Analysis: Graduates ready to face real world

With ever-greater numbers of graduates hoping to pursue careers in PR, Milkround Online conducted exclusive research on how much they know about the industry.

'I'd like to work in PR because I'm a good communicator and you get to go to loads of parties.' You've heard graduates say it, or something similar; PR is the glamorous career option where you schmooze journalists, quaff champagne and call it work.

Not according to one graduate, who took part in a poll conducted by graduate recruitment organisation Milkround Online, designed to discover what those with a burning desire to work in PR really know about their dream profession: 'I have always been interested in reputation management and risk avoidance,' wrote the graduate. 'I know that PR goes beyond glamour and is a real business discipline employed for strategic vision.' Spoken like a true PR professional.

In fact, the poll, which was emailed to graduates of universities including Oxford and Cambridge, generally shows them to be more savvy about the realities of what lies ahead than we might give them credit for.

For example, when asked 'what do you think is the average starting salary for a graduate in PR?' the majority - 55 per cent - said £15k-£18k, followed by 36 per cent who opted for the next salary bracket: £18k-£22k.

MD of recruitment firm The Foun-dry Lynn Beaumont says £15k-£20k is pretty accurate, adding: 'These graduates have probably been warned to be realistic about pay because, with the current economic mood, it won't be an easy market to enter.'

The graduates also had no illusions about how many hours per week they'd have to sweat it out in PR. Most - 49 per cent - ticked the 40-45 hours a week box because, as one respondent wrote, 'tenacity and hard work are the cores of a successful career in PR'.

When it comes to the sector at the top of their wish list, however, 34 per cent of graduates still chose celebrity/ entertainment, maybe because it's the area of the industry that dominates the headlines.

After consumer goods, politics is the third most popular sector, probably thanks to the injection of a little glamour from New Labour's spin doctors.

The City scored relatively low - at 11 per cent - perhaps showing that financial gain is not the motivating factor for graduates itching to get into the industry.

Finally, bottom of the sector pile were tech, with seven per cent, and internal comms with four per cent.

'I forgive them for not knowing about tech PR,' says Firefly Communications MD Claire Walker. 'Celebrity PR does sound sexy. They probably think technology is all boring widgets, not consumer campaigns for mobile phones or computers, but we interview lots of graduates who have done six months in entertainment PR and suddenly realise they are not stretching their grey matter.'

Meanwhile, Beaumont attributes the low status of internal comms to the fact that there are few graduate level opportunities, and many come into the sector through non-PR routes like human resources.

The final question - 'which of the following major PR firms have you heard of? - is where our potential job seekers let themselves down. Twenty-three per cent had never heard of any of the top agencies listed, a fact which Milkround operations manger Sophie Green calls 'astonishing'. She adds: 'I was extremely surprised that they had not heard of these companies if they really want a career in PR.'

Burson-Marsteller scored lowest - just ten per cent knew the agency - followed by Bell Pottinger (12 per cent), Hill & Knowlton (13 per cent), Edelman (15 per cent) and, finally, Weber Shandwick with 20 per cent.

B-M and Edelman of course, have been around more than 50 years each - WS formed barely two years ago.

WS's results could simply be due to it wearing the 'UK's biggest agency' crown, but joint CEO David Brain believes it is largely due to the effort the agency puts into its graduate scheme. 'We take 30-35 graduates and put them in a week-long "PR boot camp", in order to select 12 to 15. We give them a really bad mock brief: one of the staff pretends to be a crotchety client and we ask them to pitch for the business; it's a fairly intense training in the fundamentals of PR.'

Brain is not surprised the Milkround graduates are clued up about their future in PR. 'Today's graduates are totally different to when I started out,' says Brain. 'My generation didn't know what PR was and just ended up there, usually via journalism. But these graduates have very specific ideas about what they want from an employer.'

They are also very ambitious and a bit over-optimistic, as 52 per cent reckon it will take them just five to ten years to reach the top of their profession, which might amuse the average forty-something agency chief executive or PR director.

One respondent, it seems, has concluded that a career in PR is just not worth the effort: 'I think PR is generally looked down on as a profession.

It is characterised by rather unintelligent individuals from the interaction I have experienced.' Either that or he's a PR boot camp reject.

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