The End Of Second Year: My new views on PR

Now the rush of deadlines has finished for my second year, the idea that my final year is just around the corner is rather a scary one.

Flickr – Chris Ford

While I’m eager to sit and dream of what the future holds for my ‘career’ I always find it helpful to reflect on the year just gone.

At the end of my first year I was skeptical as to whether doing a degree was worth my time (not to mention copious amounts of money). I didn’t see the relevance of my journalism studies and I definitely didn’t have a clue as to what the real world of PR entails.

So, am I older and wiser?

Is a PR degree worth it? I’ve spoken (or perhaps ranted) about this in a previous post which you can read -here- but now I’ve finished my second year I’m probably more likely to say that yes, yes it is.

PR is such a strange profession, one day spent behind a desk typing lots of copy for various clients and the next you’re dealing with a crisis and liaising with the media to get your story out. One day could be a simple scheduled event and the next you’re overseeing photo-shoots and filming.

Flickr – Johnathan Cohen

With a degree you cover all bases, whereas stepping straight into the job there could be one particular day you find you’re totally out of your depth. It may not prepare me fully, but I’m a lot more confident in the knowledge that I at least ‘kind of’ know what I’m talking about when I get out into the real world.

I’ve read many practicing PR’s complain that graduates don’t know how to write for newspapers, but thanks to my many lectures and workshops on journalism I feel I’m maybe a step ahead other candidates because I do. I really do know how to write (perhaps ignore this blog as evidence of that though).

Second year was a massive step up. I spent a lot of lectures in my first year wondering how someone couldn’t know what a noun is or the grammatical structures of a sentence (I mean, c’mon really? You’re at uni and you don’t know that?). Second year focused on the nitty-gritty – planning events, writing proper copy, dealing with crisis’, ethical dilemmas and how to really achieve results.

Flickr – stuartpilbrow

I feel a lot more prepared after this year than I did last – and maybe some of that is to do with work experience, but a lot of it was to do with my education.

This blog has helped me reach out to a wider community that I wasn’t sure would accept me – here’s yet another undergrad overenthusiastic and under-educated – but I seem to have found a profession where people are really eager to see success. So to anyone who has supported me this year in any way – thanks!

My final word:

I still think PR is a juggling job and a complex one at that, but I feel more prepared and more aware. First year practically bored me to tears, but this year having a real taste of it, I feel as though I’ve fallen back in love with PR.

PR Students: Why you should get blogging

Blogging. Nowadays it seems like everyone has a blog.

For me it was a way to get my creative side out when I was stuck behind a barrage of critical theory essays, and simply for the love of writing.

But why would I recommend PR students have their own blogs?

I’m not talking about setting up a platform to chronicle your dinner everyday or the movements of your pets (personally I keep that on my Instagram). Blogging is a realm to create debate, discuss issues with like-minded people and to find your voice.

For those of you wanting to set up your own blog but haven’t a clue, this short video below is really helpful for the initial steps:

Truth is, us PR students are constantly writing – whether it’s those dull theoretical essays, creative online content or structured news releases. A blog gives you the chance to start finding your own way of writing, to start figuring out a writing style that you can fit into any format to have your unique voice in every piece you do.

Having a blog can be a mini portfolio for employers to look at – see your writing skills, your knowledge and interests, and get to know you beyond your CV.

Most importantly a blog can help you get noticed. 

While it may be very commonplace now that everyone has a blog you can always try your best to stand out. When I first started this blog I wasn’t sure which way I’d attack it but it turns out giving student advice is something people want – so that’s the way it’s gone. It may not be earth-shatteringly original but for the moment I’m enjoying my time finding my voice.

I’ve now been featured in the #bestprblogs by @behindthespin twice and I’ll be honest, it felt really good to have someone recognise my work. But you’ve got to get out there in the first place!

Recently we had a guest lecturer at Sunderland – Anne-Marie Bailey. She came to speak to us about how to make our blogs stand out, after all, she is rather an expert.

Anne-Marie studied her masters here at Sunderland and she also set up a blog during her time here. Maybe a bit more courageous than most, she interviewed practicing professionals in the industry to have their tips and knowledge on her blog. Using #raisingtheprofile Anne-Marie continued the discussion with professionals across Twitter and was quickly noticed as a ‘rising star’. She was offered a job before she’d even graduated. Read Anne-Marie’s blog here: http://raisingtheprofile.wordpress.com/

It’s always nice having guest lecturers – a different face and a fresher knowledge base as most are still working in the industry. But knowing it was only a few short years ago that Anne-Marie was sitting in the same lecture hall I was and has already had such a successful career, well it’s inspiring stuff!

So PR students take heed – blogging can help your career. Just remember to leave the cats and selfies for something a little more private!

Is PR Right For Me? The big decision

It’s now towards the end of the academic year. And with these last few weeks the deadlines are getting closer, concentration levels are dwindling and the stress is piling. 

Flickr – Collegedegrees360

Currently my motivation levels seem to enjoy rising towards the more ungodly hours of the morning – my brain seems to find inspiration at 3am or 4am nowadays.

With essays, presentations, exam revision and evaluations taking up more and more of my time I got thinking: what kind of person do you need to be to do PR?

Organised – Especially at these deadlines points of the degree it pays to be organised with your time and to-do lists. But in a day-to-day PR job I think organisation is key because there’s so little time to do so many things. Because PR is so complex you have to plan your hours well in advance so that you’re covering everything.

Flexible – Any PR is going to face a crisis at some point and often they pop up with very little warning, you need to be able to bend your plans around solving the crisis (because unfortunately we can’t add more hours to the day).

Flickr – Collin Key

Dedicated – Practitioners that I’ve spoken with have warned me of the hours after working hours – often it’s office 9am-5pm then on until 8pm or 9pm doing tasks at home or continually responding to clients while you’re ‘off-duty’. Generally, if you’re looking for a job you can leave at the office once the clock hits 5pm then PR is not for you.

Honest – There’s various approaches to ethical dilemmas – who is your loyalty to: employer or society? It’s difficult to always be 100% honest to every involved party when a story or situation arises. But you need to be able to be honest with yourself. If something doesn’t sit right then you need to have the guts to approach the problem. Don’t convince yourself something is alright when it really just eats away at you.

I’m not a full-time PR practitioner yet (although I’m incredibly excited for this to happen) so my views aren’t necessarily founded on the greatest of foundations. I’m intrigued to look back on this blog after a few years in the industry to see if my views change. But these are the four things I hope I still am, even after 30 or 40 years on the job.

PR: Who You Know and What You Know – Finding the balance

Whatever industry you’re in you’ll always have a little toe ahead of the competition if you have contacts.

I’ve been told on various occasions by lecturers that networking is the most important thing in PR – get to know journalists, keep in contact with other PRs – it’s good to have people as friends who can possibly help you out of a situation later in your career.

Flickr – Out.of.focus

But how does a student start making contacts in an industry when they’re barely even fledglings? 

Placements are a good place to start. I’ve already learned the benefits of keeping in touch and making friends with the people who employ you – that’s someone to say you’re a good worker or tout your skills to another employer when you’re applying for jobs.

I’d like to stress at this point that there might be a heavy leaning towards making contacts in whichever PR degree you do wherever – but there’s a lot to be said about what you know too.

Flickr – The Open University

It’s all very well and good having emails and numbers for 20 industry practitioners, but what if your skills and knowledge aren’t up to scratch? Those contacts you use as a reference can just as easily highlight your faults as much as your strengths.

PR is a people industry first and foremost, but don’t forget that it’s the knowledge behind it and the skills you need to master that will further you the most. You need to make a good impression before somebody vouches for you – and that is through being good at what you do.

An Event To Help

Throughout my degree so far the CIPR has been mentioned in 90%, if not all, of my lectures. So I’m used to hearing the names of those who head the North East division – the thought of applying for a job with these practitioners is more than a little daunting.

Then there was an event created by the CIPR in the North East with various working members of the CIPR in one room, ranging from large in-house organisations to individual freelancers. And students were given 10 minutes to speak with each – scary right?

Flickr – SalFalko

Actually, it wasn’t scary at all. Much to my relief everyone was there to help. Any questions we had about the industry or about applying for jobs and getting experience were all answered by people who really know what they’re talking about.

Not to mention, it was an excellent opportunity to make an impression.

Thanks to the event I was offered to do a guest blog post for Northumberland County Council’s head of PR, Ross Wigham. You can read it here on his blog adaywithoutoj.com. It’s my honest view of the industry and it’s nice to get my voice out to a wider audience too. And so far no one has called me crazy – so far so good!

Networking is so important to be successful in the industry, but never forget you have to make a good impression first.

For this, the ‘who you know’ vs. ‘what you know’, I’d say, has to be on a perfect balance to achieve success.

 

The PR Degree – is it worth it?

If you tell someone you have a degree then suddenly you’ve achieved a new level of respect. At least, that was the case 10 or so years ago.

Flickr – SalFalko

Thousands of different degrees exist now, and among students there’s always the quiet competitiveness of ‘my degree is better than yours’. While this might be childish it’s the way things work – those with journalism degrees receive a lot more respect than those with a degree in event management. And definitely more respect than anyone doing a degree in golf management (yes, that actually exists).

But what about a PR degree?

Most of my peers have little idea about what ‘PR’ even stands for, never mind what my career will entail. Even a lot of people considering taking a PR degree are unaware of what the career is. One friend who is currently on my PR course said: “It’s a lot different to what I expected but it’s interesting.”

Another friend who studies a science said: “It’s something to do with managing celebrities and covering up their mistakes.”

Flickr – Howard Lake

Doing a degree in PR is frustrating because, to my peers, they don’t understand it. To them it’s not complex enough to need a degree – something I would definitely argue against.

But do PR practitioners think a degree, now costing up to £55,000, is necessary for beginner account executives?

It’s a big debate within the PR world – a lot of practitioners don’t have a degree in PR, or have a degree at all. Those with experience or degrees in adjacent fields, such as marketing/advertising or media based studies are also getting jobs as PRs. Even someone with a politics degree has a chance to get a public affairs PR position – so what’s the point in doing a PR degree?

My personal opinion is that having a PR degree is the best way to hit the ground running when students land their first job. And that’s exactly what employers want.

Flickr – jjpacres

Some people think that degrees don’t teach the writing skills you need to be successful as a PR – my degree at Sunderland is all about writing styles and techniques within the first year – it’s the basic foundations that any practitioner needs.

But a degree could never teach the personality I think you need to do PR. You need to be a good communicator, in any situation. There may be people you don’t want to work with, or clients who really grind your gears, but having the confidence and personality to deal with tricky people seems essential. That can’t be taught through anything but getting experience.

A PR degree provides the foundations of writing skills, organisation and planning skills, but it’s the real understanding of the industry that will always place us head and shoulders above those with other degrees or no degree at all.

Flickr – Zach Frailey

I’d definitely say you have to be the right kind of person to do PR – and that may mean you’ll be successful without a degree, but without one you’re open to situations you’ve never experienced and that’s a steep learning curve.

So, PR degrees – not widely understood or respected, but, at least in my opinion, help with getting on the first rung of the ladder to a successful PR career.

Being A PR Student – Why no one understands you

Whenever anyone asks me what I’m studying I ready myself for the ‘oh right… nice’ response.

Flickr – CollegeDegrees360

It doesn’t bother me much that most people haven’t a clue what I mean when I say ‘PR’ – more than half probably don’t even know what it stands for.

What bothers me is that PR is quite difficult to explain in a nutshell – at least in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m stupid. It’s all very well and good having definitions within an industry, but what do you say to someone who hasn’t a clue?

It’s difficult to explain to someone concisely how PRs manage and maintain reputation when, to them, reputation is an abstract term. To explain it properly you have to get into the details of media relations and third-party endorsement. I’ve found people tend to lose interest as soon as I explain what PR stands for – it’s still so unrecognized by the masses.

Flickr – Labour Youth

What frustrates me to no end is when people say “oh yeah he was doing the PR for that club event last night” – no, he was handing out flyers. I do not need training, experience nor a degree to hand out flyers.

I think describing your job as a PR to someone outside of the media industry takes years of practice. Even friends at university who study business or sciences don’t understand what I do, and there’s always the debate about what constitutes a “real course”. Because, I’m sorry, a course on David Beckham isn’t a real course.

But PR is. 

I’ve resigned myself from the fight now until I fully understand my role myself – and that might be a forever ongoing process with the constant changes in the industry.

I don’t think people realize or understand the complexities of PR – the variety of skills a practitioner must master; from client management to writing, from social media to event management, from organisation to media liaison.

But that’s why I love it. The variety you can face in a single day as a PR, whether in-house or consultancy, is amazing. I always need a challenge to push me and motivate me and being a PR is a constant challenge because of everything you must master.

Flickr – Robbie Veldwijk

So, no one understands us PR students. Sometimes even the PR lecturers seem a little bewildered by us. We’re fresh blood and we’re learning to do a rather complex juggling job. 

While no one else may understand my work, I’m proud of what my work can achieve and the skills I have for it.  And I give myself a mini pat on the back for my achievements each day.

PR For The Facebook Generation – The challenges and opportunities we face

PR is a relatively new industry in relation to the other media giants like journalism and advertising, so it’s constantly changing.

Flickr – slowshooting

Public relations, to me, is an industry that needs to naturally evolve with the times because it’s all about relevance and being on-trend. While practitioners are now highly engaged with social media, the industry still holds onto the traditional media.

The traditional printed media, while suffering cuts and circulation declines, will always be a vital component in a practitioner’s tool belt. And journalists will probably always prefer emails and face to face contact rather than PRs selling stories through Twitter direct messages or private chat on Facebook. 

But what does this mean for the up-and-coming PRs?

Studying at university was never really in my life plan, despite the fact I’ve always been very academic. I wanted to start my career and get my teeth into the real world as soon as I could. But a degree was necessary, and my brain wasn’t quite done with education just yet. School taught me to study – books are my best friends and academic journals even better.

While I was constantly learning from things already written and examples that had happened, I’d never been told to listen to the current world too.

What’s most daunting about being a PR from my generation is that we’re thrown in at the deep end and out of our comfort zone when it comes to consuming media.

Flickr – Tim Peters

We are so used to getting the news from apps on our phones rather than newspapers. We’re in the habit of spotting trends on Twitter and Facebook rather than magazines. 

Understanding publications, their audience, focus, deadlines and style is paramount in achieving the right coverage, or in most cases, any coverage at all. And this is where PRs of my generation will feel so overwhelmed.

There’s so many newspapers for starters. Nationals, regionals and locals all have different requirements. Then there’s magazines – even wider ranging in their focus and audience. That’s not even starting on trade publications which have even more specialised requirements. 

And that’s just printed media. The tip of the iceberg before we get onto broadcast – television and radio are a whole other kettle of fish to comprehend. 

Flickr – State Library Qeensland

The only way to understand these publications is reading them regularly and consistently. But there’s just so many, that starting this late on provides a bit of a disadvantage. Not to mention that generally the majority of students now rarely have two coins to rub together, and unfortunately there’s more necessary things to buy than a newspaper.

But we do have one key advantage

Our knowledge of social media is second to none. We were brought up on it. 

I may not be an expert, but I’ve used various social media platforms for many years and know their audience, who it reaches and doesn’t, what types of campaigns work best and which don’t. We’re tech savvy us young’uns. And that is what existing PR agencies and in-house teams need – the new stuff.

To me, it feels like we’re stepping into an industry that needs us, but we still need the traditional experts too. 

Flickr – Chris Pirillo

It’s always going to be difficult understanding a new media – whether it’s existing professionals understanding social or our fresh faces understanding print and broadcast. The trick is exposing yourself to what you don’t know.

I’m familiar with quite a few papers from having them in the house from my parents. But I’ll admit I never read the sports pages or any celebrity gossip.

We can never tell what projects and assignments will fall into our laps. Whatever subject it is we are expected to become experts. But what we should always be experts in is the media. Every shape, form and size of it.