The first person to be interviewed for The #StartingOut Series is Laura Downton, a PR Director at Lee Peck Media.
She’s my amazing colleague who absolutely slays at PR. Find out what wise words she has to share with people starting out in public relations.
Laura has more than a decade’s experience working in the media, both as a journalist and PR professional. Her insights into media relations are published in the book ‘Brilliant PR’ by Cathy Bussey and her unique understanding of journalists’ needs means she always delivers outstanding results for clients.
How did you get into the PR industry?
I actually started my career as a newspaper journalist, getting my first job as a reporter on a local paper aged 19. I managed to get into it so young by skipping university doing an intensive journalism qualification instead. It meant I cut out three years of studying and a lot of student debt! I moved over into PR around three years later and soon realised there was a lot more room for career progression.
Having a background in journalism was a real advantage. It meant I could spot a story, write quickly and understand what angle reporters were angling for when they came to us with crisis comms. That said, it was a steep learning curve learning about the marketing side of PR and looking after paying clients was completely new to me. I’m so grateful to my first boss who took me under her wing and showed me the way.
What would be your top tip for someone starting out in PR?
Read the newspapers, magazines and websites you’re trying to get your content into. Only by understanding how their stories are constructed and what topics they’re into can you stand a chance of getting your content published. A great PR person is thought of as a trusted resource by journalists, not someone who constantly blanket bombs them with irrelevant news.
What’s the biggest mistake you see young practitioners making?
In my view, universities don’t teach enough about budget or the time constraints of working to a retainer. As a result, I see a lot of young practitioners coming into the industry and suggesting campaign ideas that are way out of kilter with clients’ budgets. It’s not their fault of course and I would love to see the universities stepping up and teaching them more about this. The fact students aren’t taught enough about the time constraints of working to a retainer means many don’t understand how fast you have to work. It must be a real shock to the system coming from a university background where you often have weeks or months to work on one paper.
What sources do you find useful to develop your skills?
It’s a real mix of reading up online and learning from the people I work with. Even after 10 years in the industry I still learn every day.
I also like to scour the trade press and media in general to see what other brands are doing. It can be easy to fall into a ‘creativity rut’ so taking inspiration from others is important for the sake of your career and your clients.
What’s the biggest challenge facing PR at the moment and what advice can you offer for young professionals to navigate this?
Measurement and reporting continues to be a challenge. In a world where social media analytics can give you ROI or reach figures within seconds, it’s harder to put a figure on the results of traditional PR.
A huge thank you to Laura for being the first to be interviewed for The #StartingOut Series. You can follow her on Twitter @LauraDownton.
Feedback and comments are welcome and you can get me on Twitter @r_henders. If you’re a PR professional who would like to be involved get in touch via the Contact Me section on Bright Lights Big City.
The #StartingOut Series aims to help new PR practitioners with useful blog posts and interviews with key industry practitioners. Click here to read more about The #StartingOut Series and why I started it.