The journey to my career in PR

It’s National Careers Week this week, which got me thinking back to my own career and how it all started.

March 04, 2024
Naomi Barry
March 04, 2024
Naomi Barry

I remember the careers talks at school. Meeting with advisors and taking quizzes to find out which careers might suit me best. In the early days I imagine like most little girls, I wanted to be a nurse, getting in plenty of practice at home with my collection of dolls. Then my love of animals had me wanting to run the RSPCA, but also be a vet, while fighting crime because I was absolutely going to join the police. Now how does that conversation go?

With so many choices now facing school leavers, the possibilities for a future career seem to be never-ending, not to mention the explosion of digital, meaning they can now become influencers, professional gamers, work in AI and apply their passions across so many different sectors. Did I even know what PR was when I was 16? Absolutely not.

Luckily for me, I did find my path, but it wasn’t easy and there were certainly plenty of bumps and curveballs along the way. And it all started back when I was choosing my A-levels. In truth, I had no idea what subjects to choose, but by this time I had decided that Radiography was my path (perhaps a nod to my original choice of nurse, but heavily influenced by a student of my mum who I really liked, who was pursuing the same career).  I’d done my research, my worry work, explored the different types of radiography, and yes, I absolutely wanted to help people and be part of the NHS as a Diagnostic Radiographer.

This meant ideally, I needed to take Chemistry, Physics and Biology to stand a chance of securing a place at university. But I also loved Geography and Spanish, probably heavily influenced by incredible teachers… so naturally, I followed my heart and took Biology, Geography and Spanish.

A year into my Spanish course, my teacher (who was my main reason for selecting the subject) took me to one side and told me that my written English wasn’t good enough to understand all of the Spanish tenses, she suggested I drop the class to focus on securing good grades in the other two subjects. Devastated at my apparent lack of ability, I threw myself into Geography and Biology determined to do well.
Then came the university interviews to secure a place to study Radiography – I received opportunities to interview at all of my chosen universities and so the journey began. Retelling the tale with a twist as to why I was only studying two subjects at A-level I quickly realised that this was about me, who I was as a person and my fit to my chosen career. They’d of course taken my GCSE grades into consideration which were, on reflection, really strong! Fast forward a year, I had a conditional offer to study at St George’s Medical School, at the time the best medical teaching course in the country, with just two A-levels, in seemingly ‘irrelevant’ subjects. I needed two B’s, so imagine my devastation at receiving two C’s.
I called my soon to be tutor to explain and was met with the words “See you in September”, I was thrilled, burst into tears and headed off to Wetherspoons to celebrate with my classmates.

But in a twist of fate, the reality of radiography wasn’t the dream I hoped it would be. I struggled with the emotional pace of 9-5 in a hospital environment, saw things I’ll never forget, and all whilst living away from home for the first time. It wasn’t all about lectures and libraries, it was people’s lives we were learning from, and the stories didn’t always have happy endings.
So I made that difficult phone call home, to tell my parents I’d made the decision to leave, another huge feeling of failure. I’d let my family down (they were of course amazing and hugely supportive), I’d let myself down, and had no idea what to do next. I pulled myself back up, went to work at the local Co-op full time, studied for a Law A-level in the evenings and thought about what I really wanted to do next.
Marketing. My dad worked in marketing, and it sounded like something I was going to really enjoy.  Looking at all of the different courses, elements of business, strategic planning, consumer behaviour and research, I was clear on where it could take me and the type of roles I could find myself working in. So off I went to university again, now armed with my three A-levels and a four-year course ahead of me, a part of which was a yearlong placement in industry at HGCA (now AHDB). This gave me real-world experience – not only my first experience of working in an office, but having responsibilities, working with colleagues, and delivering results. I worked in the market development team, running events, coordinating industry competitions, and had exposure to national campaigns. And I loved it! I also worked with my first PR agency, Ceres PR, which then led to my first job out of university.

After an initial five years at Ceres, immersed in food PR campaigns, amazing opportunities and securing coverage I still talk about to this day, I spread my wings to gain experience across different industry sectors, consumer tech, finance, digital marketing and analytics, virtual events, retail and FMCG – working with a number of businesses of all sizes to bring their stories to life. 

Which brings me to today, I’ve come full circle, and some 19 years later, here I am, back at Ceres, living and breathing a world of food and wellbeing. And the funniest bit, I write for a living. A big thank you, of course has to go to my Spanish teacher – if only she knew!

Yes, I took inspiration from my teachers, from my mum and dad and yes I took an unusual route to my final destination. But what did I learn? That it’s ok to make mistakes, to make wrong decisions and take time to reflect. Sometimes the dream isn’t always the reality. But it’s better to have tried than always wonder ‘what if’.  To experience work in the real-world brings a whole new take on a perception – and I’m really pleased to have had the opportunity to learn so much along the way.