I’m a 3rd, going into 4th year, psychology student at Glasgow University, currently on a summer internship here at Aura. I have a real zeal for understanding what makes people tick, why they think what they do and how this changes is even more fascinating yet. My psychologist’s brain finds human behaviour fascinating. However, clinical psychology is not where my true passion lies – instead I find how people function in a public and commercial environment far more compelling. I’m beginning to think public relations and its core practices of reputation and relationship management, could be a really good fit for me but as a student, getting into the field is not so straight forward. I’m going to discuss some of the complications and grey areas of student engagement with PR in the hope that other students who may be thinking about this field but are experiencing similar issues, will be inspired to go out there and find for themselves what a dynamic and exciting place the world of public relations is. I know I already am!

When we are young, we are told that we can be whatever we want to be when we grow up, be that a doctor, police officer, or in my case, professional wizard. The beauty of many of these jobs is that they are vocational in nature; doctors go to medical school and police officers attend a police academy. However, for careers where there isn’t such an obvious degree to workplace path, many students struggle. Choosing what you want to become when you leave school at age 17/18 is hard enough let alone not knowing much about the reality of your selected industry or how to get there when it isn’t already plotted in a linear path. I for one, did not know how to begin training as a wizard so unfortunately this career path hasn’t worked out for me. Although not quite as farfetched, public relations, from my perspective as a student, is also one of these fields which can be hard to break into.

Ask any student who claims to have any experience with public relations (PR) and they will most likely tell you about flyering for their local nightclub and sticking up posters – they may even mention being a club rep abroad. For students who are bombarded with nightclub paraphernalia, the acronym PR has lost its actual meaning of public relations. Instead it has been hijacked as a term to describe a crude form of promotion pushing the all too common ‘double vodka £2’ deal. PR is so much more than this, but to a large portion of my student colleagues, that’s the only meaning it has and is associated exclusively with nightclubs, bars and restaurants who use it to push their deal of the day.

Clearly something needs to change if future generations – mine included – are going to become practicing public relations professionals. My journey into PR began with the desire to understand how things work, most notably people, hence my degree choice of psychology. From then I became more and more interested in the way people communicate, how opinion is formed and ultimately influenced on a larger/societal scale. Since then, I have engaged in many extra-curricular activities to try and gain practical experience in this area. However, the main problem is that there is no clearly accessible information or degree courses available to school leavers for public relations in the same way there is for other professional disciplines. Business, media and marketing courses all begin to encroach on elements of PR but as far as vocational degrees go there are few readily-known options available where you study a public relations undergraduate course at university and become a public relations practitioner after 4 years. There is a list detailing CIPR recognised courses around the UK which can be found here but many are postgraduate, leaving only a handful of undergrad ones scattered around the UK.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the governing body for public relations in the UK which exists to represent the profession and promote proper/ ethical practice and offers certificates, learning materials as well as professional accreditation/chartered status via Continuous Professional Development. These materials and certificates can be accessed by students through a student membership package with accredited/chartered status recognising a commitment to professional practice and validation of gained skills, experience and qualifications for industry professionals. However, the CIPR is something I only discovered midway into my third year of university education; I am already quite far down another degree path. Even if I had heard of the CIPR and public relations in my naïve school teenage years, the prospect of researching it and trying to pursue a career in it simply would not stand up against the option of a well-established degree such as psychology where you can become… a psychologist!

The solution would seem to lie in, as Tony Blair would say political circuit 1997, education, education, education! A more clearly defined remit of what PR actually encompasses and communicating it effectively to prospective students is a great first step. Even if there are few actual ‘public relations’ certificates or courses, students who are informed and would like to pursue a career in public relations, could learn many of the skills pertinent to a career in PR. This would save discovering half way through their hastily chosen, unrelated degree, a whole professional field they actually find interesting and would have engaged with had they prior knowledge of it.

Having done research over the past few weeks I have found a free, online 6-week course offered by the PR Academy in London which serves as an introduction to PR where potential students could ‘dip their toes in’. I plan to take this course in the coming weeks and will hopefully learn a bit more to add to the PR jigsaw of knowledge I’m putting together.

For me however, I’m still on my journey into finding out exactly what PR entails beyond the ‘reputation management’ it names on the tin and how it works in practice through my internship here at Aura. The MD, Laura Sutherland, is teaching me a lot and I hope to soak up as much as I can during the rest of my time here and will post again at the end of my experience on what I’ve learned and how I think other prospective PR students can be encouraged to get in the game! For now though, back to creating engaging content for clients and their comms channels.

Guest blog post by Daniel Irwin, Intern