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.
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.
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.
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…..
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….
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?
As second year coming to a close there’s been a massive buzz around campus about work experience and placements. With having a two year old, I’ve been really worried about re-entering the workplace after my degree is finished, even the thought of a placement is making me nervous.
In order to put my mind to rest I thought it would be a good idea to speak to some people in the industry, to talk about their own experiences and hopefully get some good advice when it comes to working in PR when you have kids.
I have been lucky enough this week to be able to talk to not one, but two PR professionals about life, kids and communication.
Jonathan Ward co-founded the North East PR agency Publicity Seekers, but took a step back after having his youngest daughter (now six). He now teaches Public Relations at the University of Sunderland and completes his own freelance PR work.
What was the hardest part of having kids and working in PR?
There were lots of challenges having a young family. When we were setting up Publicity Seekers it was very tricky to develop a new business and juggle family life, but it was a case of priorities. Family has always come first to me so it wasn’t hard to make the right choices, it was just a case of finding a good balance.
Were there any other aspects you found difficult?
There were days when the nature of the job and long hours meant there was some friction at home, especially while we were still getting into a routine. There was also a lot of pressure, having a background in journalism meant that it’s engrained in me to meet deadlines. Sometimes these could be unrealistic and at times Sam (Lee) had harsh expectations, but it was just because she didn’t understand what it was like at the time and we were both under a lot of pressure trying to get the agency off the ground.
Do you think it is the same for both men and women?
It depends on their individual drives and priorities. Family has always been the most important thing to me and ultimately why I quit the business.
So why did you take a step back?
I found myself checking emails and social media on my phone when I was meant to be with my family. There was one time we were having a walk in Castle Eden Dene (a local beauty spot) and I caught myself checking my phone, and it made me think about what I was doing. I’m fortunate that I was able to get a teaching position and complete my own freelance work, it gives me loads more flexibility and means I have a decent balance between my home and work life.
Sam has worked in PR for over 10 years after a successful career in Sports Journalism. She co-founded Publicity Seekers and continues to work full time running the agency following the birth of her 14 month old son – Billy.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since coming back to work?
I only took 4 weeks off after Billy was born, with running my own business I didn’t have the luxury of being able to take a lot of time off. If anything, having Billy has made me work smarter. I’ll say to myself, “Do I need to be doing this?”, and it’s become a case of managing my time effectively and being more productive when I’m at work. I make a lot of to-do lists now and have started meditating on a morning to clear my mind and focus on my priorities for the day. I only get to see Billy for 2 hours on a morning and 2 hours on a night, and I don’t want that time to be interrupted by work, checking my email or social media.
So, would you say that you value your time at home more now?
Definitely, work can wait. It’s all about being present in the moment. I had to learn that if there’s a choice between picking up toys that he’ll just pull out again tomorrow, or spending time with Billy, that the toys can stay on the floor. I even get up and do work between 5 and 7am now, so that I can spend extra time with him on a morning. Jonathan (Ward) would laugh because I used to be such a night owl, my routine has completely changed.
What would you say your biggest sacrifice has been when it comes to work?
I have to think hard about the benefits of attending evening events, because now I have to get a babysitter. It means that I’ve missed out on a lot of networking events, but to be honest I didn’t always capitalise on these as much as I could have. Now, I have to make it worth my time and make sure that it’s worthwhile.
What benefits have you seen from working in PR and having a baby?
I don’t think I’ve seen any yet. It helps that having my own agency makes my day quite flexible, sometimes I haven’t been getting to the office until 9 or 10am. It’s definitely made me work smarter and in the right frame of mind. I’ve been reading a lot of motivational books, such as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, to help me get into the right mindset.
After speaking to both Jonathan and Sam it has put my mind to rest. I’m facing the same challenges as they were, as you can tell from my previous posts on time management. It’s reassuring to know that a career in PR with young kids can be possible, and that it’s just a case of working smarter and finding the right balance.
This week has been non-stop. Not only have we had regular meetings for our university group projects and essays to complete, but organising our Comic Relief campaigns for our agency by this weekend has been challenging to say the least.
After a very hectic schedule, an abundance of coffee and a mountain of housework that keeps piling up I started thinking to myself, why PR? Why have I chosen to do this to myself? I like to think that I have good organisation and time management skills but at the moment there seems to be no end in sight.
Then I remembered why.
I remembered the dread at getting up in the morning to answer a phone for 10 hours a day.
I remembered being shouted at down the phone line for things that were out of my control, all day every day.
And I remembered the sinking feeling before bed, knowing that I had to repeat it all again in the morning.
I wanted to enjoy work, to come home feeling like I’d accomplished something and have a career, not just a job.
That’s when I started looking at going back to university. I’d already been once, but picked the wrong course for me and ended up leaving (turns out I’m not that interested in microbiology).
I decided that I wanted to rekindle my love of reading and study English, but for the academic year I wanted I would need to apply through clearing, and because English is such a popular course I would need to complete a combined subjects degree to go back straight away.
“So, why didn’t you just wait until the next academic year and study a single honours degree?” I hear you ask.
To which I’ll answer with another question, “You’ve never worked in a call centre, have you?”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly acceptable job for some people, and some even manage to turn into a career, but you have to possess certain qualities to do this successfully. Which I don’t.
So that’s why I started looking at doing a BA(Hons) in Combined Studies.
I’m going to be honest here. I had no idea what Public Relations was when I applied. After reading the course specifications for Journalism, Creative Writing and Language and Linguistics, I was left feeling un-seduced by the options, none of them seemed like the right fit. That’s when I read into what Public Relations could offer me and decided it was the way to go.
At first it was the presentation skills, business elements and communication theory that I thought would be useful. After all, an English degree can apply to varied job roles and I needed something else to set me apart from other applicants, which is why I chose PR as an option.
However, once I started studying it I was intrigued by how many aspects there were and how it was a constantly evolving discipline. I found that I liked it more than my English modules, and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when a campaign was finished. I loved being busy and the feeling of actually wanting to do my uni work.
I’ll admit now that the course is getting more intense and everyone has more extra-curricular work going on outside of uni, there are times that it feels like the workload is never going to end. But taking time to reflect on what got me here and why I stayed has made me realise a few things:
I come home feeling pleased with the work I’ve accomplished.
I’m happy when I’m outside of work and uni, making my home life more fulfilling.
I love being busy and seeing results.
It’s great learning new things and gaining new skills.
I feel challenged and not just like a worker robot.