to send pitches past another colleague to review. Fresh eyes, and more experienced ones at that, can offer insights that push your writing from mediocre to amazing – and from pitches that media don’t reply to, to pitches where media call you. Learn from those around you and your writing will reap the benefits.

Challenge 3: You are overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, and feel like you are never getting on top of things.

This is pretty much the life of a PR Practitioner, and slowly you will come to terms with the fact that you will never be able to cross everything off your list. If you did, you wouldn’t have any work to do and you wouldn’t have a job. Your job is a busy one – it is meant to be – and it is ok to always have a list of things to do. In fact, embrace the list, write everything down, prioritise it, and feel comforted by the fact that it is now written down on paper so you can get to it when it’s time. Take a pad and paper with you everywhere, to every meeting, every chat with your boss, every brainstorm – you will always need it and there will always be something you have to remember to do.

Challenge 4: You don’t have a clue what you are doing. You’ve been asked to start something but you don’t even know what it is.

ASK. Ask questions – lots of them. Those above you appreciate your enthusiasm and questioning and love imparting their knowledge on to others. Remember they were in your boat once too and they will see that you are determined to do a good job, are humble and are willing to admit when you don’t know where to start. If you’re asked to draft a document, release or pitch and haven’t written in that style before, ask your colleagues for examples. You can use these examples to form a template and to better understand the style to write in.

My final words of wisdom: Stick to deadlines, or tell people that you will need more time. The worst thing you can do is wait for them to chase you. This makes you appear complacent and is not how you want to be viewed. Be proactive, positive and persistent. If you can do this – you will finish your first year and may even do some ladder climbing while you’re at it.

Trust me, the first few months in PR are always overwhelming but if you give it the time it deserves you will start loving it. All jobs have their boring patches, but in PR, there aren’t many of them.

Good luck!


PRINZ holds various events throughout the year in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch. Attending these is a great way to network, meet the right people and gain valuable insight into the  industry. Keep an eye out for upcoming events near you in the PRINZ 2014 Events Calendar.

All images sourced from Thinkstock: Getty Images.

3 thoughts on “For students: A guide to PR

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I am a PR student at Indiana State University and I am starting to get nervous about how hectic this field of work is going to be but this calmed my nervous a little. Challenge #3 is the one I am most concerned about but this advice was really helpful.

  2. Thanks for this post. As a PR student set to graduate in March I sometimes overcome with fear about finding a job and feeling inadequate, however this post reminded me just why I love PR. I know if I can follow the tips you provided above (specifically asking questions!) and come to a job with energy and creative ideas, I know I’ll do just fine.

  3. Thank you for the advice! As a college senior graduating in June, these tips were all very helpful. The PRINZ at Universities sounds like a great program, you should bring it to University of Oregon!

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