Working in Public Relations is terrific fun – contrary to what some of my colleagues probably think, in the pharmaceutical industry, being in “PR” is a million miles away from Absolutely Fabulous! But if you are looking for a role where every day is different, PR could be the job for you.
It is hard work though – during an acquisition or a crisis, you have to be prepared to work long hours – sometimes through the night – but that is part of the excitement of the job.
You also have to make sure that you keep up to date with the company strategy and its products, as well keep a finger on the pulse about which journalists are writing about what. In any one day I can take calls from the local newspaper about a charity event, through to a journalist from the BBC wanting to film a story about our latest developments in diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. If we are announcing an acquisition, it’s all hands to the pump as the volume of calls can be enormous. The skill comes in knowing the journalists covering your company, what angle they are likely to take, and how to paint the bigger picture for them.
Usually I start each day by scanning the international press to look for articles that mention our company or that are covering health issues relevant to our business. Then a journalist may contact me, looking for comment or a view on a particular subject. Usually I can handle these – I am a company spokesperson for simple enquiries. Sometimes though the journalist wants to speak to one of our senior managers, and it is my role to prepare a brief and make sure the interview goes well. Then I may have a meeting with one of our PR agencies, who help us organise big projects and events, or I may meet a journalist to bring them up to date on the latest developments at our company.
I studied Botany at Durham University, followed by a PhD in Molecular Biology at Edinburgh University. I started at the company working in technical support – so using my PhD – then moved through a variety of international sales and marketing roles, changing to communications four years ago. I found it helpful to have had a range of different jobs as it has given me a deeper understanding of the company and how business works.
You have to be customer focussed – your customers are journalists who are often working under pressure to very tight deadlines. An interest in health and medicine is obviously important, and you need to keep up to date with the evolving media landscape. But most of all I would say you have to have a passion and belief - for your company and its role in the prevention and diagnosis of disease - because that passion will come across in all your dealings with everyone you meet.
Good communications skills are a must, and you need to be confident enough to explain your thoughts.