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.
After months of research and planning, it’s almost time for the implementation of the ‘Christmas Strategy’.
Planning for Christmas with a toddler is like a military operation, it takes careful planning and timing to execute a successful day. So I thought I’d share with you my list of reasons why planning for Christmas is like planning a Public Relations campaign.
1. Research is key
This includes speaking to other stakeholders (parents), desktop research (flicking through the Argos catalogue) and speaking to your target publics (asking your child what they would like off Santa). It also consists of assessing your current situation and asking yourself important questions, such as:
How much space do we have in the toy cupboard?
Will Penny actually use this, or just play with the box?
Creating a situational analysis is essential for any parent wanting to get through the holidays in peace.
2. Planning is essential
Organising a timetable is a requirement for Christmas in our house to run smoothly. Our family is huge and we have to co-ordinate visits to and from parents, grandparents and extended family. I usually start planning an itinerary after Halloween so that people know where they stand and I have a clear idea of what I need to achieve and by when.
3. Stick to your budget
I often make the mistake of buying on impulse, especially so close to Christmas. Don’t be drawn in by additional extras. The reason that campaigns have budgets is to make them realistic and within the organisation’s means. There is no point splurging extra on presents if you can’t afford the wrapping paper.
4. Crisis management
Your long lost auntie has just turned up on your doorstep, you don’t have a gift for her, what do you do? I tend to keep an emergency stash of generic presents and spare Christmas cards just in case.
Whether it’s a forgotten gift or burnt turkey, always have a contingency plan.
5. Sit back and evaluate your hard work
Now it’s time to relax, sit back and enjoy the event that you helped to create. If anything goes wrong, then you’ll know exactly what to do for next year….
These last couple of months have been very hectic, and I’ve just realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I thought I’d write something briefly to let everyone know that I’m alive, well and very, very busy.
As my fellow students will know, April and May are some of the busiest months in the academic calendar. After an intense period of essays, exams and assessments I decided to take some time off to spend with Penny and actually clean my house.
Side note – I’d had zero time to do the regular cleaning jobs during my exams and it actually got to the point where one day I asked Penny to sit down and put her shoes on and she said: “no mammy, the floor is too dirty”. True story.
However, me being the workaholic type character I’ve turned out to be, this hasn’t been the case. On the days when Penny is out of the house at nursery I’ve dedicated my time to gaining some industry experience by pitching in at some local PR agencies, taking driving lessons and working on a project at university for the incoming freshman.
Although I’m still prioritising my time with Penny, I haven’t been able to do all of the little jobs that I’ve been putting off for ages. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to finish my spring clean before third year starts in September and the real work begins.
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 I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of things. As we’re coming up to Easter there’s been loads going on, from Professional Speed Dating events to CIPR competitions. Somehow, despite my hectic schedule I still think I’m not getting the full benefits of studying Public Relations.
My main focus this week has been preparing my entry for the Douglas Smith Student Award, run by the CIPR. I really wanted to create a campaign, however, I was disappointed when I found out that I might not be able to enter due to the combined nature of my degree.
It took several emails back and forth and some checking and double checking before Eva Maclaine confirmed that I could take part. My point is that if I hadn’t pushed and emailed and checked, then I might have missed out on the experience of creating my own campaign (a highly fulfilling one I might add). Although I don’t want to reveal the entry just yet (in case anyone else is entering!) I found the whole experience highly rewarding and would recommend entering to any student who is considering it, but it is an opportunity I wouldn’t have ordinarily been granted for being a joint honours student.
Secondly, there was a professional speed dating event this week for Stage 2 and 3 students. It involved coming along with a portfolio and meeting some of the key industry players in the North East with a view to setting up placement or work experience opportunities. Even though I was really keen to take part, I wasn’t able to attend as I had no childcare.
I was really disheartened by this as so far all of the connections I’ve made have been via social media, and I feel like it’s important to show people my face and other work besides my blog and (limited) tweets. From the sound of Hannah’s blog everyone had a great time, and I hope that I’m able to attend next year. In the meantime I’ll keep plugging away online and keep a look out for other events in my area.
Finally, I’ve been focussing a lot on my Public Relations work at the moment. Between setting up our own agency, completing the Douglas Smith Award and my assessed campaigns I’ve been neglecting the English side of my degree. Although, with post-Easter deadlines looming this is something I need to get back on top of. Even though I’m enjoying PR a lot more, I need to remember that my short term goal is to actually pass my degree!
So even though this is just a quick post this week, here are the lessons I’ve learned.
1. Fight for what you want.
2. Find other ways of making connections.
3. Remember your short term goals and not just your long term vision.
Hopefully after the Easter Break I’ll be more focussed, prioritised and back in control.
Being a mature student has its ups and downs. The past 2 years have been a roller coaster, and had someone told me what university was really like for mature students I might have looked into it more thoroughly before deciding to take the plunge.
So for anyone over the age of 21, about to jump into a Public Relations course I’d like to offer up my pros and cons list of being a mature student.
1. If you have your own house it will never be clean again.
Most students have to clean a single room, it’s a lot more time-consuming to make sure you have a clean house. Sacrifices have to be made, especially during deadline week, and the first thing to go out of the window is the housework.
2. You start to lose touch with your friends outside uni.
When you’re a bit older and have a family it’s always hard to make time for a social life. When you add independent study to the list it’s almost impossible to arrange time to go out with friends. I’m really lucky that my group of friends outside uni understand my situation, but I’ve lost touch with a couple of people over not having the time to see each other.
3. 3 months is a long time without a regular wage.
If you’re lucky enough to juggle uni, home and work then this won’t apply to you. 3 months is a really long time to go between income. I always strive to be efficient and careful but somehow I always run out of my loan before loan day. This wouldn’t really matter if I didn’t have another mouth to feed, which makes it all the more stressful.
4. Group work.
I don’t particularly like group work. I love sharing ideas with people and watching a project come together, but there’s always one person that spoils it. I’ve found a sense of entitlement in some students that will give them a sharp shock when they actually enter the workplace, although this doesn’t help when its the day before the deadline and they still haven’t sent the rest of the group their work.
5.The amount of paperwork you have to complete.
If you’re a mature student with a child and your own house you can look forward to filling out a LOT of forms. You need to complete an in-depth student finance application (stage 2 and 3 applications aren’t so bad), a childcare form at least once a term, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit applications and renewals, Council Tax exemptions, and many more….
1. It’s challenging
If you thrive under pressure and like to be challenged then it’s probably the best thing you’ll ever do. I enjoy coming to uni and learning new things, and feel more satisfied at home knowing I’m doing something I love.
2. You’ll make friends for life
Even though you might lose touch with some of your other friends, at uni you’ll meet loads of people who share your interests and could even become your BFFs. As intimidating as it might be to speak to new people at first, sometimes the age gap doesn’t really matter when you find people you get along with.
Although you might be a bit worse off now, it will all pay off when you’ve finished your degree. Hopefully, if you’ve put the work in then you should be in a better place financially when you re-enter the workplace.
4. Group Work
Despite the stresses, group work is really beneficial. Generally, younger students want to do well and will put the work in. It’s not only a good way to talk to new people who you might not have met before, but it’s a great way to share ideas and find out how other people in the industry work.
5.There’s loads of help available if you know where to look.
Sometimes it can be daunting to work out your bills and if you’ll have enough money to live on if A,B, and C happen. However, each university has a great financial team that will be able to talk you through exactly what you are entitled to and how to get it.
When I weighed up the pros and cons, going back into education was definitely the right decision for me. However, it’s always worth knowing where you stand before taking such a life changing step. If your own list is in favour of going to university I would always recommend making appointments with people like faculty leaders and financial advisers to find out exactly where you stand first.
You never know, it might be the best thing you ever do…