Student appeal: how can we attract graduates to Oxford’s PR industry?

In the coming weeks, Oxford’s 30,000 university students will return to Oxford, adding vibrancy, life, (and not to mention unruly behaviour) to the city.

And as the academic year ramps up, some of us will be thinking about the role some students might play in the future of our organisations.

There are around 30,000 students living in Oxford, so we have lots to choose from. But how does the local PR community go about snapping up the best graduates?

Oxford’s diverse student base

With two universities (disclaimer: I work for one of them) on our doorsteps, we have a large pool of students in Oxford. But the two insititutions are pretty different from each other.

Brookes offers many industry-facing courses, all with an academic underpinning. Its PR-focused degrees include Communications Media, and Culture; Marketing Management; and Digital Marketing.

Sophie Wynne, Employability Manager at the Oxford Brookes Careers Service, believes these courses allow students to hit the ground running.  ‘Our students are really passionate about the industry and want to prove themselves and make a difference,’ she said: ‘They are studying those degrees because they want to get into those industries. Lecturers also really encourage them to get work experience, so they’ll be very motivated.’

Unlike Brookes, Oxford University doesn’t run courses focused on PR. However, Polly Metcalfe, Careers Advisor at the University of Oxford Careers Service, believes that the Oxford education – with its tutorial system, intensive work-load and extra-curricular activities – sets its students up well for the workplace.

‘We ask employers how Oxford students perform, and we find that they out-perform other students in all core competencies,’ she said. ‘They’ve got great resilience, communications, and leadership skills. They often pick these up through being part of a club, arranging a event or doing some marketing for charities.’


Working with the careers services

Both Oxford Brookes and Oxford University have well-established careers services, which are often the best port of call for PR employers looking to get in front of students.

The Oxford University Careers Service has a range of services for employers, including a free jobs listings board, and regular, targeted promotional emails to students.  Is also organises internships; a ‘Student Consultancy’ in which groups of students advise local businesses and charities on specific challenges they face; and ‘The Agency’ – a similar service focused purely on marketing.

Oxford Brookes’ Careers Service has a similar offering to Oxford, with an online job portal, funded internships for small businesses, and ways of linking students to placements.

Both universities also host fairs where PR companies might want to exhibit. Oxford’s Arts, Media & Marketing Fair takes place on Thursday 25 October, while Brookes’s PR, Marketing and Events Fair is on Thursday 8 November.


Going in direct

Beyond the careers services, it is also possible to reach students direct.

At Brookes, faculties often have relationships with local businesses, and will arrange for speakers to come in to speak as part of the curricula – so it could be worth looking for the relevant course lead to find out if there are any opportunities to engage.

At Oxford there are fewer obvious courses to target. However, there are a plethora of student clubs and societies, including the Media Society and the Advertising Society, which may provide speaking and promotional opportunities.

While these direct approaches may work for some organisations, for Sophie Wynn the careers services are often the simplest way in: ‘It can be quite difficult navigating around the university’, she said; ‘The Employer Engagement Teams work with the companies to try and link them with the academics and courses to make sure it’s a seamless process.’

In-house schemes

Another way that local PR businesses have wooed students is through developing their own in-house training schemes.

Twelve PR, for example, runs a summer internship programme, and many of the students who have started on the scheme have gone on to take up permanent roles.

Managing Director Nicky Smith said: “Our interns then stay on if they are graduates or come back to us when they have graduated. I am super proud of how many PR careers we have launched.’

Tamarindo Communications has also run its own internship scheme since the company was founded in 2011.  They promote this through evening drinks and networking events, as well as working with the careers services.

Managing Director Adam Barber said: ‘We’ve found that it’s provided us with a strong foundation from which we can track, train and develop young talent for the benefit of our business and our clients.’

Making it work
Regardless of how you find your students, once you have them in your midst, it’s important to ensure they can contribute once they’re working with you.

For Nicky Smith, clear training and guidance is the key: ‘I feel very passionate about training, and the value of working in a small agency’, she said: ‘We provide a thorough training-ground, with a rich and rewarding variety of work.’

Nicky has other tips too: ‘Always pay a proper salary. Always provide a written induction.  Always promise and always provide a thorough training programme. We never give our interns rubbish jobs; and ensure they are always working on real projects where they can see their work achieve results,’ she added.

For Adam Barber, training is important, but it’s also about listening as well as advising: ‘Be patient.  Be open to new ideas.  And don’t just talk, listen.  As a management team, I believe we learn more from our graduates every day than we ever thought possible,’ he said.

Sophie Wynn added: ‘If someone hasn’t got work experience, they’ll need to be patient and clear, but it’s someone full of new ideas, energy and really want to get into the industry, and they will be keen to learn.

Dan Selinger is Head of Communications, Students and AAD at the University of Oxford, and co-founder of Public Relations Oxford

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