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.

 

 

How to De-Stress

This week has been a bit hectic to say the least.  With deadlines looming and the first semester coming to a close, third years are beginning to feel the pressure. So instead of writing a long and rambling post about PR I thought I’d keep it short and sweet with my top tips to de-stress this exam season.

1. Don’t leave everything until the last minute

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Cinderella knows the score
OK, so this one is more of a preventative measure.  If you leave everything until deadline day then you’re just creating more work and stress for yourself.  If you’re prepared and do a little at a time it’s much more manageable and will save you less sleepless nights in the long run.

2. Have a bath

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This isn’t my bath. My bathroom is nowhere near this clean.
Or do whatever works for you.  Schedule some ‘me’ time to relax, have a hot bath, meditate or just chill in front of the TV.  You’ll find that sometimes having a night off can do you the world of good to refocus and regroup.  Just make sure you get the balance right and don’t end up spending ever day relaxing (refer to point one).

3. Have a dance party

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Maybe shut the blinds first…
Put on your favourite song and dance and sing like no one’s watching.  It might seem daft but sometimes letting go and being silly is one of the best things you can do. It gets the blood pumping and takes your mind off things.  If you do it with friends…even better.. (currently jamming to ‘Wannabe by Spice Girls’ with Hannah and Morta).

4. Finding something that works for you

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My fridge looks like this
Whether you need to cover your house in post it notes, write a to do list in your diary, or focus on one task at a time, find a planning method that work for you and stick to it.

And if all else fails…..

5. Have a glass of wine and a deep breath

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This counts as one, right?

 

 

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?

Jumping on the Bandwagon

 Bandwagon (noun)

an activity, group, movement, etc. that has become successful or fashionable and so attracts many new people: a bandwagon effect.
This week I’ve been thinking about opportunistic brands making use of trending hashtags (primarily on Twitter).  After the Chinese box incident, I’ve been wondering if it’s always a good thing for brands to use the latest hashtag as a means of promotion, especially when they have nothing to do with their industry.
For me, the strongest example that springs to mind is The Dress.
I don't care what colour it is, it's still ugly.
I don’t care what colour it is, it’s still ugly.

Although ‘The Dress’ started out as a clever PR stunt for Roman Originals, other companies quickly jumped on social media to have their say.  Some of the most popular examples were:

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With companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Lego creating products specifically centred around The Dress debate, it made other organisations’ attempts seem a bit half-hearted.

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You can see more of The Dress tweets here.

So, did jumping on this bandwagon do the brands any good?

Personally, I think that even though most of the brands aren’t in the same industry as Roman Originals, they made a good effort.  I’m all for embracing a bit of cheek and humour to promote a product, and in this case for organisations like Coca-Cola, Dunkin Donuts and  Lego I don’t think it’s done them any harm.  However, for companies like Lyft and A&W who just seem to be using the hashtag without careful thought it just seems a bit lazy and half-hearted, qualities I don’t look for in a trusted brand.

For me, if you’re going to make use of a trending hashtag, do it with some style and don’t let the topicality overthrow your key messages.  When I look at the examples above, only Dunkin’ Donuts and Lego have been able to communicate an appropriate message about their brand, other than the colour of their logo.

The winner for me has the be the Salvation Army, whose thoughtful and poignant response took a few days to arrive.

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I love this response. Not only does it use The Dress as a means of promotion, making use of the social media buzz, it raises awareness of an important issue their organisation is aiming to combat.

Out of all of the responses, this is the only one that I feel uses the topicality to its full advantage.

Even though The Dress debate was over a few months ago, I still feel it’s the strongest example of where brands can win or lose based on how and when they chose to jump on the bandwagon. I’ll certainly be bearing this in mind when the next viral hashtag comes around.

What do you think? Is it always appropriate for a company to Tweet about a trending hashtag? If they don’t are they missing an opportunity? Or being responsible about how they communicate their values?

Client Management – The Parenting Way

This week has been a tough one.  Penny has been sick, nothing serious I might add, but a sick two year old is hard work no matter what the illness. Aside from feeling a fundamental lack of inspiration that comes with sleep deprivation, I have had to meet a high list of demands to get her to complete basic functions like sleeping and eating.

Poorly Penny looking after Minnie
Poorly Penny looking after Minnie

After several days of running around, chasing down lost teddies and bribing Penny to take her medicine I started to think about how dealing with a sick toddler can be similar to managing a difficult client.

I know that I’ve already written a post on the PR lessons you can learn from a toddler, however,  this list expands on some of the topics I touched on in my previous post and incorporates some of the things I’ve learned since we set up our own agency.

1. Choose your battles

If you don’t agree with your client about a particular course of action, sometimes you have to just give in.  Even if you explain your standpoint to them, your client may not always understand or agree (no Penny, Minnie Mouse won’t fit in the tumble dryer).  You have to remember that you work for them, and if that’s what they want to do then sometimes you just have to let them (providing its not illegal or unethical, I’m sure if Minnie Mouse had a say in it she wouldn’t be pleased about being shoved in the dryer). If it works out then great, but if it doesn’t then they might be more likely to listen to you in the future.

2. Don’t be frightened to ask for clarification

Sometimes you can be given the vaguest set of instructions and have to decipher what on earth you’re supposed to be doing.  Today it was, “Where my boat?”. The fact that we don’t have a boat didn’t even enter my mind.  After several repetitions of “my boat, mammy!” I presented her with her Peppa Pig boat (it made sense to me, being the only boat in the house), only to be met with screams and tantrums.

The offending Peppa Pig boat.
The offending Peppa Pig boat.

Instead of asking for clearer instructions I guessed at what my ‘client’ wanted and ended up wasting my time and theirs.  Which leads onto my next item…..

3. Asking the right questions

It turns out that the boat Penny was referring to was, in fact, the washing basket.

Happy Penny in her boat.
Happy Penny in her boat.

I only managed to figure this out after extensive questioning.  Instead of asking “what boat?” over and over and not getting any answers, I changed my tack and my questioning technique.  “What do you do with your boat?” “Where did you have it last?” Which made me realise, if you still don’t have the answers you need to do your job, question around the subject until you have a better understanding.

4. Don’t set unrealistic expectations

I learned this lesson the hard way.  Penny likes to play dress up and pretend.  Sometimes she likes to dress like a fairy.

Penny as a fairy
Penny as a fairy

So, thinking I was playing along I started saying, “Wow, what a lovely fairy, are you up in the sky?”  It was then that she got very upset because even though I confirmed that she was indeed a fairy, she was unable to fly.  My point being, if you set unrealistic expectations then your client will undoubtedly be disappointed.

5. Enjoy the moments when you’re on the same page

A moment of smiles before the next problem arises.
A minute of smiles before the next problem arises.

In the brief 10 minutes that you and your client come to a mutual understanding, take advantage of it.  You might be in the rare situation where you get on with all of your clients and everything is rosy most of the time, but realistically, differing opinions and egos can get in the way.  When the calm comes after the storm take some time to enjoy the peace, you’re only 5 minutes away from the next tantrum.