Careers | Account Manager, Emily Hickey-Mason, gives advice on breaking into PR

What can I do with an arts degree? It’s a question I get asked a lot! Many students I meet aren’t aware of the wide variety of jobs and sectors they can go into. So, this is the first of a series of profiles of arts graduates, giving insights and advice about moving from university to the real world. So, over to Emily Hickey-Mason, who is Communications Account Manager at Big Cat Agency in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter…

From Sociology to PR

I studied Sociology at The University of Birmingham, which although it came under the umbrella of Social Sciences, was a BA Hons degree. There isn’t a direct career path associated with Sociology. Whilst you can opt for social policy-related modules that could perhaps lead you into a social policy or educational career, a lot of the course content is based around theories, philosophy and debates with not a huge amount of real life application.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my university degree and the diverse range of topics covered, when it came to skills applicable for working life, I was taught only soft skills that were not industry specific. I did find that the super long essays (3,000 words plus) as well as the five, three hour exams I was required to sit each summer did help set me up for the writing aspect of my work, focus, clear communication of knowledge and ability to retain a lot of information in one go. Also, the set-up of my modules meant that I was flitting from subject to subject, which in agency environment is a hugely useful skill to have honed!

You’ll learn lots of relevant skills during your degree

I currently work in Marketing Communications; this includes a mixture of advertising-related work tied in with media. The skills required for my job are varied and mainly revolve around organisation, clear communication, writing skills, creativity, the ability to work to tight deadlines and the ability to take on and understand intricate details of a variety of different industries. All of the above I can say I was able to learn and practice through my degree.

So, make sure you add these to your CV (following this guide on how to put together a great CV for the arts). 

But the business world is very different to university

However, what my arts degree did not prepare me for was the world of business. Unlike with some more vocational degree courses – such as Media Studies or PR and Marketing – I gained next to zero knowledge on my industry and the business world in general. This was a steep learning curve as a grad and something I still require regular guidance on.

Seek careers advice

To be completely honest, I didn’t seek as much career advice as I probably should have at university but, I didn’t know necessarily where to seek it from. I originally thought a career in journalism was what I wanted to do but after undertaking some more research in my final year on what might fit my creative flair a little better, marketing and PR stood out to me as being the perfect option. By this point I hadn’t had the chance to apply to internships or any had work experience, so when I did eventually get a job in my desired industry, I hadn’t actually ever worked in an office before.

And apply for work experience and internships

Advice I would give to undergrads and grads looking to get into the marketing, PR and media industry is to 100% try and get as many internships and as much relevant work experience under their belts as possible. You don’t actually know what you want to do until you do it and my role over the past 4 years has morphed to better suit what I am actually better at and enjoy more – which is quite different to what I thought when I started out.

Big Cat offers internships

At my current agency, Big Cat, we look to regularly recruit Marketing Communications interns who are looking to start their career journey. Our internships teach grads how to apply their research, analytical and writing skills into real life projects; taking students away from theoretical work and applying the skills they’ve worked so hard to build over their degrees into an environment that will test them and utilise what they do in real client work.


Thanks so much Emily!

Ruth x

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