Meet the graduates

Another autumn sees another intake of keen youngsters ready to make their mark on the industry. Mary Cowlett asked six about their experiences

Despite the current gloomy economic climate, graduate recruitment levels have shot up at most of the UK’s largest PR agencies.

Weber Shandwick, Freud Communications and Edelman have all increased their graduate recruitment levels in 2008, indicating that bringing in new talent remains important to the industry.

Combined, nine of the top ten agencies in the UK by fee income hired more than 85 graduates in 2008 (PRWeek, 24 July), compared with just 64 in 2007.

The benefits of hiring graduates are clear for both employee and agency.

Graduate traineeships can offer young talent an opportunity to grow, and in return, their freshness and enthusiasm can bring a new and exciting perspective to the workplace.

Ros Kindersley, managing director of JFL Search & Selection, says: ‘It is not just larger consultancies that should consider graduate appointments. Graduates’ enthusiasm, transferable skills and fresh approach are valuable in any workplace.’

PRWeek met six young stars – three new starters and three who are one year into their traineeships – to ask about their choices and aspirations.Trainee

 

Hannah Ready (22)
trainee consultant,
Fishburn Hedges

Jumping from the legal profession to PR seems a radical change of course. However, Hannah Ready says she chose to study law at university because of its academic appeal rather than any ambition to join a big commercial legal firm.

‘While I got a great deal out of vacation schemes at the end of my second year, I also realised that working as a solicitor was not for me. I particularly enjoyed media law and the emphasis on effective oral and written communication, which actually led me to consider PR as a career route,’ says the Cambridge graduate.

She views the PR industry as offering an opportunity to be creative within a commercial and intellectually stimulating environment: ‘I felt PR would suit my personality. At the same time, agencies such as Fishburn Hedges offer ambitious graduates real exposure on high-level accounts – a prospect I found appealing.’

The 22-year-old is also prepared to defend her industry against charges of being mere ‘spin’. ‘PR agencies offer a useful resource for all kinds of companies to explain to each other, and to the public, exactly what their message is and what they do.’

Ready anticipates a demanding career but is already enjoying the fast pace. ‘I expect to meet lots of interesting people and to be shouted at by journalists,’ she adds.

 

Trainee
Eamonn Collins (25)
graduate trainee,
Burson-Marsteller

With a masters degree in French from Queen’s University Belfast, Eamonn Collins was attracted to the PR industry because of its diversity and strategic planning. ‘I also looked at journalism and advertising, but talking to people, it became clear that in PR no single day is the same, which really appealed,’ he says.

This decision was confirmed by researching his options on graduate career website Milkround.com.
Having worked as a classroom assistant for several months after graduating, the 25-year-old football fiend says his brief stint in the industry has been all positive so far: ‘It is a big challenge. From the start,
I have been given lots of responsibility and immediate contact with clients. But equally, the support has been fantastic.

At the end of each week, I feel I have picked up a number of new skills.’

Collins says he appreciates the opportunity to work with a range of Burson-Marsteller’s clients, which so far include Accenture and HP. ‘This will allow me to see where my skills are and to get an idea of which
area I would like to specialise in,’ he says.

Furthermore, he welcomes the agency’s international scope. ‘One of the big things that attracted me was the opportunity to deal with clients and colleagues all around the world on a daily basis,’ says Collins.

 

Trainee
Ollie Christophers (23)
graduate trainee,
Bell Pottinger

He may only be a couple of weeks into his PR career, but Ollie Christophers is very much focused on the professionalism of the industry he has chosen. He cites CIPR president Lis Lewis-Jones as the PR professional he most admires.

‘By pushing for more accountability and regulation, she deserves a huge amount of respect and support,’ he says.

Moreover, while studying for his masters degree in international PR at Cardiff University, the 23-year-old chose the reputation of the PR industry as the subject of his dissertation: ‘There is still some way to go, but the industry is making huge strides in terms of improving ethical practices.’

A devoted film buff, Christophers knew he wanted to be in PR even when applying for his degree in economics and business management. He attributes this to his Devon roots and his parents’ two businesses, one of which, a firm of funeral directors, has been in the family since the 1830s.

‘I was groomed in PR as I was aware that my family’s success relied on our reputation in the community,’ he says.

Christophers eventually hopes to fulfil a long-held ambition to work in the US. But he has high expectations of his time at Bell Pottinger, where he is currently assigned to the corporate and financial division.

 

One year in
Alex Calder (24)
account executive, CHA

Alex Calder once told her father, a career ad man, that hell would freeze over before she ever joined the PR industry.

‘I was an idealistic student. We were sitting in a pub in Lincoln’s Inns Fields when he suggested it would be a good career option for me. So I ranted at him for 20 minutes about how I thought the whole PR profession was despicable.’

Since then, her opinions have thawed: ‘I now understand how PR works, why it works and how it fits into the scheme of advertising and marketing.’

Having joined CHA on a three-month paid work experience placement last November, following graduation from LSE, she now sees PR as being more supportive and closely aligned to journalism.

‘It is much more creative than I thought, and I really enjoy the lateral thinking and brain-storming involved,’ she adds.

The global economic history graduate still gets a thrill from seeing the case studies and features ideas she has pitched in the papers.

With experience in workplace communications, the 24-year-old admires the PR coverage generated by firms such as McDonald’s. She is similarly impressed by Travelodge’s ability to leverage unusual research: ‘They get everywhere with stories such as the top ten books people leave in hotel rooms.’

Calder’s burning ambition is to work in the Cabinet press office. Long-term, however, she would like to couple her PR skills to her passion for horses, working for the Irish Turf Club.

 

One year in
Joe Weston (22)
junior account executive,
3 Monkeys

Joe Weston joined 3 Monkeys in 2006 on a 12-month work placement as part of his BA in marketing.

Since then, he has completed his degree from the University of the West of England and returned to the agency full time with big ideas.

‘While doing my degree, I knew I wanted to set up my own marketing agency and I still have that ambition now,’ he says.

In the meantime, the hip-hop and live music enthusiast is keen to rise through the ranks ‘as quickly as possible’ and get involved in the strategic elements of managing and directing his own accounts.

Squirming at the recollection of his first day on the job, when he turned up suited and booted, the 22-year-old says the industry is not what he expected: ‘I thought it was more corporate. At university, the focus was very much around CSR and fin¬ancial results. I didn’t realise there was so much influence in the consumer arena.’

Similarly, he has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of crossover with other marketing disciplines: ‘I thought the job was primarily going to be about media relations. I didn’t realise that I’d get experience in areas such as events.’

Now working with clients such as 3 Mobile, he is impressed by the power of PR to influence the national and international news agenda. He also admires figures such as Mark Borkowski for commanding the respect of the media. ‘Although, to me PR should be almost invisible,’ he adds.

A dedicated football fan, his only regret so far is that 3 Monkeys does not have enough men to field a decent 11.

 

One year in
Tom Winterton (22)
account executive,
Shine Communications

With almost 18 months’ industry experience under his belt, Tom Winterton is still excited by his career choice. ‘PR is a great place to be. I really love the energy,’ he enthuses.

Joining consumer shop Shine in 2007 as a graduate trainee, he says the job is pretty much what he expected: ‘It is busy, but it is creative, really rewarding and you get to work with great people.’

The history graduate says one of the original attractions of the job was the opportunity to work with high-profile brands such as EA Games, eBay and Paramount and the ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos of his chosen agency.

‘I suppose the only real surprises have been getting involved in areas such as new business at such an early stage in my career,’ he adds. The 22-year-old was part of the pitching team that recently won a three-month brief from Pizza Express.

His current ambitions are realistic, focused on the skills and experience he needs to head his own accounts. Meanwhile, he is coming down from the adrenalin rush of being involved in events such
as the Vodafone Live Music Awards. ‘I was naive when I first started, thinking it was all about creativity, energy and fun,’ he says. ‘But now I realise that you also have to be smart about things such as account management and filling in status reports.’

Naming Lord Coe as the high-profile communicator he most admires, his current priorities are to be involved in more new business pitches, further his publicity skills and enjoy London’s club scene.

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