Public relations in the UK: the perspective from a Portuguese PR account executive

What is a Portuguese PR account executive doing in Leeds, you might be wondering? Well, after three years of studying comms, PR, journalism and marketing, I graduated with a Communications Studies degree from the University of Lisbon. Bored of routine and hungry for an adventure, I decided that signing up for a master’s degree at Leeds Beckett University was a perfectly reasonable excuse to pack my bags, book my flight and move to another country. 

It was only when I set foot on British soil that I knew I wanted to start my career here.

It can be a struggle for a non-native student to start their professional life in a foreign country. Did I mention the brilliant written and oral skills that are required from PR professionals? And what about all the British job seekers, who possess these skills and are keen to start their career in PR? Let’s just say the competition was intense and having become familiar (time and again) with the word “no”, a few agencies gave me the chance I needed, which lead me to my first permanent PR job at Source Marketing Communications.

So, what is the difference between PR in Portugal and the UK?  In my opinion, PR in Portugal is miles away (literally) from PR in the UK for many different reasons and – let’s be honest – the economy here shines an awful lot brighter.

There are only about 225 PR agencies in Portugal as a whole, compared to the astonishing 4,200 in the UK.  And even though there are many great PR professionals and agencies in Portugal, many companies in my home country still think appointing an agency is an unnecessary investment or believe it is about internal communication, marketing and/ or event management.

Unless we’re talking about a large corporate company, it’s unlikely other companies will have a budget to invest in PR, whether the company wants to fulfil its short-term PR goals (e.g. launching a new product, opening a new store etc.) or even less likely - long-term goals, such as managing its reputation, improving its media relations, and so on.

In my experience, whenever I have the chance to talk about my job or the industry I work in, the general public in England knows straight away what I mean when I say ‘public relations’. On the other hand, I get the feeling that in Portugal people aren’t as aware and often mistake it with managing events (which in fact, can be just one of the many aspects of the job). This in my opinion affects the way the industry is developed in Portugal as there is still a lot to be done in terms of educating companies about what PR can do for their business.

I can’t say much about the state of the industry in Portugal, as I’ve never had the opportunity to work there as a PR executive. What I do know is that PR in England is fast paced, and taken seriously from both sides – businesses that know the importance of reputation and profile raising and don’t mind investing, and agencies / in-house comms departments that are always on top of the latest industry trends and aware of the importance of communication as a strategic tool. 

Written by Marta Rijo, 09/05/2017