PR Day to Day: Changing from a student to a professional

Again I find myself apologising for my online absence, it’s been a whirlwind of a summer working full-time at Creo, and now that the final year of university is looming into view, I’m actually excited by the prospect of getting back behind some books *nerd alert*.

fickr – Klaus M

I have to say thanks again to Richard Bailey at Behind the Spin, for reminding me about my blog via Twitter this morning. With a mountain of scrawls on my to-do list for work I rarely get the chance to scroll down far enough to catch a glimpse of the note: “Must blog this week!” – oops.

flickr – banspy

While one mustn’t complain about being busy, because busy means business, it’s been a summer where I’ve perhaps forgotten the obligations I have to myself while the world of work takes over. I’d like to be able to preach to all students that living and breathing nothing but PR is the way to go – but let’s all remember (myself especially) that there’s an important balancing act of work vs. life, in order to stay sane!

Moving into the world of work…

Well, it’s certainly a daunting prospect, it even was for me and I was desperate to get away from the university libraries and endless essays. There’s always the worry of the fact you won’t impress or you won’t fit in, or simply that it’ll be so different from uni you won’t have a clue what you’re doing.

The important thing is to breathe. Just take a second to think – “these people liked my CV and interview enough to hire me in the first place”. As far as impressing with your skills, nobody expects miraculous eureka moments from graduates, just ease yourself in until you’re comfortable, and then start being brave with those nut-case ideas – remember, someone initially thought of meerkats to sell insurance, nut-case sometimes works!

flickr – JD Hancock

As a junior account executive or PR assistant, whatever your first title, you won’t be given mass responsibility, so there’s no need to worry all that much just yet, find your feet first. 

Perhaps that’s why I’m excited to go back to university. As a final year project I’m expected to find two clients and produce two campaigns to meet their real-life needs – and the creative juices are flowing. Hallelujah, there’s no creative barriers before I’ve even got out of the starting blocks!

When moving into the world of work remember to make time for yourself. I’ve been over-excited and keen to impress so I’ve taken work home with me in order to open up work hours for bigger and more creative projects. Bringing work home shows dedication, but for me, it’s become a habit, perhaps a bit of an addiction – I feel like a spare part just sitting at home doing nothing.

flickr – Giulia Geraci

It’s important to remember that you’re a person too, not just an employee. Remember to make time for family and friends – and from personal experience, some TLC for your car. Being a person is why you’re good at PR in the first place, so don’t lose yourself among all the media reports and press releases of the working world.

Remember to keep time aside for what you love, for me that’s reading, baking and blogging. Sadly, my current Game of Thrones book has been acting as a paper weight, my waistline has notably shrunk (although I should be pleased), and I’ve replaced my time to blog with time to catch up on extra work. This will all be changing!

Congratulate yourself on getting a job – it’s not easy! – make an effort to shine, but remember you’re a person, and your life is what feeds your personality, and that’s what makes you so great at what you do.

flickr – Arielle Nadel

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PR Students – Stepping out into the ‘big, bad world’

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog you will have noticed my absence for a few weeks now – why? I’ve joined the work-clan.

Sunderland Software Centre – the office! Flickr – ndl642m

It’s been a busy four weeks with my internship at Creo Communications, but four great weeks. While I’m not too fond of this whole ‘commuting’ malarkey, I’ve not once dreaded coming in to work. I’ve never had that Sunday night sunken heart at the realisation of work 9am the following day – in actual fact, I quite looked forward to it.

I was delighted that in my last week of my internship I was asked to stay with the company for the rest of the summer full-time and negotiate a part-time arrangement for when I return to university at the end of September – as you can imagine, I struggled to keep a Cheshire grin from my face.

I never thought for a second before I started my internship that I was ready to be a fully fledged PR, but as it turns out I’ve been trusted and tasked with so much more than I anticipated. So, as I sit in the office now, blogging on my lunch break, I’m thinking about what the past four weeks have taught me. Maybe I am ready for the real world?

Walking the walk…

Flickr – the Italian voice

It’s always tempting to get a bit hyperbolic on your own CV, but you’ve got to live up to those expectations. I’ve known a few friends fall foul to over-promising and thus disappointing. The first thing is getting the job so make sure you can truthfully do the job you’re pitching yourself for.

Compromising on the commute…

Flickr – thrill kills sunday pills

I used the Metro rail service to get to and from the office over the past four weeks, and while it did provide me with 40 minutes where I could do little but hunker down and enjoy my current Game of Thrones book, I didn’t enjoy having to leave the house at 7am or the less than pleasant fragrances of some of my fellow metro-goers. Public transport is generally cheaper versus petrol and parking, but now I’ve passed my test and insured my Beetle I know you can’t really beat the convenience of your own transport.

Whichever method of travel you choose, plan it. Turning up overly early is annoying, but looks far better than turning up late.

Be your own harshest critic…

Flickr – Nic McPhee

Submitting your drafts to your boss for review is nerve-racking when you start out – you don’t want to look like the novice you actually are. Highlight, scribble, re-read, tear up, read again and scribble some more – always, always, always proof-read your work, it avoids silly mistakes. It’s best to take a step away once you first draft – go make a cuppa or take a trip to the loo – come back with fresher eyes and consider it someone else’s work, you’ll pick up mistakes you’ve missed 20 times over.

Put your personality into it…

I can’t imagine anything worse than a silent office – I’m always either jibbering on about something in the news or quietly singing along to the radio while drafting releases or other copy (it’s a multi-tasking talent I’m so glad I have). Forge relationships with your colleagues, get over the awkward introduction stage and chat, they’re invaluable as resources of experience and knowledge that you simply don’t have.

Flickr – Capture queen

Always remember to never over-step the line – these are colleagues not brothers or lovers, they don’t need to know about your drunken weekend. Intimate relationships will always compromise either the relationships or your professionalism – even if they’re a model, just don’t do it.

Try put yourself into your writing – that sounds like the strangest concept but if you can get your personality into it (as long as you’re not a miserable recluse) then nine times out of ten it makes for more enjoyable reading. It’s a difficult art to master, especially when writing copy for big national papers, but give it a try, you’ll enjoy writing a whole lot more.

Going from the student lifestyle of waking up midday for 2pm lectures to working 9-5 and beyond is probably the biggest struggle you’ll face, trust me.

As long as you make the effort and think about what you’re doing, you’ll be fine. By the end of 2nd year I’ve managed to get a job as a PR assistant, and if I can do it with my constant radio sing-alongs then I’m sure you can!

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.

The Beginning of My Journey – Why does PR have such a bad reputation?

At the age of 16 it’s difficult to decide what you want to be – it was certainly a lot easier when I was 5 to imagine myself as a vet or an astronaut.

Flickr – ECU Digital Collections

Choosing A-levels was simply a choice of what I enjoyed, and that was writing and debates so English literature and English language were clear choices, but I also chose music so I would be nurturing my creative side too. My 2 years of A-levels were some of the most taxing years I’ve had – the constant nag of teachers claiming I’ll end up having to write 5 essays a week at university and so must get in the habit of it quickly. So I did, but I can put potential university students’ minds at ease, it’s more likely to be 5 a year. 

So it came to the final year of sixth form, and I still hadn’t a clue of what I wanted to be. I knew one thing – I’m a good writer (she says). But where do I go from there? I toyed with the idea of a becoming a screenwriter, perhaps a book editor. None of these seemed to fit.

Unfortunately I couldn’t bring myself to simply do an English degree. I felt like that was putting off my life decision for another 3 or 4 years. And in the current climate, what was I then supposed to do with an English degree? Teach in schools? That thought is enough to make my hair curl.

I was still at a loss until my sixth form ran a ‘Futures and Careers Day’ which invited guest speakers from various industries to come talk to us all about our futures. I so happened to end up in a ‘Journalism & PR’ talk by Chris Rushton – Head of Journalism & PR at the University of Sunderland. I hadn’t a clue what PR was, I only went because journalism is writing, maybe I’d be good at that…

Flickr – Josh Mazgelis

It may have only been 40 minutes, but I came out inspired. I’d finally found something that fit my skills and my personality – PR. From that moment I believe I was hooked. And while it might have something to do with Chris Rushton’s contagious enthusiasm, I couldn’t seem to get it out of my head.

I began my own research into university degrees on PR, checking for accredited courses, locations and of course the university itself. Sunderland, for me, seemed perfect. A brilliant on-the-up university with an established PR degree and experienced lecturers, and of course, close enough for me to bring my washing home to my mother.

Next to do was fill out the UCAS application, and it is here that I hit a roadblock. 

It may have been that my Head of Year at sixth form was also my literature teacher, but I was always encouraged against PRYou’re too clever for that. You should do English you’d be wasting yourself otherwise. Nevertheless I stuck to my decision. It’s what I wanted to do and I wasn’t budging. I even only applied to Sunderland despite knowing of other good degrees elsewhere – I knew exactly what I wanted now. Plus it saved me £11 only applying to one university – bargain. 

When it came to finally sending off my application I found myself in a bit of a kerfuffle. My HoY was so ‘disappointed’ of my choice that she contacted my mother before she would agree to send off my application. Thankfully my mother was on my side – whether that was because she believed in my choice or she knew I was too stubborn to change my mind is a different story.

And so I was on my way. I received my offer from Sunderland in the spring and got incredibly excited buying bedding for my room in the halls. It’s the little things in life.

But it did get me thinking – why does PR have such a bad reputation?

As I’m now 18 months through my degree I have come to my own conclusions:

As Morris and Goldsworthy have said, PR practitioners are paid to present the best possible image of a client. Truth is just a matter of perspective – maybe outsiders find this a little disconcerting.

It’s true to say that good PR remains unseen – so does that therefore mean that badly managed PR is all that others see?

No one other than those involved see the amount of work which goes into planning, creating and managing campaigns – so do outsiders see it as a simple marketing strategy?

I now perceive myself as an insider of the profession, and despite the poo-poo’s of the outsiders, I’m rather proud of being a future PR. Even if my efforts are unseen by the masses, people think my industry is based around lies or is pointless, I rather enjoy working in this industry and the good it can do.