Personal relations and communications are popular sectors for bright graduates looking for a creative and exciting role after university. Regardless of sector, companies must market their products or services to a target audience and this requires a dedicated team.
What exactly is PR?
In a nutshell, public relations is the management of communication between an organization and the public. PR specialists build and maintain a positive public image for a company or organization. They create all types of media, from press releases to social media messages, that shape public opinion of the company or organization and increase awareness of its brand.
What exactly is communications?
Communications is a highly dynamic and broad field, and no two communications jobs will be the same. Not only can you go into writing, research, social media marketing, compiling organisational documents or newsletters, but there are also different types of communications management opportunities within communications and PR:
- Communications management involves developing communications objectives that are consistent with an organization’s overall goals. Communications managers identify stakeholders, publics, and audiences and devise long-term strategies and tactics to reach them.
- Crisis management is needed when an organization’s operations become involved in an emergency affecting the public and/or the health of the organization itself. Once the crisis occurs, the manager implements plans to deal with it responsibly.
- Issues management is an ongoing activity that includes studying public policy matters and other societal issues of concern to the organization. The manager identifies issues, problems, and trends relevant to the organization and executes a program to deal with them.
- Relationship management, considered by many to be the heart of public relations, revolves around establishing, enhancing, and maintaining effective and mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders and publics.
- Reputation management calls for planning and implementing policies, procedures, and activities that demonstrate an organization’s commitment to public and social responsibility and ethical behaviour.
- Risk management is a type of preventive PR where an organization focuses on identifying areas of potential danger and recommending needed action before any threat develops into a crisis.
“I didn’t take any specific subjects for PR and communications in high school,” says Tanya Aucamp, CEO and founder of Social Weaver Communication. “You must have a knack for languages, though.”
Equipped with a communications degree
After studying her undergraduate BA communication and Honours in Public Relations and Advertising, Aucamp went on to work her first job at the municipality focusing on PR and tourism marketing. This was the start of the role at the municipality, so she grew it from the ground up until there was a full communications department, focusing on internal and external communications, media, stakeholder engagement, events, journalism and newsletters.
Aucamp, with 29 years of experience in communication, studied the full spectrum of communications, “But these days there are more specific studies for the different fields of communications and PR.”
“They expect you to narrow down more specifically in your studies to decide if you want to focus on journalism or TV work or publications (for example). There are very few, even senior communications people, who have experience and skills in all the levels of communication,” says Aucamp. “But you can’t always choose. If you work in a small team you might have to upskill and be open to handling other parts of communication where necessary.”
“I can work in all levels of comm. I don’t like to write and do the journalism part,” says Aucamp. “My passion is with event management and stakeholder engagement. Because at the end of the day your most successful communication is face-to-face communication.”
PR is all about communication. Not only will you need to be a confident speaker, but you will also have to be an excellent listener.
Even if your background is more tech or science based, if you have the ability to communicate complex theories clearly and without confusion then you already have a core skill. Communication is also about responding to the reactions and needs of different people, through different mediums potentially across different territories. Understanding the subtleties of language is crucial. What may work for one client may not suit another.
Aucamp has further advice for students hoping to enter the world of PR and communications, “Never become more important than your job title,” she says.
“And be conscious of what you call yourself – many people in the industry think they are communication specialists when they are not.”
There are two main associations that you can belong to as a communications specialist: the Public Relations Institute of South Africa (PRISA) and the International Accredited Business Communicators (IABC ) association. To be members of these you need a degree and need to write a sit in exam. There are student categories at lower levels as well.
“There are only eight communications people in the whole of Africa who are IABC credited,” says Aucamp. “If you want to call yourself a communications specialist there are certain things you must do.”
Aucamp currently runs her own communications company.
“It’s hard work, it’s like looking for work every day,” she shares. “So even in journalism or events management, whatever you do, you need to be able to market yourself to be able to get the income.”
Thinking of entering the world of communications and PR?
“There is no typical day in the life of a communications person,” Aucamp shares. “And that is exactly why I am a communications person. I hate routine. And I hate doing the same things every day. I love chaos, adrenaline and adapting to changing situations. So, crisis communications and events management gives you these things.”
If that sounds like something you would enjoy, then this could be the line of work for you.
Here are some additional skills that Aucamp highlighted that will be beneficial in this line of work: analytical thinking, remaining calm in stressful situations, having a good memory (you will constantly be answering questions and following leads, and won’t always have time to go back to check your notes), logical common sense and good instinct.
A lot of marketing is problem solving. You will need to employ strong analytical skills to understand the desires of your existing market and identify the barriers to extending your service or product to a larger audience. Marketers often rely on behavioural information gathered through focus groups, interviews and the work of other researchers. Most companies now also monitor online behaviour through software such as google analytics.
“If I had to choose again, I would choose this again,” says Aucamp of her line of work. “I have an extreme passion for what I do, so I get paid to do what I love to do. Few people are as privileged as I am in this regard.”