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How to launch your career in PR: Career advice from FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Max Kalu

Posted on May 27, 2016

The PR industry is notoriously competitive so it’s always useful to get advice from talented people in the sector who have managed to successfully launch their careers. In this guest blog piece, FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Max Kalu talks about how he got into PR and offers some valuable advice to anyone wanting to do the same.

Growing up Public Relations, known to many as ‘PR’, was an industry I had heard of, but never considered. In truth, it just never occurred to me to look into it, in typical Nigerian fashion my parents were intent on me being a “banker, doctor or lawyer” and that was about it.

I accidentally discovered PR whilst I was studying Politics at Swansea University. In my third year, a friend and I decided to act on our massive interest in fitness and launched ‘Mr University’, the UK’s first student bodybuilding competition.

We ran the competition for a successful year, securing sponsorship from Microsoft and coverage in various outlets including the Huffington Post and BBC Three.

I naturally fell into a PR role; my essay writing skills were used to write press releases, and my eye for detail and critical thinking were needed to navigate the various reputational issues namely unfounded claims of steroid use and sexism, we were levelled with.

Mr University offered me clarity on the direction I wished to take post-university, and following graduation I joined FleishmanHillard Fishburn as a Graduate Trainee in the Corporate Communications team.

Having spent just over 7 months at FHF, I can say no day is the same. At one moment I may be on a conference call with a client across the world, the next having lunch with a journalist from a global newspaper.

If you’re contemplating a career in PR, the first thing I advise is a frank and honest self-assessment of your personality type and attributes.

So much of what we do depends on human interaction; dealing with clients, liaising with media, networking, so you must be a confident communicator. You also need to be comfortable multi-tasking and working under pressure – at any given moment you will be juggling various clients with different and complex demands.

Practically, there are a number of ways to get into the industry. University level education is expected with subjects varying across industry specialisms. For example, many of my colleagues in the Corporate team have arts and humanities backgrounds, but many of my colleagues in the Healthcare team studied science subjects.

Prior experience is also a must. My path was unconventional, but I’m a big believer in the worth of real-life experience. Nothing demonstrates natural aptitude better than taking your own initiative. This can be a pretty simple – outreach to local media outlets for an event at your university for example.

Internships remain the most common way for students to build their CV’s and can provide valuable insight into agency life. Familiarise yourself with agency profiles on PR Week, and shoot off introductory emails along with your CV.

As soon as I entered the PR industry I noticed its widespread lack of diversity. In my personal experience I’ve never experienced anything but receptivity, but the fact remains that there’s a distinct lack of BAME representatives at PR firms across the UK. Agencies and industry bodies are seeking to address this, and I’d recommend you make full use of initiatives like Creative Access and The Taylor Bennett Foundation which support members of the BAME community hoping to join the communications industry.

The main concern of any PR firm is managing client reputations and generating publicity. In order to continue achieving this in our rapidly evolving and increasingly global society, the PR industry needs more people like you and I – people that bring diverse and different views to the table. I haven’t looked back since entering the world of PR, and I don’t think you will either.