Back in the Swing of Things

HELLO!

It’s been 8 months since my last post (shock horror), where my brief blog hiatus has turned into an extended vacation.

A lot has been going on since my last post, so before I start getting back into writing “proper” posts, I thought I’d let everyone know what I’d been up to in the last year.

I stopped blogging earlier this year after I found the pressure of my final year and having a family and work obligations too much to contend with all at once. Third year was a lot more full on that I thought it would be, and I didn’t have the luxury of taking any enjoyable PR modules, which meant extensive reading around 20th Century English Literature for my dissertation.

Thankfully, I managed to graduate with an overall 2:1, and here is a lovely photo of me and fellow PR graduate Arianne Williams to prove it.

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One of us will need to go home and change.

In the lead up to graduation I also got my first proper PR job! I had been doing some freelance work for 2B Communications based in Newcastle, and they decided to offer me a position post-graduation.

I couldn’t have asked for a better first role. As well as being really nice people and understanding of my childcare needs, everyone is really knowledgeable about the industry and North East media and I feel like I am learning something new everyday.

Another major milestone that passed this year was Penny’s first day of school. A big step and one that wasn’t without some tears (mainly mine). I’m sure you’re already bored of seeing photos of everyone’s kids in their uniforms so I won’t post one here, but if you follow me on Instagram you can be nosy and check it out.*

With 6 hours a day free from mammy duties and a part time job to fill most of it, I decided that I wasn’t busy enough (anyone who has followed my blog previously will have probably gathered that I like to be on the go constantly). I therefore decided to become a fully fledged masochist and enroll on the MA in Public Relations at the University of Sunderland. Well, my need to keep out of trouble isn’t the only reason, but I feel my decision to continue my education in PR is another post entirely (so stay tuned).

So get ready to read a lot more about my journey deeper into the dark realms of PR theory, how my career is living up to the expectations I had when I began this blog, and why I should just give up on sleep entirely.

 

* I lied.

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#sorrynotsorry

 

 

 

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#TBT – 2015 Douglas Smith Award

As today is throwback Thursday, I thought I’d indulge in a little reminiscing.

This week the 2016 Douglas Smith Student Award was launched by CIPR International.  Although I’ve already written a post about winning last year’s award, and one on the entry itself, I haven’t really written about what I learned from the award.  So for this week, I thought I would write a brief post with advice to help out anyone considering entering this year:

  1. Trust your instincts – last year I entered as a team with Hannah and Arianne. We decided straight away to enter together and didn’t have any doubts that it wouldn’t work, but if someone wants to work with you and you’d rather go it alone then go for it.
  2. Do your research – we must have spent the equivalent of around 200 hours conducting primary and secondary research for our campaign, and still managed to miss pieces out.  Make sure that solid research forms the base of your tactics.
  3. Remember that this is an international campaign – we were used to planning local level campaigns and thinking strategically on an international level took some getting used to.
  4. Presentation is everything – think carefully about how you want to present your campaign, last year we had a limit of 1500 words which was really hard to stick to.  That’s why we chose a brochure format, so that we could make use of lots of pictures (and make it look pretty).
  5. Pace yourself – April seems like a long time away, but it will roll around faster than you think.  We found it helpful to schedule our meetings into our timetables so that we could keep on top of the extra workload.  This also helped us to set manageable goals and timelines.

So there you have it, my top 5 tips for any students who want to enter for this year. However, I would also issue a friendly warning.  It is a lot of work, so make sure that you have time to do it and aren’t overstretching yourself.  I have a tendency to take on too much and even though I would love to enter this year, I don’t think I would be able to do so without having a breakdown.

That being said it looks excellent in your portfolio and is definitely worthwhile for improving your strategic planning skills.

Good luck!

What To Put On Your Graduate CV

It’s getting to be that time.  The panic of rejoining the workforce as a qualified PR practitioner is starting to set in, and the casual job hunting has begun.

Last year I organised a workshop with Sunderland Futures, to get advice on what we should actually be putting on our graduate CVs.

As I’m in a particularly generous mood today, I thought I’d share the top 5 tips I picked up from the session.

1. Don’t mention the term ‘CV’

If you’re applying for a job the person reading your CV is going to know what the document is, especially as you will have CV in the file name. Titling the document with CV is stating the obvious and also taking up valuable space on the page.  Which leads me to…

2. Keep it short

Your CV should be 1 side of A4 paper, 2 sides at an absolute maximum. You should be able to include your relevant experience concisely to leave the reader wanting to ask you questions about it and thus invite you to an interview. Of course it’s all about balance, you also need to make sure that you include enough to let the company know that your qualified for the role.

3. Don’t include your personal details

The organisation doesn’t need to know your address. They’re probably not going to write to you to invite you for an interview, it’s outdated. Similarly, ‘references available upon request’ is an adequate substitute for the names and contact details of your references. If the time comes that the company needs them, they’ll ask for your most up to date ones anyway.

4. Tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for

If you’re applying for a job in PR the company doesn’t need to know that you’ve got your 25m swimming badge (unless they’re based on a boat, in which case it’s a good skill to have). Make sure the information you include is directly relevant to the job that you’re applying for, you can even mirror the language and the terminology in the job specification so there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that you’re perfect for the role.

And finally….

5. Always include a covering letter/email

If you’re sending out your CV the person receiving it should probably be told why.  As well as telling the company which job you’re applying for, it gives you a chance to tell them what’s in it for them. Organisations that receive a lot of CVs won’t even read them if the covering letter isn’t relevant. It’s your chance to show the company that your serious about the job by researching them and putting yourself forward as the best candidate.

There were so many other things I could’ve included, such as checking the spelling and grammar, or making sure your email is addressed to the right person. However, these 5 things  have helped me the most when writing my CV and I hope they’ll help you too.

Please feel free to comment or tweet me with your own CV writing tips.

 

 

The Day I Was a 3 Year Old

Today I spent the day as a child.

After weeks of hard work and 20 hour days I finally got to spend a full, uninterrupted day in the house with Penny.  My phone was turned off, my books were shelved and we were going to spend some quality time together, just playing in our pjs.  Here are some of the things I learned about PR by being a 3 year old.

  1. Don’t be scared to try new things

So, it might not work out right first time, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop having new experiences.  Who knew that a chocolate button and cheese sandwich is actually quite nice (chips and gummy bears, not so much)? You won’t know until you try it.

2. Be creative

Of course that toilet roll tube is a rocket/aeroplane/car/horse, who’s to say it isn’t? Using your imagination is key in PR but some practitioners forget this in favour of old habits and routine.   It’s cliche, but remember to think outside the box, creative solutions are our thing.

3. Don’t limit youself

What’s the point of building a lego tower three blocks high? Personally, I want my tower to break through the ceiling. Go big or go home.

4. Try a different perspective

Things look different when you spend all day on the floor, aside from noticing that my skirting boards definitely need cleaning, I began to think about how scary that big bookcase looks and how far away my toys were.  It made me think a lot about public opinion and how important it is to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

5. Go for it

Penny is a fan of what we refer to as “crazy trust exercises”, meaning she flings herself from any high surface she can climb on screaming, “catch me!” If you’re not brave enough to go for the big campaigns, jobs or clients you might find that your PR world stays very small.

Why Isn’t PR a Vocational Degree?

It’s come to my attention that a lot of people don’t value Public Relations as an academic subject. One of my previous tutors even went so far as to say, “Well, it’s not exactly a difficult course, is it?”

With more conversations than ever on professionalism within the communications industry there has been a recent drive to have PR recognised within an academic context.

However, most students that I’ve spoken to have agreed that they’ve learned the most while on placement or work experience. Which raises the question in my mind, “why isn’t PR a vocational degree?”

I must say that I’m not discrediting the academia of PR.  I appreciate that there is a lot of strategy to be learned before us students can be unleashed upon the unwilling masses.  My point is that if PR agencies are looking for graduates with workplace experience, and students are learning more from working, then surely it makes sense to change the teaching practises to reflect the needs of the industry and young professionals?

Although university does teach us valuable lessons in critical thinking, and an understanding of the theory behind the practice, could this not be balanced with a semester or two or workplace learning?

I know that there is a lot more to this than simply changing the way that Public Relations is taught.  I mean where are the incentives for the established practitioners, or examples of a sustainable business model to support the training of these new employees?

Stephen Waddington is currently conducting an investigation on behalf of the CIPR in exploring the opportunity for a community of practice in public relations, focussing on fostering a relationship between PR academia and practioners.  He said:

A common refrain of practitioners is that graduates studying public relations aren’t ready for the workplace and need a period of conversion. This is consistent with other disciplines. Employers and practitioners need to have realistic expectations.

I am aware that each agency has their own specific way of doing things, and that when you get your first PR job it may feel like you know nothing.  But why should it?

Most of the students I know have completed at least 3 working weeks of work experience as part of their Public Relations course (worth a certain number of credits towards their degree), however, as a combined subjects student (English and PR) I don’t have to do this.  Obviously I have organised my own work experience outside of university, but on top of my heavy course load, which doesn’t allow me any work experience modules, home life and wanting to eat and sleep at some point, it has been difficult.

I don’t mean to suggest that learning solely through experience is the right course for the future of the PR industry, but merely start a discussion on the future teaching of Public Relations as a profession.

So, what do you think? Should PR be more vocational?

North East Times Launch Party

We’ve all heard it so many times, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and I have to say that is very true for the PR industry.

Last night I attended the launch of the new-look North East Times magazine. I was drawn in by the offer of free Prosecco and canapés, but also really interested to meet the journalists behind the magazine and see the new format for myself.

The new North East Times
The new North East Times
I have to say the team has done a cracking job. The new magazine is stylish, well formatted and insightful, with current and interesting articles about the whole of the North East.

The North East Times Team
The North East Times Team
As a PR student I feel like I learned a lot from attending the launch and would encourage more students to seek out networking possibilities such as this.  As well as meeting journalists that I’ll no doubt be speaking to on a daily basis, it was a great opportunity to meet representatives from PR agencies and local industry. The conversations that you have at events like this could mean the difference between a job after your degree, your stories being published or even a potential client years down the line.

With that in mind here are my 5 to tips for networking as a student:

  1. Don’t be shy – chances are no one else knows anyone either. Don’t be afraid to make the first move.
  2. Don’t drink to much free fizz – yes we all love free things, but you don’t want to be remembered as a the slurring student  who falls over their own feet.
  3. Bring business cards – a launch party is a bit too informal for you to bring your whole portfolio, but most people will exchange cards and it’s a good way to get your name out there.
  4. Don’t be on your phone all night – it’s good to show your support by tweeting the businesses, but know when to stop. If you have someone trying to talk to you it’s a bit rude to whip out your phone to send a quick update.
  5. Eat before you leave – canapés are small.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the North East Times for hosting a very successful launch party, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for the magazine.

What Studying Public Relations Is Really Like

Perhaps I’ve said this before, but I’m not ashamed to say it again, when I chose to study PR I didn’t really know what it was.

I chose to go back to university on a spur of the moment decision, although it is something I’d been considering for some time. I chose PR as part of my combined degree without really looking into what it was, or what the course entailed.

(Even though it’s all worked out OK and I actually love studying Public Relations I recommend thorough research when making major life choices)

Perhaps going into third year has made me a bit nostalgic for the good old days of first year, so I thought I’d tell you all about my experiences getting to this point.

First Year

Ahh, the good old days. I miss first year. It feels so stressful at the time, with deadlines and mountains of reading, but oh how naive I was.  I would say that first year is designed as a foundation to make sure everyone has the same background knowledge before getting into the nitty gritty details on strategy and theory.  If you’ve already got some experience in PR, or have read some of the set texts before starting your degree then first year can be a breeze (I had done neither of those things).  I would also say that first year gives you time to figure out your scheduling and time management without many repercussions.  For anyone studying PR I would recommend using this time to get industry experience, put yourself forward for as many things as you can and speak to agencies about work experience. Getting in there early will really help when faced with the stark reality of…..

Second Year

I think everyone I know went through some level of breakdown during second year. Everyone says there is a massive learning curve between first and second year and I have to agree.  This is where the work really begins and starts to matter, as your top marks will go towards your overall degree classification.  To be quite honest, second year passed in a bit of a blur for me. I can’t seem to remember anything other than feeling very stressed and typing furiously on my laptop.  Speaking from my experiences at the University of Sunderland this is where the course got really in depth, covering aspects of PR such as Media Law and Ethics, which was quite challenging compared to first year.  My advice to any second years would be just to breathe and prioritise.  Use the Easter and Christmas holidays to get your work done and use the Summer holidays to get as much experience as you can before….

Third Year

I must admit that second year really did help to set my expectations for third year.  We’re four weeks in now and I’m not feeling stressed or worried about the work I need to do.  I’ve managed to get a placement at a local agency for one day a week and have already handed in my dissertation proposal.  I’ve got a clear plan of what I need to do and by when and to be honest I don’t think I’d be this calm without the second year blues.  I just hope that when the deadlines roll round I can maintain this zen-like state and don’t need to resort to energy drinks and all nighters to get things done.

As a side note, I would also suggest using your student loan to learn to drive if you don’t already know how.  I passed my test recently and it’s given me four hours of my day back that would otherwise be spent mingling with strangers on public transport.  I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be a major asset when looking for jobs after graduation and getting to client meetings, especially in the rural North East where transport links aren’t the best.

I’d love to hear about other students’ experiences of studying a PR degree.  What did you think about your progression into final year? And do you have any pearls of wisdom to share?