PR Students and Deadlines: a battle with yourself

Students. From freshers brimming with enthusiasm to third years slowly comfort-eating themselves into oblivion – every student knows the pain and stress of university deadlines.

I’d like to argue that most freshers by now, as we have reached December and lots of presentations, project deadlines and essay hand-ins are now on the horizon, have had most of that enthusiasm knocked out of them, and are well on their way to reaching the mindset of us third-years: please, just let it be over.

Of course, I only speak from my personal experiences and I only refer to 95% of students, there are those who astound me as they hand work in over a week early – oh to be that enthusiastic would be marvellous.

This isn’t to say I’m unenthusiastic about my education – quite the contrary – I attend lectures, engage in discussion (when I’ve had enough sleep the previous night) and my work is always on time. The state of mind I’m referring to is that which all students face when deadline week looms, when there are simply too many papers and too many books and any small ounce of enthusiasm is quite quickly drowned.

Flickr – Hartwig HKD

I’m not entirely sure about other universities, but here at Sunderland it seems as though deadlines group together like a mob, waiting just around the corner to beat that enthusiasm out of you, and you have to battle desperately to avoid falling into the blackhole of a mental breakdown.

Before I receive any hate mail from those studying astrophysics or something of the like – I do not believe this is any harder for PR students than anyone else – what I do believe is that this battle is a different story for those of us studying PR.

Arts vs Science

As PR revolves around language, communications and ideas and interpretation, we PR students face the same challenge as all ‘arts’ students do – we are never quite right. 

Flickr – Steven S

I almost envy my friends who study sciences and maths, who walk away from exams with 98% in the bag or even the full 100%. But for those of us who study the arts, where every point you make is down to interpretation, we aim for the 70%s and even the occasional 80% – but 90% and above? That’s a fantasy land.

In our essays, exams, presentations and everything we do there is always something more we could have done, or a different route we could have taken. But there’s only so much you can say in a 2,500 word limit or a 10 minute presentation.

Why we struggle with ourselves more than the science students is because we don’t have a right or wrong answer. We have to figure out a solution and justify our butts off with every single point we make. I’ve always been a person who can find an answer for everything (although I rather dislike people who can do this, it’s incredibly annoying), so I don’t struggle to justify my points, it’s the fact it takes twice as long to figure out a founded solution than to use a formula. There’s no formula for the arts. 

But that’s what makes the arts such a wonderful thing. There is no right or wrong and everything is down to interpretation. Maybe I will appreciate this more when I’m not being scrutinised for an extra few percent of a grade…

Time management

With any deadlines there is no doubt that being organised and having time planned in to tackle the workload is invaluable. And as I’m sure most public relations practitioners will tell you, being planned and organised is vital to success.

But for us PR students it’s a different story. We’re still finding our feet with our future profession. We’re stuck in the middle between the skills of the real working world and the naivety and inexperience of student life. 

We are organised when push comes to shove, but as far as university deadlines go, a lot of students will leave things to the last minute, and that’s something most of us haven’t outgrown yet.

We sit from 5pm the day before the deadline until 2am the next morning making sure we hit the deadline and all the while regretting we left it until last minute, and promising ourselves we will never do it again (never happens). Our thought process is similar to the stages of grief:

Denialit’s not happening, I can’t do it, it’s too late, I’ll never get it done
Angerthis is stupid, there’s no point in this, I don’t need to know this when I’m working
Bargainingmaybe I can get an extension because I’ve been working all week…
Depression I’m going to fail this year and work in McDonald’s for the rest of my life
AcceptanceIt’s only one essay, only one grade… McDonald’s isn’t so bad.

I like to tell myself I work better under pressure. Or at least that’s a lie I tell myself at 2am on deadline day. There’s a certain camaraderie that happens between those of us still left working from 1am, we share words of encouragement and help when each of us have questions. But more often we share inspirational and funny memes to keep each other going (some of my favourites are included in this post).

Dealing with deadlines is a battle for most, but PR students are stuck between student life and our professional life and we’re facing the uphill battle of being a student of the arts. We don’t have it easy but it feels so good when we finish at 4am and get those precious few hours sleep before the 9am lecture the next day.

quickmeme.com

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Why I Won’t Do Well In PR: character assassination

After 6 months working in the industry, I feel like I’m finally starting to map out the stepping stones of progression I’ll need to conquer to get where I want to be in my career.

Flickr – Mike and Annabel Beales

As I’ve addressed what a good PR needs and what difficulties there are to overcome in the industry, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at the other side of the coin – the qualities about me that mean I might just struggle. This goes on the premiss that knowing your downfalls means you can grow as a person – I’ll try to anyway!

As a personal therapy, and in an effort to help others who suffer from my afflictions, I’ve documented my downfalls and my plans to improve.

So, here goes, the assassination of Jessica.

Stresshead

Flickr – bottled_void

Or as my mother likes to call me, “mardy cow”. In truth, I only earn that nickname when I’m driving, something about someone cutting me off just really grinds my gears (terrible pun intended). It takes very little to put me in a tiz, although I normally tiz-away in silence. I’d like to think I’m like a duck – all calm on the surface but paddling like heck underneath. Perhaps this is a good way to be, and to an extent I’d agree, but I most certainly need to take a chill pill.

I find I wind myself up about deadlines and quality of work more than any sane human should – I lose sleep because I’m constantly thinking of what to write for a project that isn’t due for another two weeks, I rarely take time to just relax because of all those deadlines (that are months away) that are on my mind, and I lose concentration on one project because I’m too busy stressing about the other one.

Not only this, but I’ve found grey hairs already – and as a 20-year-old woman you can probably guess that this sent me into an even bigger tiz.

TO DO: Plan in ‘me-time’ during the week and at weekends away from anything resembling work, but make sure this time is mentally stimulating – go see a film, read a non-academic book, maybe even just dye out the grey hairs… I’m going to commit to putting my phone and laptop away for 2 hour slots so I physically cannot look at work or respond to emails – catching up on sleeping time and having time to personally relax shall no doubt help my concentration and even more importantly, reduce the rate of grey hairs appearing.

Worrier

Flickr – Smilla4

Whether I’m writing for a newspaper supplement, for a client’s web page or even just an email, I am constantly over-thinking the way I write. Is that too formal? Perhaps add in some humour to be more personable? No, wait, is that too informal now? It’s a bit of a merry-go-round.

I’m pleased I care so much to worry over such trivial things like emails, but worrying is time-consuming and adds to the grey hair issue I’ve developed. It’s almost as though I’m stepping on egg shells with myself, trying my utmost to avoid looking like a fool.

TO DO: Accept little things like a typo in an email are inevitable. Finding the right level of formality with a client is going to take time, just take it easy. Mistakes happen, and unfortunately I’ve felt the burning red face of messing up, but I’ve learned from those times. While I will still devote the necessary time to avoid mishaps, I’m determined to learn from bad situations rather than simply worry about them happening and how to move on from them.

Most of my readers will be PR students, so if there’s one thing you take from this post, I hope that it’s to remember – you’re only human.

Flickr – John K

From listening to lecturers, guest speakers and working in a few different environments I’ve learned that the professional world tends to ask for more than you’re capable of. But instead of stressing and worrying (like I tend to), learn from mistakes, take all of the stress in your stride – remember you have a life beyond work that keeps you sane and keeps you good at what you do – don’t lose yourself in fighting to get to the top.

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.

 

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.

In Need Of Inspiration: Live It – PR: Stepping out from behind a desk

Like most university students, I’ve had many times when I’ve lacked motivation to get out of bed and write yet another essay on my industry. It can seem all worthless without the inspiration to move forward. So where do you find inspiration?

Flickr – zsrlibrary

Throughout my first year I found myself contemplating whether I had made the right decision with choosing PR as my future. While I decided to stick out first year, initially it was only to see it through and possibly switch courses the year after.

Getting into second year I had hoped something would begin to light the fire underneath me again, but a few months in and I just couldn’t seem to find a big enough match to restart that metaphorical fire – I’ve written a million essays in my lifetime, media and ethics were nothing new to me and I had quite frankly given up on quite a few classmates on them ever pulling their weight in group projects.

There were many phone calls home to my mother umming and awwing whether I should switch courses. Then I was being asked to find a placement week for my course… not the best thing when I was pretty sure I couldn’t entertain the idea of PR for much longer. So I asked a former guest lecturer (remember how I said they’d be invaluable to you – always stay in contact if you can!) if I could shadow her for a week to try to make my mind up.

I owe my new-found inspiration and motivation to this lady, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Not only has she saved me another £8,500 worth of student debt, but she re-instilled my faith that PR is the exact fit for me. I’d become so wrapped up in essays and time constrained assessments that I had lost sight of what I was working towards.

Dominoes day in the office was an especial highlight of my week

This lady is Louise Robinson, at the time working as PR Director at Press Ahead Media and Communications in Sunderland. Louise had been a guest lecturer on social media in my first year and volunteered to help with an internal communications project with our year.

Louise is such an inspiration to me because she was in my exact position not that long ago. And to see the success she has made of herself so far is the exact motivation I needed – that could be me one dayShe continues to inspire me as she has set up her own business and I hope to work with her again one day soon.

My great thanks to the rest of the staff at Press Ahead too, what was meant to be a simple shadowing week was an amazing work experience week. They planned their diaries so that I was involved in as many different aspects of the job as possible – meeting news clients, working with photographers and overseeing photo shoots and filming. Even the days I spent in the office working on news releases and reports were really interesting – sorry uni, but far more interesting than essays.

I’m now more certain than ever that PR is right for me. And while I may not enjoy the essays and hours spent in the library, I now have a vision of what I’m working so hard for.

So if you’re finding it difficult to get out of bed and attend lectures or bother to do essays before the night-before, then I highly recommend finding a placement. If you’re having similar doubts to the ones I had – whether PR is really for you – then try out the real deal rather than what you’re taught from books.

The real world is far different from sitting behind a desk in the library. And it’s amazing. 

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!