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.

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!

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.

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.

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!