The PR Students Experience: Ella McLaren

In this week’s the PR Students Experience, I spoke to Ella McLaren who is just finishing her second year on the PR degree at University of the Arts London. Below I talk about all of the projects Ella has worked on alongside her degree as well as her plans for a future in the music industry.

In The PR Students Experience we delve into past and present PR students’ modules & topics, course structure, universities’ guidance on how to enter the PR industry, career help, how they’re finding work in the industry and plans for the future.

Course Structure and Modules

Ella’s favourite topics on her course have been the modules that are more practical. In first semester this year she did a module called Planning PR Campaigns which she said she loved as it is directly related to the work you do in a PR role.

When discussing the structure of her course and module choices, Ella said, “UAL’s PR course is really structured, you get one optional module in first and second year and that’s it for the whole degree.” One of her optional module’s was in podcasting in which she created a 10 minute podcast which you can listen to here.

Ella did say that she doesn’t mind not having many modules to pick. 3 years ago she started a Liberal Arts degree at Leeds University but the freedom to choose all optional modules didn’t work out for her. The structure at UAL has meant that she is being taught the relevant subjects for her future career.

Ella loves studying PR as she thinks it really suits her skillset, she likes talking to people, she loves to write and enjoys planning. At the same time it is also challenging which means it isn’t boring for her.

Is the course up to date and is there anything that’s not included?

Throughout her modules, Ella said that her lecturers will refer to the CIPR, PRCA and any new studies and reports around PR. Her lecturers also pick up on the most recent news with lecturers even changing their lesson plans because of something that happened that week.

The degree touches on relevant topics across the world including Black Lives Matter, the pandemic, museums returning artefacts etc., and relating that to PR.

With a course structure that only allows for 2 optional modules, the UAL course tries to include as much as they can. Ella said she thinks they cover all the bases, but some things they kind of gloss over. She didn’t think they focused enough on writing skills, whether that be for press releases or magazine articles. So, Ella decided to set up a cross-campus magazine at UAL. The magazine, which is called Link, focuses on relevant issues for students, as well as opportunities for students to showcase their work.

She also said that so far her course has felt more theoretical rather than fully preparing for working in PR, which is why she enjoys any practical modules she does have.

Career Development Guidance

Although not a lot of the modules include practical, real-life experiences, her course does have a module called Public Relations Professionalism which includes a placement. So, as that module develops and she goes into final year her opinions on the practical side of things may change.

Ella hasn’t used the careers department much as she knows what she is wanting to do. She wants to work in the music industry, originally she wanted to work in artist management but after working at Mumford & Sons management agency (how cool right?!) she realised she enjoyed the publicity side of things more.

She said that since the pandemic, professional development has become a lot more independent and you as an individual need to make the most of it. For her internships she kept asking multiple places and going and looking for them herself. She said she always tells her friends “if you don’t ask it won’t happen.” Ella has two internships lined up, one with Lucid and one with Satellite 414. After contacting 71 agencies she received 10 replies, and finally 2 internships.

Ella’s future

Ella’s future is in the music industry, but she doesn’t want to box herself in with what she does. She likes a more strategic role, starting at an agency but perhaps working in-house later on.

She is excited about her internships as she’s working both at a music agency, but also an entertainment agency meaning she’ll get a well rounded experience.

As a second year, Ella has a year left of her degree. With many projects on the go and her success in landing internships, I’m sure Ella will have a great year and future ahead. I love her dream of working in the music industry.

Get involved!

If you’d like to be involved in The PR Students Experience then feel free to email me at sophsnextstep@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter! I’d love to talk to students across the country and the world to see what we are taught about PR at university.

In my next post on The PR Students Experience, I talk to Megan Harris who’s studying Business and PR at Liverpool John Moores University.

The PR Students Experience: Rhea Mathew

In this week’s the PR Students Experience, we’re going international! I spoke to Rhea Mathew who studied her MA in Communications Studies at Indiana University after graduating from her BA in Communications, English and Psychology. Rhea graduated in 2016 so this is about her experience 5 years ago and things have certainly changed since then.

In The PR Students Experience we delve into past and present PR students’ modules & topics, course structure, universities’ guidance on how to enter the PR industry, career help, how they’re finding work in the industry and plans for the future.

Course structure and modules

Rhea’s bachelors degree was a triple major over three years. Communications included all elements of broadcast, PR, radio and journalism. English looked at different specialisms e.g., British literature, English literature and Indian literature. For psychology she studied developmental psychology, industrial psychology, and lots of other areas. Each semester of each year included modules on all three majors and they would progressively get harder with heavier topics.

Unlike here in England, every year of university in America counts towards your grade. This includes first year through to final year and even attendance. At the end of every year you need to have a minimum of 75% attendance.

Assessments in Rhea’s undergrad did include exams which seems to be a norm in American degrees. No one I have spoken to so far has had exams for PR, only assignments. However, she did study english and psychology which contained most of the exams.

Her masters was focused in communications studies and after the 2 years Rhea wrote her thesis on improving communications and social media for a particular institution within her university. Rhea mentioned that her masters involved a lot of the things she was taught during her undergrad, however, her masters degree involved a lot more research.

Gaining experience during university

Rhea’s undergraduate degree was more practical based which included internships during the summer. Her first internship was with a journalism company and her second was with a PR company. These internships also added to her final grade which is a great motivation as you’re gaining experience and getting a good grade.

Was the course up to date?

Rhea said “at the time, my course was up to date. Now, not so much.” She proceeded to say the world has completely changed so a lot of things she learnt are no longer relevant. However, she mentioned that having that foundation of knowledge has been useful. Rhea thinks universities need to get up to date and include new things in their courses, like handling trolls and crisis comms on social media. She didn’t think they were doing enough and that she went looking elsewhere for extra information.

Her university is starting to reinvent the masters courses and have realised students need to learn how to handle today’s topics.

What did Rhea wish she had been taught more about?

Rhea said, “during my undergrad I wish I had been taught more about crises and how to handle a crisis. PR is not this rosey bed of glitz and glamour…but it’s not that, there’s a lot of hard work behind it.”

She wishes she was taught that side of PR more as they were taught to believe it was something it’s not.

Her courses didn’t include PR measurement and Rhea said that in her first job she had no idea how to measure her work.

What Rhea is up to now

When she finished her masters degree, Rhea got her first job pretty quickly at HP as a global communications manager for one year and internal comms for 2 years. After that she decided to try something new and joined a fellowship programme in the US at a global women’s media publishing startup doing social media management.

She used her free time to take online courses to develop her learning and has certificates from Yale and University of Toronto. During the first lockdown Rhea took a digital marketing course which has helped with her work.

Most recently, she has joined Battenhall as a social media manager. She’s enjoying her new role at the agency!

Rhea said that one thing leads to another but her advice would be to never stop learning. Whether that be online courses or go back to university, there’s always room to learn.

Get involved!

If you’d like to be involved in The PR Students Experience then feel free to email me at sophsnextstep@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter! I’d love to talk to students across the country and the world to see what we are taught about PR at university.

In my next post on The PR Students Experience, I talk to Ella McLaren who’s in her second year of a BA in PR at University of the Arts London.