How to be a west London PR girl
Eat kale and live in Brixton
PR conjures a stereotype. You imagine them (“them” being “women”, obviously) sipping Diet Coke at their desks, browsing the Sidebar of Shame and sending tepid press release after tepid press release into the void.
It’s a pretty unfortunate reputation. So we spoke to some west London PR girls about their holy trinity (celebrities, espresso Martinis and quinoa #natch) to find out what it’s really like.
Study History of Art at university
It seems the best route into PR is studying History of Art. “I studied History of Art at Cambridge and graduated in 2014,” explains Phoebe, who works for a Soho agency. “Perhaps History of Art isn’t such a useful skill if you’re doing corporate PR, but in lifestyle it is quite arts-based. I definitely fell into PR because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I graduated, but you get the chance to be creative and you’re not stuck doing repetitive tasks.”
Jill, who also studied History of Art and now works in lifestyle PR, adds: “History of Art is basically what every PR person seems to do.”
Become an intern
PR firms are desperate for interns, and if you work hard you’re likely to be invited back on a full-time basis. Anam Yakub landed her job with Portobello based company, Lucy Dartford PR, after a three-month internship. “It’s all about showing your personality and who you are, that’s what’s going to get you noticed,” says the 21-year old. Like Anam, Phoebe and Jill also secured their jobs on a permanent basis after interning for several months.
Sandy, who works for PZ Cussons – a company that manages St Tropez and Fudge – recommends the hard slog if you want to make a lasting impression. “During my summer breaks I interned in fashion and beauty PR, both in-house and agency. I began my role at PZ Cussons Beauty as the intern, moving up to Communications Assistant and then Assistant Communications Executive after around 14 months. If you’re starting off as an intern my best advice is to really get stuck in, never shy away from any task and ask for more responsibility if you feel ready for it.”
Live in Brixton
Supposedly, the East is dead: if you want to prove how trendy you are, head south of the river. PR girls orbit around Brixton or the southeast, who hop on the Tube with headphones and pick up a soya-chai-tea-latte between the station and the office.
Drink espresso Martinis
You need a signature drink consistent with your west London life: you can’t be seen chugging a beer or necking a Jägerbomb. Hannah, 27, who lives in Brixton and works in lifestyle PR, cast Martinis as the drink of a true West London PR girl. “I love a dirty Martini,” she says. “Martinis are quite popular, espresso Martinis as well – we love espresso Martinis. We work in Soho, so after work we’ll normally go to Chotto Matte for drinks.”
Learn to love kale
Most PR girls live the brand: they’re are health conscious, and that lifestyle – obviously – includes avocado, kale and quinoa . Hannah, who worked in restaurants before moving into PR ten months ago, advises doing it yourself. “Bring a packed lunch otherwise you spend your whole salary on lunch. Loads of people have salads and fruit, but it’s really expensive to buy lunch every day so you end up spending a lot of money if you eat out all the time, especially in Piccadilly. Everyone loves quinoa and kale – we’re majorly detoxing at the minute. Sometimes we go for burgers, but people do tend to be more health driven. We always get deals in restaurants because of our clients, so we’ll often have 50 per cent off.”
Lucy Dartford, who set up her own PR agency Lucy Dartford PR a few years ago, adds: “There are so many recipes and diets in the media which we read a lot of: my staff are fascinated by it. There is a tendency to lean towards trendy foods and super foods, quinoa and kale and smoothies I’ve never heard of before. Around Portobello there are so many places like that.”
Be prepared to work really, really hard
Few people recognise the pressure PR staff are under; they must liaise with journalists, who make a point of pride about of being difficult to work with. Jill, 22, who works with Phoebe in Soho, explains: “You have to be on call at the weekends and work late at events. You’re expected to answer emails from clients 24/7 and because the press doesn’t stop at the weekends, if you’ve got something due out you have to be on top of it. In an agency you’re working for multiple clients at once, so it’s a juggling act of trying to make sure every client is happy.”
Hannah agrees. “It’s not as glamorous as people think it is. You come in, read the papers in the morning and check if you’ve got any coverage from any of your clients. Check your emails – there’s always like thousands to go. It’s basically a lot of emails.” Anam, who has only started working in PR recently, was really shocked by how difficult the profession actually is. She said: “If I’m completely honest with you, I didn’t understand PR before I started working here. Now, seeing it, it’s really opened my eyes to this industry and I really salute these guys – how much work and effort they put into it. It’s so scary.”
Grab a copy of Vogue, because the fashion stakes are high
80 per cent of the staff is female, and you’ve got to be two steps ahead of the high street. Most PR companies veer away from corporate dress, preferring to have their staff more casual. Nailing a “cool” girl look that still looks professional, especially when you’re meeting high-end clients who might expect something more formal. Lucy, who employs five girls, advises: “I believe in echoing your clients’ values [through] clothes. There’s no jeans but the girls around me are pretty cool. It’s a very trendy dress sense different to financial and corporate PR. You wouldn’t be seen dead in a suit at our agency, it’s smart casual and down to earth. I don’t have any rules on heels: all I ask is we look after some really high end clients and we are in keeping with what we wear. A lot of clients are based in Mayfair and Knightsbridge, so I ask people to dress with that in mind.”
Phoebe adds: “I definitely started out by dressing too smart and then I realised people wear cool clothes. I feel like the least glamorous person in the office, everyone looks cool.”
It can get competitive, but you don’t screw each other over
The atmosphere can be tense. Hannah warns, “it’s all quite true what people hear about it”. “It varies massively on what type of PR you do and how competitive it is,” Jills reasons. “I know fashion is very different to lifestyle; I don’t feel like lifestyle is competitive at all. It’s very high pressure: people always take the piss because it’s not the most respected job but it’s actually really difficult to be good at a lot of different things: time management, writing, creativity.” She doesn’t enjoy the pressure, though thinks it’s worth it for the “really interesting people” you meet “along the way.”
“Everyone looks out for one another,” Phoebe insists. “And although I have my own clients, I’m always looking out for what places other clients can go to. I don’t think there’s a competitive element to it at all because we’re all successful and everyone wants to help each other. The only stereotype I’d heard was Absolutely Fabulous because Eddie does PR, but it’s not what it’s like.”
You’ll open a lot of doors for celebs… literally
You might have a lot of celebrity clients; you’ll likely find yourself making them tea. Hannah launched a company and Mark Ronson DJed at one of their events, though she didn’t get to meet him. Jill adds: “It’s not that glam because you tend to be holding a door open for them, or giving them a goody bag. It sounds glam but you’re really just working.”