Educating the next-generation of PR superstars

What do Cluedo, Marks & Spencer and the first commercial railway have in common? They were all gifted to us by Leeds. And on Wednesday 23rd October, Babel decided to give a little gift back to the vibrant West Yorkshire city, as a small team of representatives from the agency conducted a talk on careers in PR, in addition to a crisis communications simulation workshop for a select number of students at Leeds University.

I was surprised to hear that, ahead of the workshop, we had filled all of the available places and even had a number of people on the waiting list. Anyone working in communications will know that, at a social gathering or family event, any attempt at explaining what your job entails is usually met with confusion. It’s not quite the same as saying ‘doctor’ or ‘engineer.’ So, I’d assumed (wrongly, it turned out) that all of the attendees of the workshop would be comms students, with a fully-formed idea of what PR is and a passion for pursuing a career in the field post-study. How wrong I was (about the former)

A quick straw poll of the lecture room indicated that of the 20 or so students, just two were part of the communications school. And so, we went around the room asking ‘why the sudden interest in PR?’ What seemed to be the clincher for most of the students was the crisis communications workshop that we’d advertised in advance. A number of the attendees expressed that PR and crisis communications were fields that they felt they would excel in, based on their current field of study – Politics, French, English Language, English Literature and History were the most frequent degree choices popping up when polling the room.

As a former Modern Foreign Languages student, I can relate to the idea that a gift for the gab or a knack for knocking out creative content often translate to a solid foundation of the key skills required for any successful PR professional. The ability to analyse and interpret information or argue and convince an audience from subjects such as Politics, History and English are equally all transferrable skills that come in handy in the world of communications.

Interestingly though, despite not having studied PR during their tenure at Leeds University thus far, overall the students had a good general grasp of what PR is and how it plays out in the media on a daily basis. The first portion of the talk served to consolidate that foundation of understanding, by running through the differences between PR, advertising and marketing, the types of task that a PR professional would be expected to conduct on a daily basis, and the type of client we serve at Babel, as a specialist technology agency.

The second part of our hour-long talk honed in on a sub-specialty of PR – one which is increasingly becoming an asset in an era of ‘glass-box brands.’ That sub-specialty is crisis communications. We opened this section of the presentation with a few recent examples of incidents in the public eye (mini crises if you will) that could have been dealt with in a more appropriate or sensitive way. The recent story of the marketing company that body shamed an applicant on social media was met with fervent nods around the room and many an opinion on what the company in question did wrong. We then moved on to three simulation scenarios, of varying degrees of ‘difficulty’ to put the students to the test in managing their own crises, with a few curveballs along the way.

As someone who ‘fell’ into PR, it was never a career that was on my radar at school or university. I’m not even sure my university had a dedicated communications school when I was there – I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time. And I don’t remember anyone encouraging me to use my language skills within a PR and comms environment. The options given to me were teacher or interpreter/translator. It’s refreshing that the PR industry welcomes a diverse range of academic backgrounds (backgrounds that complement one another nonetheless). In the decade I have worked within the PR industry, I’ve worked with graduates from all degree backgrounds, including comms and PR. In addition to supporting these dedicated communications and PR schools across the country, we should also be doing a better job at presenting a range of career options to students, regardless of their degree. Judging from the bright individuals that attended the workshop we conducted, there was definitely appetite to learn more about PR, and a wealth of aptitude for the subject. This is why it’s important to tap into the talent that’s out there, and spark an interest in a career path that perhaps isn’t as ‘traditional’ but can be just as satisfying, challenging and rewarding.

Thanks to the students that attended our recent workshop! If you’re a university or student interested in hearing more about career options in public relations, do get in touch! Similarly, if you’re a recent graduate interested in pursuing a career in communications, we’re always on the lookout for the best and brightest talent. Why not drop us your CV?

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