July 30, 2019, by Leah Sharpe
Engineer your career as a PR consultant
Do you love science, engineering and technology? But feel you might enjoy a career writing and talking about these subjects more than doing them in the laboratory? Then you could put your STEM qualification to good use as a public relations (PR) consultant working in the science and engineering sectors.
For many years, PR was regarded as something of a second career. Indeed, that is how I started. Having graduated from the University of Nottingham in 1980 with a degree in Metallurgy and Materials Science, I worked as a research engineer in the automotive industry. After ten years I realised that it was communication that really interested me, and I made the career switch to join a PR consultancy.
There are a growing number of opportunities for recent STEM graduates to make PR their first job. The thing about the PR profession is that you do not always need a PR qualification to get started. What you do need are good writing and communications skills, organisational ability, people skills, the capability to pay attention to the finest detail as well as an eye for the big picture, and most of all a certain stickability.
The work you might be involved in at a STEM PR consultancy can be very varied. Not just from day to day, but sometimes from hour to hour. For example, you could find yourself writing a press release about a new type of electrical switchgear, crafting a feature article on advanced battery technology, scripting a video on satellite sensors or organising a press trip abroad to see a new steel processing plant. The type of client you work with can also vary from small start-ups to multi-national groups.
PR consultants are often involved in media relations, working with national print or broadcast media as well as some more esoteric trade and technical media – I admit to a certain ‘frisson’ when one of the titles I work with appears as a guest publication on ‘Have I Got News For You’. Equally, you might be involved in internal comms, such as helping a client communicate a major reorganisation. Or you could be asked to help with more mainstream marketing activities such as writing brochures, scripting videos and social media planning.
Unlike many careers, you will be taking on significant responsibility from early on. And you will often find yourself working with senior people on the client side. In STEM PR you are exposed to very clever people, especially scientists and engineers who will rely on you to turn their very technical news into material that can be more easily assimilated by the public.
Thanks to the efforts of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), PR is now a professional career. Structured training courses combined with experience can take you through to achieving the coveted chartered status. And if you want to take a more academic route then masters qualifications and even doctorates are possibilities.
So how do you get started? The best way is to contact a PR consultancy operating in the sorts of sectors that interest you. Most are based in London. But there are many excellent technical PR consultancies across the UK. Even if they don’t have immediate vacancies, they are almost always ready to talk to you – PR people love talking about their business! It might even be possible to arrange a short internship to find out if this challenging career is really for you.
Personally, I am always ready to speak to anyone considering working in PR. I suffered a lot of knockbacks when I decided to make the switch from engineering research, so I know what it is like. Eventually though I found a consultancy willing to take a gamble. And here I am now.
Feeling inspired? Explore our website to find out more about roles within PR, where to look for jobs, and how to find work experience.