Robert Haslam – experience v degree

Robert is Head of External Relations at Givey UK

While academic qualifications are important, in the world of PR it is experience which speaks for itself. Not once has a client or potential client been interested in communication models or even whether I had a degree. What they care about is ‘does this person have the expertise to get my company’s name into the media’. It is for this reason that you really can’t afford not to do a year in industry.

I was fortunate enough to work for one of the leading property PR agencies on my placement year. This entailed working for the likes of DAMAC Properties, Dubai Properties, Berkeley Homes, St James Homes and many others. At the time, the agency represented over £50 billion worth of property across the world. I was involved with launches at places like Harrods and Spencer House for properties worth more than I’ll likely make in a lifetime. Within two weeks of being at the agency, I felt like I’d learnt more about the PR industry than in the first two years of university.

This isn’t to say that the course wasn’t useful, it prepared me for much of what came up in the job – just that real life experience is the most important element. Having started the placement in 2007, it was one of the most interesting times I could have had to be in the property world. For the first half of the placement, the UK property market was seeing dizzying heights of growth and property prices. For the second half it was pop time. The metaphorical shit hit the fan and the world was plunged into recession. Creativity and crisis PR became the order of the day.

All that I learnt on that year gave me countless examples to use in my final year. I seem to remember getting top marks on an essay which I used numerous first-hand experiences rather than text book case studies.

After uni, still aware of the recession I didn’t immediately get a job. I wrongly assumed that there weren’t the jobs out there and that even if I did get one, as a graduate I’d be most at risk of losing a job should the economy worsen. After a few months of working in a bar however, my brother drunkenly told a friend who worked for a technology PR agency that I was looking for a job. After sending off my CV, I got the call for an interview on results day and started soon after.

After just over two years working in mobile technology PR (and getting a few promotions to Account Manager), I was head hunted to come and work at a start-up social donation platform. In PR, maybe more than other professions, you are very aware that much of your job is to a. help affect a stock price; b. (especially in agency) PR something that really isn’t that PRable; c. sometimes feel that you are selling a piece of yourself. The opportunity to move in-house and to work on something that is trying to make a positive impact in the world was too hard to resist.

 

The risks were huge. I loved working in the agency I’d been in. The team was good fun and I knew there were some exciting opportunities in the pipeline. There was job security and a support from the top team for mypersonal progression. I realised that I’d always wonder what if hadn’t jumped ship. Life without a few risks when you have nothing anything to lose is a life of regrets.

 

In my new role as Head of External Relations, I’m expanding my skill base to include marketing, advertising, product development, investor relations, partnerships, event management and about a million other things I would never get from other roles. It’s been a pretty crazy journey but one that’s been deeply rewarding on a personal level.

It’s still too early to know whether we’re going to have the impact we hope to have but the signs are promising. Over the next year, I could find myself organising huge events, helping to expand globally, working alongside major brands and seeing positive changes happening in the world.

Looking back I’ll always be happy for my time at Lincoln. I learnt more about who I am and got the opportunity to have a placement which has ultimately led me to the point I’m at now. I’m now in a position where I get to call the shots and responsibility is firmly on my shoulders. The best advice I can give to students is to try to get as much experience under you as possible. The biggest problem for PR agencies is trying to get graduates who have experience. The old adage of it’s not what you know but who you know rings true in the world of PR. Make sure you do yourselves as many favours as possible by getting out there and getting first hand knowledge.

 Tweet me: @robertphaslam

Check out Givey (new version coming in August): www.givey.com

Email me: robert@givey.com
 

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