Fabulous on the outside

Careers: Darling, you absolutely must go into PR. But be prepared to fight.

You might not think a Bollinger-swilling, cocaine-snorting has- been with a penchant for Harvey Nichols and the odd toy boy would be any sort of career role model, but despite the bashing that public relations has taken from Jennifer Saunders' character in the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, more graduates than ever want to get into the industry.

A MORI survey conducted last year indicated that PR was the third most popular career choice among final-year students, after journalism and teaching.

Liz Vater, a director of the PR company Abacus, says: "I think a lot of graduates are attracted to PR because they think it is glamorous. Sometimes it is, but not always. You may find that you spend days on end trying to promote a widget. Graduates have to take a realistic view."

Despite the realities, competition is fierce.

Martin Thomas, joint managing director of the consultancy Cohn & Wolfe, says: "I reckon we get 20 speculative CVs a week. Last year we ran one ad and got 600 replies. They are of a very high standard and terrifyingly confident. I don't think I would get a job in PR if I were starting out now."

Many of those competing for their first jobs have a degree in PR, although not all PR companies are convinced of their value.

One director says: "We have just taken on two PR graduates although they were not my choice. What on earth do people do for three or four years studying PR? It's not rocket science. I would rather take on someone who had done something like history or chemistry, which will have broadened their outlook and tested their intellectual capacity."

However, Kevin Moloney, a tutor in PR at Bournemouth University, defends PR degree courses: "Our bent here is towards academic rigour. PR is an applied activity and students cover politics, business, finance, law and social psychology. It is a demanding course and we get around 600 applicants for 60 places."

Mr Thomas believes PR courses have got better in the past few years. "A few years ago the calibre of PR graduates was not excellent but it has improved a great deal," he says.

Whether graduates have a PR degree or not they still have to jump a number of hoops.

At Lynne Franks PR, whose founder Lynne Franks is said to have provided Jennifer Saunders with some of the inspiration for AbFab, job candidates are put through a tough selection process. "We invite 20 candidates to come to an all-day workshop where they have to do exercises including dealing with a rolling news story and something we call `sell me the story', where they are given an object such as a broom and have to convince us on camera that there is a story in it," says the deputy managing director, Julian Henry.

Mr Henry says that as well as persuasive skills the company is looking for graduates who can write, and who exude confidence and energy. Champagne quaffing and a fondness for Harvey Nichols are optional extras

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