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!

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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!

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!