GUIDE TO CAREERS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS: In-house private sector - Private sector PR gives graduates the opportunity to work with some of the biggest brands and companies around, and requires PROs to deal with a broad range of stakeholders


Private sector PR is concerned with the promotion of products and

commercial services. The scope of the private sector is vast, taking

everything from consumer PR, to corporate and financial. It also

includes healthcare PR, which requires practitioners to operate within a

set of restrictions due to the products it promotes.

Private sector PR can help consumers navigate their way through

advertising clutter by reinforcing brand messages and establishing

loyalty through third-party endorsement. In the past, PR was seen as

little more than an extension of an organisation's marketing


Nowadays private sector PR is considered a discipline in its own right,

often at the core of a company's corporate strategy. At Virgin, for

example, brand development and corporate affairs director Will Whitehorn

acts as custodian of the Virgin name, working on advertising campaigns,

and developing a communications strategy for new products.

The centre stage place often given to PR is largely due to industry-wide

initiatives to measure and evaluate the value of PR campaigns. Yet the

degree to which PROs work with marketing teams still depends upon each


At Schering Health Care, for example, practitioners work hand-in-hand

with marketing colleagues on product launches, while at Mulberry,

international PR manager Vanessa Lunt works autonomously, holding the

budget for fashion shows and charity events.

The in-house private sector PRO may find his role overlapping with that

of an agency PRO, especially on consumer campaigns. While the two roles

are often similar, the main benefit of in-house PR over consultancy is

that practitioners gain a much deeper understanding of the issues

affecting an organisation since they are living and breathing them every

day. Unlike agency PROs, who work across several accounts, in-house PROs

have the luxury of focusing on one company. As Lunt says: 'Compared to

an agency, you can really get your teeth stuck into the job and you

experience a broad spectrum of PR, from social PR, product PR to event


Her sentiment is echoed by Matt Peacock, director of corporate

communications at AOL. 'Working in-house, you have to understand that

you are part of the business. Every other discipline in the company is

numbers-driven, with targets and objectives. The AOL communications team

uses media evaluation much more than most dot.coms.'

The size of an in-house department can vary from a single individual in

a small company to a substantial team in a plc. At AOL, for example,

there is a press team of 11. At Volvo the communications function is

split between PR and events, with three in each group. The events team

deals with sponsorship and non-product events, such as The London Boat

Show and the Volvo Ocean Race, while the PR team is in charge of product

launches, press events and new initiatives.

Private sector PROs are generally better paid than their public sector

counterparts. However from a graduate's perspective, it can be difficult

to find an organisation which operates a graduate training scheme. Some

graduates like Niki Cousins, Abbey National assistant media relations

executive, were lucky in securing a place on one. However in the

majority of cases either an agency or a public sector organisation

offers the easiest route into private sector PR. It is beneficial,

however, for PROs who start in public sector to experience the private

sector at some point in their careers, and vice versa.

Many public sector PROs say they feel proud to be working for a good

cause. This feeling is shared by some private sector PROs, particularly

those who work in the healthcare field, where products can help save

consumers' lives. Therese Wulff, Schering Health Care head of public

relations, says: 'We have a great loyalty to the consumer and we do

think we are working for a good cause.'

Community partnerships and initiatives are becoming increasingly common

in other private sector PR fields, with organisations recognising the

value of developing a reputation for being a good corporate citizen.

At the end of the day consumers have a choice and PR in the private

sector is about understanding consumers in order to stay one step ahead

of the game. As AOL's Peacock says: 'Forget the old cliche you have to

be a people person to be good at PR. You have to be consumer person. If

you can develop the mindset of the consumer and know what he or she

wants, then you are like gold dust to the industry.'


Scottish media giant SMG has interests in publishing, cinema, radio, TV

and advertising. The company recently split its TV operation into five

brands - Scottish TV, Grampian, S2, Ginger TV and SMG TV.

Claire MacLellan is press officer for Glasgow-based Scottish TV and S2,

Scotland's version of ITV2. She is part of a marketing team of 11, but

works autonomously. Responsible for news, current affairs, sports and

light-entertainment, her shows include Take The High Road, Scottish

Passport, Scotland Today and The Glory Game, which traces the Celtic

influence on football.

MacLellan's role is split between proactive and reactive PR. On the

proactive side, she arranges interviews with newsreaders, actors and the

producers of new shows. She also organises photocalls, distributes press

packs, manages the Scottish TV and S2 web sites, and keeps the database

of press contacts up-to-date.

She has learnt always to plan photocalls to prevent clashes with major

news events. 'I am at the mercy of journalists' news agendas,' she


'On the day of the Lockerbie verdict, I was way down on their schedule.

You always have to think the way the newspapers do.'

Other tips include giving short quotes to journalists, since long quotes

usually get subbed beyond recognition, and putting in holding calls to

let journalists know their enquiry has not been forgotten. MacLellan

also acts as the first point of contact for negative media enquires. She

says she always tries to elicit a response from the appropriate person

at Scottish TV or S2.

Working for a media company is MacLellan's first job in PR. She

describes the job as very interesting, but hard work, particularly since

she is on call every other weekend.


Communications at Cadbury Schweppes is carried out by a corporate

communications team, an external affairs team, and an internal affairs

team. Corporate communications is shared between the three-strong PR

team and an investor relations team of three.

Dora McCabe is Cadbury Schweppes head of group PR. The bulk of her work

is geared towards the financial calendar. She and her team brief City

editors on annual reports, AGMs, regular trading updates and


The team is also active in three other areas - incident management,

community PR and corporate reputation.

The team also provides a normal press office service for the media.

In the area of community affairs, the PR team works closely with the

community affairs department to explore any PR issues which may come out

of their work.

McCabe thinks graduates interested in her sector must understand the

world of finance and the workings of the City. 'It is essential to speak

the same language as journalists and to have a firm grasp of company

strategy,' she says.

She adds that PROs working for large fmcg companies also need to

understand the issues which have an impact on the way a company is run.

'There is a move towards increased social responsibility, particularly

in the area of the environment,' she points out.


Gill Twyman was working as a freelance PRO when Transco, her largest

client, invited her to come in-house. She agreed and now shares the role

of external affairs manager with Graham Franklin. Franklin takes care of

the operations side of the business, including metering and connections,

while Twyman looks after safety and pipeline-related information. The

team is supported by a communications assistant. While Twyman and

Franklin focus on the national picture, a team of regional press

officers operates in each of Transco's 12 local distribution zones. The

PROs work closely with local councils on forthcoming street works and

deal with media enquiries.

Transco is an unusual utility company in that it has a near-monopoly in

the marketplace. Its customers are the 60 'shippers' which rent space in

its gas pipes. They include Beacon Gas and British Gas Trading.

End-users are not actively targeted, but are still an important


In some ways Transco resembles a public sector organisation, since

competition is less of an issue. The message it sells to stakeholders,

who include employees, ministers and the media, is safety.

'Safety is our top priority,' says Twyman. 'We never miss an opportunity

to promote this message to our stakeholders.'

Twyman says the working environment at the Transco press team is very

friendly and it was this which tempted her to work in-house. 'The team

is very supportive and knowledgable and the work is extremely

interesting,' she says.

New graduates are not normally recruited, but there are exceptions.

Twyman tells of a recent success story; a graduate who joined the

Transco communications team and worked his way up to become a regional



Vanessa Lunt joined Mulberry on a graduate training scheme, working

first on the shop floor, before moving into the marketing


When Mulberry's PR function was brought in-house, Lunt was given the

role of PR assistant. She is now its international PR manager, helped by

an assistant and a steady stream of interns.

One of her key responsibilities is managing Mulberry's European PR

operation, which involves setting objectives and targets for overseas

agencies. As the company rolls out into the US this year, she will be

responsible for hiring and managing several more agencies.

In the UK, Lunt holds the budget for fashion shows, such as London

Fashion Week, and charity events including the Berkeley Dress Show and

the Mulberry Classic at Hurlingham. In addition, she is responsible for

publishing Mulberry's Look Book and its financial results.

While she admits fashion PR has its perks, it is not the champagne

lifestyle portrayed in the media. 'Yes, you get a clothing allowance and

go to parties, but it's very hard work,' she claims. 'You are

co-ordinating that event, planning everything, right down to the towels

in the toilets.'

Lunt adds that, unlike other in-house practitioners, she cannot fall

back on trusted companies for areas such as catering. 'People in the

fashion industry expect to be dazzled. You always have to be looking for

the latest venue or restaurant for your event.' Graduates interested in

fashion PR must have a real interest in fabrics and cuts in order to

speak knowledgeably to journalists, according to Lunt.


Niki Cousins joined retail bank Abbey National as part of its corporate

affairs management trainee scheme two years ago. Now an assistant media

relations executive, Cousins works for the business-to-business and

corporate division of the PR department.

The press team, which consists of 15 staff, also has a

business-to-consumer and a retail division. Cousins' main responsibility

is the Abbey National subsidiary First National Finance, for which she

provides a consultancy role. Her job involves writing press releases for

her 'client', pushing positive stories, educating the marketing

department about PR, and managing less favourable stories in the


Cousins says that before she joined the Abbey National press team she

did not realise there was a sales side to public relations, believing it

was all to do with media relations.

'I thought there would be a lot of long lunches with high-powered

journalists,' she admits. 'I didn't realise it would involve so much

hard work or that I would be constantly re-prioritising a list of 20


Cousins says her working environment is very fast-moving, especially

since Abbey National has been in merger talks. 'You have to always keep

an eye on the bigger picture, keeping up with regulations and your


Since I'm dealing with business-to-business, I will read a lot of

obscure trade publications, as well as the nationals and the financial


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