Studying Public Relations – The biggest challenges

I began my first year of university in September 2012, and it’s scary to think that’s already two years ago.

Flickr – Matt Cornock

Although I’m only half way through, it’s true to say your university years fly by. I can imagine my third year is going to be a blur – filled with library books and endless journals to complete projects and essays no doubt.

While I enjoy PR it wasn’t always the case. Since speaking to Chris Rushton at a talk at my sixth form I’d never faltered in knowing this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. But after my first week I was ringing home in floods of tears thinking I’d made a terrible decision – this isn’t for me, I’ve made a mistake.

I owe thanks to my mother for forcing me to pull myself together –  I’d never given up on something I was so passionate about before and I’d invested too much to walk away now. I am within the first year of victims of the raised fees – I shall always be bitter about this.

So why did I freak out? Journalism.

Flickr – Jon S

Like many other PR degrees, my degree has a heavy focus on journalism in the first year to get writing skills up to scratch and to understand what a journalist wants – after all they’re arguably the most important contacts we as PRs can make.

But as a naive first year I immediately whined and moaned – this isn’t what I’m paying for, if I wanted to do journalism I would’ve chosen it as a course, yadayadayada.

And I wasn’t alone in my complaints. At the beginning of the year my class was quite a healthy size; before Christmas it had lost well more than a handful to other courses like broadcast journalism or marketing.

I’m thankful I could see the larger picture, the skills they were teaching us have already proved invaluable to me when it comes to writing press releases or online content. My original writing style was quite flowery and expressive – I was a creative writer, not a news writer. But now I feel like I can achieve both ends of the scale and that’s something I’m quite proud of.

Something else that made my first year quite challenging was completing modules that were taught by academics who weren’t involved in the PR industry – they spoke of PR like it was the devil. 

Flickr – punainenkala

In some of my lectures and seminars I was also with journalism students and various other media discipline student; I always felt like PR was somewhat forgotten. Any issue was discussed with regard to anyone else’s industry, never PR. Unless, of course, we were discussing how PR is all to do with covering up lies, propaganda and spin-doctoring – thanks for the vote of confidence.

Because I know what is really involved in PR this angers me to no end. Like I’ve said before, anyone not involved only sees the bad PR that goes wrong. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much other than it being incredibly disheartening and frustrating to hear. The people who need PR understand we’re not the devil incarnate and that’s what matters.

Of course I faced the other challenges of learning to fend for myself away from home, waking up at reasonable times without a mother to drag me out of bed and making it into 9am lectures after a student night – most first year will know these pains.

What advice would I give?

  • Take on board what people say about the industry, but you always have the right to fight your corner. If you’re passionate enough and clever about it maybe you can change some critics’ minds.
  • Enjoy your first year but don’t mess it up. While it may not count to your final degree it’s the foundations for the next years that do.
  • Don’t become a book recluse. You may want the best grades but this industry is about networking – it’s a fine balance between social and study. Some of the journalism or broadcast students you befriend now may become valuable contacts to you in the future.

Some of the best friends you’ll make and the best nights you’ll have

If I could have done my first year differently? I’d have put more effort into everything. I definitely took advantage of not having my mother around to nag me to clean up, do work or just get my arse off the sofa.

It’s hard, but make the most of it. And enjoy freshers – you start feeling really old in second year!



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