Kick-starting your career in Public Relations: Theory versus Practice, Uni versus Experience

Intern Programme
By David Gallagher
David Gallagher, intern

UPON completing my penultimate year studying Public Relations, I decided that a good move would be to try to obtain an internship working in the sector to gain some experience. After a lot of emails back and forth between various companies, I ended up with a four-week internship at Holyrood PR.

I began studying Public Relations and Media three years ago, and have learned masses of theory that my lecturers promise will all be used religiously in working life. I have established from my time at Holyrood PR that this is almost true.

Public Relations theory touches on many different elements, such as relationship management, crisis management, persuasive communication, internal communications, external communications, to name but a few.

But it has become apparent that one module I studied was extremely relevant in my time at Holyrood PR: ‘Media Relations’ which involved creating a portfolio of mock press releases and blogs for a chosen publication. Holyrood PR is all about writing stories and getting clients’ messages into the news through media releases and features, so this relates exactly to what we were tasked with. Unfortunately though, it was only a six-month long module in our opening year that wasn’t given much emphasis, and I think that with the volume of writing involved in working in the public relations sector this is not enough to properly equip graduates.

At University we are introduced to theory models from scholars such as Grunig and Hunt amongst many others, but these specific theories are not necessarily important when it comes to working in the industry from day to day. Loosely, the models can be applied to work that is done, but I think it has been made clear from my internship that it’s more important to keep your clients happy than worry about Grunig and Hunt’s two way symmetrical models.

Theory engrains students with a knowledge that they can call upon throughout all working duties. For example the theory of external communication teaches of the importance of how an organisation communicates externally with its public, and the effect it can have on their image and reputation. This is extremely important in practice because we are working on behalf of clients trying to tell their stories in the best way possible externally through newspapers and online in order to boost their business and create a positive public image.

It’s key to have a wide knowledge of theory so that in all aspects of practice you understand why you’re doing it, in order to maximise positive results.

As I first expected, the practice is not like sitting in a lecture hall, but there is undoubtedly a breadth of knowledge within theory that is essential when working in the public relations industry.

In all professional industries, it is vitally important that there is a good mix of both theory and practice.

You won’t learn everything you need to know in the class room, but you also won’t learn it all working solely for a PR agency.

Balance theory and practice together, it’s a recipe for success.

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