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.
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How To Be A Good First Year PR Student – Top tips

I don’t profess myself to be an expert, but we tend to take advice from peers over theorists with a thousand books under their belt – illogical really, but I’m happy to pass on my top tips to get your first year right. While it may not matter to your final degree it’s still the foundations on which you’ll build your next two years which do contribute to your final grade.

Essay Writing

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If you ever need to write an essay on the effectiveness of PR – Averill Gordon is your best friend. Always refer to the ‘two-way symmetrical communication model‘ (Gordon, 2012:56). In the real working world theoretical approaches and studies aren’t really used day-to-day (frankly, if ever) but this is one I’ve always kept in my head as an ‘ideal’ – in a nutshell, an organisation and a public communicating back and forth and both parties adjusting to one another.

I highly recommend her book ‘Public Relations’ for first year – it’s easy to read and provides a lot of other theories and approaches to various aspects of the profession which are great for references in essays.

Speaking of which – learn to reference. Referencing drives me round the bend and back, probably because I had about 6 hours of being taught how to do it properly. It’s just a simple formula to follow and saves your skin when it comes to checking for plagiarism. And my top tip – do it first. Don’t write an essay with quotes you ‘will reference later’ – trying to find quotes again to references them is so incredibly tedious and takes forever, save yourself time by getting all this admin stuff out the way first.

Flickr – Tim Riley

Since I first began writing academic essays I’ve always been taught to PEE. And I can’t tell you how many jokes teachers made saying that sentence. Definitely worth an eye-roll. To PEE effectively first you must make your point, a single sentence should suffice. Follow this up with your evidence, the quote to support your comment (included with reference!). Then go on to explain your point in detail, but be as concise as possible. My top tip is to continually question – make a point, but consider what others say, consider how relevant it is, bring in other ideas and question the connections etc.

Writing News Releases

In first year news release assessments were roughly 2 hours long and only required 300 words. Sometimes it’s about pulling out a really dry brief to hit the target, other times it’s about clipping and snipping out the least relevant information to get down to the limit. It’s difficult to give advice on news releases because their so content-dependent, but here’s a few tips I can offer:

– Use simple sentence structures – remember you’re writing to get into a newspaper, write like a journalist.
– Be as to the point as possible – word limits are half the challenge of becoming a successful writer
Remember your client – something Chris Rushton always said was that you have to be schizophrenic to be good at PR; meet the needs of your client and meet the needs of journalists by being able to take each standpoint simultaneously.

Research

Flickr – Colin

 

Research for essays shouldn’t just be books – make sure you look at academic journals and online sources too. The CIPR website has an abundance of articles that are brilliant for your essays. Don’t forget ‘PR Week’, as a CIPR member I get this through my door monthly and it’s proved invaluable for having experts to quote in my essays.

Research for your campaigns shouldn’t be continually within the remit of your friends and through social media. It’s the easiest way to get survey responses but think – is that really the public you’re targeting and the best way to target them? As scary as it is you need to start getting out and talking to people outside of your friendship group. Research for a campaign is the basis for everything you’ll plan so it’s best to get it right.

Networking

Flickr – Paul Wilson

 

It’s not absolutely necessary to have a contact book full of PR practitioners at this stage, but it’s a good time to start making connections. Guest lecturers are excellent contacts to have and easy to make because they’re in your classroom – they’re expert enough to lecture but they’re still working professionals in touch with the industry now.

You’re probably not ready for a proper PR job yet, and probably not confident enough yet either, which is why placements and work experience are invaluable to you. In my first year they weren’t required, but they were in my second. When it came to everyone finding placements, those who had connections were sorted and the stress was lifted early – think about your CV and practice emails that explain the skills you’ve learned and why you’d be good for the organisation you’re applying to – it’s great you’ll get something out of it, but show them what’s in it for them.

Social Media

Flickr – Mindy McAdams

I’m entirely guilty of previously using Twitter as a way to vent my anger or complain about my immune system (I’m convinced it’s conspiring against me). But now employers are starting to look at your social footprint and if you’re like me, it’s best to delete the plethora of grumpy tweets and indirect venting at one of your followers you dislike – time to stop being so ‘high school’. What you put online can be seen by everyone and employers are increasingly checking your profiles. I heard recently of an organisation asking for an impressive Instagram portfolio… mine’s pretty much just of my cats… oopsie.

Think about what you’re putting online, you may (like me) not actually be a grumpy person, but use social media as a good way to vent, but that will be the image you put across.

 

So there are my top tips to do well in first year. Best of luck with the essays and campaigns, fingers crossed with making important connections, and I hope you have many fun hours deleting years of grumpy tweets!

Studying Public Relations – The biggest challenges

I began my first year of university in September 2012, and it’s scary to think that’s already two years ago.

Flickr – Matt Cornock

Although I’m only half way through, it’s true to say your university years fly by. I can imagine my third year is going to be a blur – filled with library books and endless journals to complete projects and essays no doubt.

While I enjoy PR it wasn’t always the case. Since speaking to Chris Rushton at a talk at my sixth form I’d never faltered in knowing this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. But after my first week I was ringing home in floods of tears thinking I’d made a terrible decision – this isn’t for me, I’ve made a mistake.

I owe thanks to my mother for forcing me to pull myself together –  I’d never given up on something I was so passionate about before and I’d invested too much to walk away now. I am within the first year of victims of the raised fees – I shall always be bitter about this.

So why did I freak out? Journalism.

Flickr – Jon S

Like many other PR degrees, my degree has a heavy focus on journalism in the first year to get writing skills up to scratch and to understand what a journalist wants – after all they’re arguably the most important contacts we as PRs can make.

But as a naive first year I immediately whined and moaned – this isn’t what I’m paying for, if I wanted to do journalism I would’ve chosen it as a course, yadayadayada.

And I wasn’t alone in my complaints. At the beginning of the year my class was quite a healthy size; before Christmas it had lost well more than a handful to other courses like broadcast journalism or marketing.

I’m thankful I could see the larger picture, the skills they were teaching us have already proved invaluable to me when it comes to writing press releases or online content. My original writing style was quite flowery and expressive – I was a creative writer, not a news writer. But now I feel like I can achieve both ends of the scale and that’s something I’m quite proud of.

Something else that made my first year quite challenging was completing modules that were taught by academics who weren’t involved in the PR industry – they spoke of PR like it was the devil. 

Flickr – punainenkala

In some of my lectures and seminars I was also with journalism students and various other media discipline student; I always felt like PR was somewhat forgotten. Any issue was discussed with regard to anyone else’s industry, never PR. Unless, of course, we were discussing how PR is all to do with covering up lies, propaganda and spin-doctoring – thanks for the vote of confidence.

Because I know what is really involved in PR this angers me to no end. Like I’ve said before, anyone not involved only sees the bad PR that goes wrong. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much other than it being incredibly disheartening and frustrating to hear. The people who need PR understand we’re not the devil incarnate and that’s what matters.

Of course I faced the other challenges of learning to fend for myself away from home, waking up at reasonable times without a mother to drag me out of bed and making it into 9am lectures after a student night – most first year will know these pains.

What advice would I give?

  • Take on board what people say about the industry, but you always have the right to fight your corner. If you’re passionate enough and clever about it maybe you can change some critics’ minds.
  • Enjoy your first year but don’t mess it up. While it may not count to your final degree it’s the foundations for the next years that do.
  • Don’t become a book recluse. You may want the best grades but this industry is about networking – it’s a fine balance between social and study. Some of the journalism or broadcast students you befriend now may become valuable contacts to you in the future.

Some of the best friends you’ll make and the best nights you’ll have

If I could have done my first year differently? I’d have put more effort into everything. I definitely took advantage of not having my mother around to nag me to clean up, do work or just get my arse off the sofa.

It’s hard, but make the most of it. And enjoy freshers – you start feeling really old in second year!