I haven’t always worked in PR, but it feels like I’ve always been coming back to it.
When I think back to how I started off on this path, I have to put it down to my primary school best friend. We’d known each other since reception class, and when I had a gap in my A Levels timetable to fill, I asked which subjects she was taking, and went against the advice of all of my teachers at the time – ‘Don’t just do what your friends are doing.’ That’s precisely what I did, and the reason I took Communication Studies, which led to me applying to study public relations at uni. Fast forward four and a half years and I’d finished my A Levels, taken a gap year to decide if PR was really what I wanted to study, and completed a year and a half of a four year course. I was living alone in an incredibly creepy flat in a converted church in Leeds, and I woke up one day after a particularly fun night out to get the bus to uni, and it hit me that I was loving the life I had, but not my degree.
I am creative and academic, and the PR degree was very rigidly businesslike. It relied on natural creativity sitting alongside a passion for spreadsheets and powerpoints, without ever really being acknowledged. I think my lecturers thought I was leaving because I didn’t like PR – I did, I loved the practice of it, but I wanted to study something academic and make the most of every aspect of uni life, not just the nightlife. I took another gap year while I waited for the next academic year to start, filled it with a bit of travelling and came back ready to really learn. I crammed in modules on sociology, politics, gender studies, philosophy, media, film, environmentalism and became an editor of the student newspaper and had the best time. I left uni feeling like I’d earned my degree and was really glad I’d had the chance to study things I found fascinating. I was still a bit stuck though. London was calling, it just wasn’t shouting my name. Every one of my friends seemed to be moving south for a tiny room and the promise of a great career, but again, I just didn’t feel like it was for me. So I travelled again. When I came back, a friend introduced me to a manager of an agency who needed a copywriter, and I filled in, doing a bit of freelance work.
One client led me to the next, and, as is the nature of life in Hull, a familiar name in one office saw me link one opportunity to the next, and I criss crossed my way into education. A slightly ill-judged move saw me teach eleven year olds for a bit, until the educational system spat me out and I realised that at some point I’d taken a wrong turn. I sat in my car one morning (several mornings really), absolutely dreading my day at work. I was working with school kids who hated me, who I hated back. I’d taken a massive pay cut to stay in a schools job when it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.
There’s a huge pressure to stay in your job until you have a new one to move to, and obviously certain situations call for this, but not all of them do. Back then I was child and mortgage free, and going to work everyday was taking a huge toll. It felt like I spent weeks analysing my skills, experience and what I felt happy doing before I took a massive risk. I handed in my notice and the next day registered as self employed. I emailed and called just about every PR person I knew, and plenty more I didn’t. I got up early, went to bed late, and worked solidly to establish myself as a freelancer.
Some months were hard, and I had to rely on savings sometimes, but other months were amazing. But it was never about money, that didn’t motivate me. If I can pay the bills and save for a bit of travel now and again then I’m good. What I loved was the feeling of working for myself. I figured out what working hours I liked, set up a home office (mostly covered in biscuit crumbs), and worked. I started by taking work from anyone who would provide it. My clients were varied, some were awful to work with, some were awful at paying on time, but they allowed me to keep going. From there I figured out what I enjoyed, and which clients gave me the most satisfaction. I started seeking out work in the arts and culture sector, and found myself with new projects to work on that I was really excited about. That carried on for a while, until last year when I took a little break to have Maddie. I was really lucky that I had her at a time when it was easy to naturally allow work to go a bit quieter. I still picked up the odd bit of work to keep in touch with things and concentrated on family life until I felt ready to get back into things.
The decision to return to work after having a baby is a really personal one – I may write a separate post on this at some point. For me, throughout the year it felt a little bit like I was abandoning my business. I’d worked hard to build it up and I didn’t want to have to start from scratch to establish myself again, so I’d already decided I wanted to work, at least part time, after Maddie’s first birthday. I applied for a role handling the PR for a local arts organisation. It seemed a bit bloody perfect – it was part time, based from home, flexible hours, met my level of experience while still giving me a good amount of new challenges, and was inherently built in Hull’s cultural scene. AND I GOT IT. I honestly put more effort into the interview prep than I ever thought possible. I must have spent a full working week researching, putting documents together and teaching myself all there was to know when it came to the role, but it paid off, and I’m about to start something I’m incredibly excited about.
Getting back into work was always going to be a positive thing, but the fact that I have this specific role makes it really exciting. I’m still going to be self employed – the company I’ll be working for is going to essentially be my biggest client, so when time allows, I’ll still be taking on other assignments too.
I aren’t going to say what the company is, not at this stage anyway, but I feel like they fit my personality perfectly. I’ve known I was successful for almost a week now and I still feel overwhelmed with luck that I was able to land such a perfect role for the stage of my career and personal life. It’s incredibly difficult to get the two to match up most of the time.
So I’ve gone from PR student to PR manager in a fairly unconventional way. The key thing to remember is that dropping out, quitting or changing is not a bad thing, as long as you keep moving forwards. I could have forced myself to complete my PR degree, but I would have ended up in London and would have probably felt done with the whole profession by now if I had. I might have taken a while longer than others to earn my degree, know what I wanted to do, or get my dream job, but I definitely feel like I’m there now. What’ so good about convention anyway?