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The 'two-hour train test' and other ways of breaking into this sector where you could earn £2m+

PR is no longer just about print media

If you want to make the move into financial PR, there’s no shortage of career options. Flacks outnumber hacks by four to one and financial services organisations have plenty of room for someone who can help spin them in a positive light.

Get to the very top, and it can be a lucrative vocation. “If you make it to director of communications for a FTSE 10 company, you can easily bring in a total package of £2m+,” said Heather McGregor, managing director of specialist communications headhunters Taylor Bennett at an event the firm organised with eFinancialCareers this week.

It’s easy to see why anyone who feels they have a flair for language would be tempted to move into PR, but getting your first job is easier said than done. Like investment banks, you’ll be expected to undertake an internship, but unlike the financial sector this is likely to be a position you’ll hold for long period of time before being offered full-time role. Financial PR firms do recruit for their graduate schemes, but places are few and competition is stiff.

“One of the key things we consider when recruiting graduates is the two-hour train test,” says Nick Lambert, partner, Pelham Bell Pottinger. “Could they engage you on a long train journey? Are they a good communicator, able to get their message across? And are they likable?”

And by “good communicator”, Lambert doesn’t simply mean saying ‘no comment’ in the right tone (as this bitter journalist notes). Former journalists, who understand the needs and pressures of deadlines, often make the move across, but it also helps to have a thorough understanding of the topic you’re covering, so financial services employees can make good PRs.

“If you’re having questions fired at you over company numbers by journalists, it helps to have a financial background,” says Lambert, who is a qualified accountant. “It’s no good stuttering over your numbers when you’re being cross-examined.”

Figures from Robert Walters suggest that PR salaries are decidedly smaller than seven figures at the junior end. ‘Executives’ can expect £25-38k, it suggests, rising to £40-65k for managers and £65-120k for director positions.

The sector has obviously changed with the advent of social media, big data and a huge array of specialist blogs and online publications. Whereas previously, every morning would be spent collecting clippings of news coverage of a particular client or the company you represent, it’s now a 24/7 job requiring responses as and when news happens. Even if you’re merely monitoring daily national newspapers, most publish their content online the night before the print publication is released – sending this to the client in the morning means the content is already nine hours old.

Nonetheless, there’s one thing that still makes for a successful career in PR – being able to maintain and develop relationships. “Building relationships from the outset is key to success in the industry,” says Zoe Bird, global communications director, Intercontinental Hotels Group and former executive at PR agency Brunswick. “I’ve maintained relationships with journalists I’ve known since my internship days.”

Related articles:

HSBC's, super-profitable, strangely-generous investment bank pays chief risk officer $10m

The growing profile of banks' spin doctors

Twenty money-saving tips from bankers and their wives 

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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