So…. Was it worth it?

scribblepenNow that I am drawing towards the end of my Masters studies and am facing the inevitable leap back into the graduate pool (albeit with considerably more awareness and experience than after my undergrad), I feel it’s important to finally take a step back and answer the recurring question I keep being asked…

Was it actually worth it?

Admittedly, I can understand where my friends, colleagues and family were coming from last summer when they expressed concern about my returning to academia after a year out in the ‘real world’? After all, I had one degree already, not to mention a fair amount of (sadly unpaid) experience in public relations. What could returning to De Montfort University for ANOTHER year of study really offer me? Other than another load of debt to shoulder, I mean.

Additionally, PR tends to get the subtle reaction of ‘eh?’ when described. I wouldn’t think it’s that hard to understand. After all, its all about helping to shape and maintain the image of a company, organisation or individual whilst marketing its products/services via third party endorsers.

Doing a Masters didn’t just allow me another year of burying myself in fascinating areas of contemporary research though (Don’t judge me; I’m a nerd!), it in fact opened doors for me that I’d been hammering on for a while – not to mention a few that I didn’t even realise had been closed.

Don’t get me wrong. Graduating with a 2:1 in International Relations and Journalism from a fairly well-respected university gave me options. However upon realising in my third and final year that despite being a dab hand at editioral copy and being skilled in meeting short and changeable deadlines, I didn’t just want to report on campaigns that did (or didn’t) do well; I wanted to work with clients to help build and shape these innovative campaigns that justified being reported on. I knew that turning to the ‘dark side’ (or at least pursuing it enough that I could sit on the fence and juggle the two) was something that would not only be rewarding to my professional and personal growth, but also was pretty inevitable.

Although I’d thrown myself into the deep end and gained a range of experiences across sectors, I felt that undertaking a MSc qualification would provide that added sense of ‘confidence’ and ‘sureity’ in my knowledge and skills that I felt I was lacking in my job-search, whilst also demonstrating to potential employers how determined and dedicated I was (and am) to seriously pursuing PR as a career.

Saying that though, I won’t deny having second thoughts. Everybody does.insomnia

The niggling doubts whispering that taking out a PCDL on top of a student loan was ‘irresponsible’ and that I should have just pulled on my big girl pants and gotten a job were pervasive and despite being irrational, were always at the back of my mind until perhaps mid-way through my second term.

Sometime during that second term though, I honestly think I had my ‘lightbulb moment’ that this was exactly where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing.

I’m not sure what set it off… Perhaps it was realising that I do in fact know an awful lot more than I thought I’d known; perhaps it was talking to people who expressed feeling just as much of a duck out of water as I had after graduating; or perhaps it was just the sense of waking up in the morning and actually looking forward to another day of writing about things I really cared about. All I know is that somehow, suddenly, everything just seemed to settle and ‘click’ into place.

My second term ended, and quickly blended into my third; and alongside being shortlisted for a national blogging contest for PR students (in which I subsequently came joint ‘Second/Highly Commended’), I also began being regularly invited to join local BBC radio panel discussions with Ben Jackson talking about aspects of the 2015 General Election – something the political geek in me was THRILLED at.

So… now that I’m truly at the end of my Masters (I handed in my last proper ‘assignment’ today), I thought it was high time to reflect on this last year and the value of the further education I’ve chosen to invest both time and energy into.

I decided that my experience can be summed up in the following key ways:

1) No matter how much education you feel you should ‘have’ before seeking a job, the key thing holding new graduates back is a lack of confidence and awareness of how to translate academia understanding into professional practice.

2) A postgraduate qualification is effectively a piece of paper. A nice piece of paper signposting your ‘knowledge’ in a particular area, but not the be all and end all of an employers analysis of you.

3) Extracurriculars are vital. Whether it’s writing a blog, joining a club/starting a new hobby, or taking part in your local paper/radio etc., having elements such as these on a CV act as a ‘balance’ to academic ability and professional experience, tells the employers your values and priorities and (perhaps bluntly) whether they could put up with sharing an office space with you for more than five minutes.

4) These ‘extra’ curriculars are just that; ‘Extra’. They often do not come as part of an academic course and unless you are *extremely* lucky/wealthy/well-connected, be sure that they will not just “fall into your lap” if you wait long enough. Be proactive.

5) Invest in your personal development and recognise that at the end of the day, in pursuing a Masters qualification in something that expands your skillset and is professionally applicable, that is precisely what you are doing, and keep doing it.

Its like putting a puzzle together without the box for guidance. You flail around a lot to begin with getting flustered and frustrated at both yourself and the world. Then you plan out an in-depth plan of action in solving the ‘challenge’ being faced so that when you finally do make that step and face the daunting prospect of putting that puzzle together, you know that althoguh it may take a little longer, you’ll still get there eventally.. The decision you have to make is how you ‘flail’ and how you approach complex issues in later lfe.

Whether this degree is ‘worth it’, I suppose is yet to be seen – after all, I’ve not found a job yet.

However it is early days and I know that compared to my prior experiences as a new graduate, I am now far more knowledgeable about the industry; far more self-aware about my role and priorities within it for professioanl and/or personal growth; and far more confident in my abitlity to use the skills I’ve learned to positive effect.

So it seems that as I dive back into the fray, I’ve grown as a person. My MSc may or may not have improved my career prospects (I like to think it did), but as I consider the future, I have realised that I’m content.  Not happy per ce, as I’ll miss spending weeks looking into yet aanother niche area of research, but definitely more content about my current situation, the future, and about life in general.

I’m ready to make that step into the job market without fear of rejection. I know I’m ready.

Bring it on!

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A summary of an election which could change the face of politics

So after yesterday’s #behindthenews panel discussion with Johnathan Lampon on ‘The youth vote’ (covered in an earlier post), I received an unexpected phone call requesting that I meet with Christian Hill (another BBC journo) to give a quick summary of my thoughts on this year’s election campaign run up and my election result predictions for #GE2015.

Because my section will have been a teeny part of this morning’s breakfast show with Jim Davis and Jo Hayward (7am if anyone’s interested), I thought it might be best to just type up my quick summary here to expand on my verbal analysis of all but a minute.

Basically, I think that despite the election itself being pretty exciting (I’m pretty certain that it’s close enough that there will be a minority government and another election within a year), the campaign period in the run-up has been…dull, if I’m honest.

True, there have been some highlights – Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand for one, not to mention the Green Party’s spoof ‘Boyband’ video (below) which quite frankly is an unparalled election broadcast.

But generally speaking, it’s all come across as a bit too tightly controlled and, because of that, a bit too staged and boring. Election campaigns should be about speaking to the people and having heartfelt, genuine conversations, not delivering pre-planned speeches against a backdrop of party member’s with placards.

Of course, there is always a risk involved with talking to the public, especially when its election-time. After all, nobody enjoys having egg on their face be it proverbially or otherwise. The problem is though that it is precisely the way parliamentary candidates handle these situations (where they are around and engaging with real people) that is what can win them the hearts, minds and (most importantly perhaps) votes of the electorate. Shutting down opportunities for dialogue before they’ve even begun only further alienates MP’s from ‘normal people’.

This is an election which I believe will prove to be a defining point our country’s future, determining not only the way our country is run, but our values as a society.

What this election has show most of all, I think, is that politics isn’t something we should just get involved in once every five years where we moan about whoever was last in power and all the things they didn’t do/did wrong, and automatically vote for their opponent.

People (and especially young people) are realising that democracy isn’t just about elections, it is something about everyday LIFE; something so ingrained in every aspect of our society that we don’t even see it unless we look. They’re realising (slowly) that politics MATTERS and is something they CAN have a voice in so long as they stay actively involved.

I might be idealistic in saying so but hopefully this increased awareness and self-belief is something that will not only spur people to head to the polls this Thursday to make their mark for whichever candidate they choose, but will also inspire them to get actively involved in causes they believe in and raise their voices loud enough that the people of this country can be heard.

Britain’s Best PR Student Blogger of the year: SECOND PLACE!!!

What some (but not many of you) may be aware of is that seven lonnnnng months ago, PR Practitioner and Academic, Richard Bailey (who is also the Editor of online PR magazine, Behind the Spin) kicked off this academic year’s #BestPRblogs competition to promote the work of student bloggers (like myself) who are passionate about public relations.

One month ago, Livi Wilkes, Lauren Old, Morta Jablonskaite, Simona Novokova and I were shortlisted. I couldn’t have been more pleased! After all, I’ve only really been blogging properly since last September so to have my work deemed strong enough for the shortlist of a national contest with over fifty talented entrants was a really nice surprise.

Anyway, we had a month to impress Stephen Waddington, Chief Engagement Officer for  and regular blogger in his own right (Seriously, check out his blog!), who was judging us based on:

  • Our content,
  • Our effort to build a community
  • Technical competence in the design and function of our blogs

Today, the results were announced and Britain’s Best PR Student Blogger of 2015 was named in a dedicated blog post by Stephen…..

Morta and Simona achieved joint status as runners-up for their blogs Just PR (Morta) and SN’s PR Campaigns blog (Simona), both of which are beautifully designed and contain in-depth insightful content on a wide range of areas.

Me, myself and I? I placed (joint) SECOND/Highly Commended alongside mature student, Lauren, whose blog shares her experiences juggling her studies with being a mum. Her posts often make me smile, particularly her posts (like this one) relating her experiences raising a two year old to aspects of public relations.

Stephen’s feedback was very kind and reinforced areas I know I need to improve. He said:

Ashley’s Comms and Caffeine blog uses the Adele WordPress template. It’s a good portfolio design with links to her social media profiles. She’s a prolific blogger often posting several posts per week. The content is a mix of campaign analysis and insight into areas of practice. Ashley isn’t afraid of controversial subjects; a recent post takes on the Protein World campaign. Her next job is to work on engagement around her content to generate comments and inbound links.

Engagement has always been my weakness and I think my confidence is a strong possible cause for this. So, after my exams finish, I am dedicating (at least part of) my summer to improving the engagement surrounding my content to expand my reach and gain increased exposure for my work.

That only leaves the girl who secured first place and won the title of Best PR Student Blogger of 2015,

LIVI WILKES!!!

I’m so darn happy for Livi as her blog, Live Love Laugh PR, is a personal favourite of mine (I get to admit that now!). The open passion and clear love she demonstrates for PR is something I share wholeheartedly, and I love both the clean simplicity and overall ‘prettiness’ of her blog’s design as well as the down-to-earth tone she takes in her posts.

Overall, its been a pretty wonderful day and I can’t thank Richard enough for running this project over the past seven months and inspiring a new generation of public relations bloggers. Not only has this experience shown me how easy, interesting and FUN blogging is once you get started, it’s also really helped me gain confidence in my own personal ‘voice’.

The only way is up and thanks to Behind the Spin, I’m one step closer to making my mark in the industry.

Breaking stereotypes and discussing the ‘Youth’ vote

With two day’s left until the election polls open, this morning I once again dove into a radio broadcasting and rejoined BBC Leicester’s Johnathan Lampon and BBC Local Apprentice Khadija Osman for Behind the News’ panel discussion.

Today we looked at ‘The Youth Vote’ and why young people may or may not be turned off from politics.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pn8h1 (10:50mins – 36:25mins)voters

Since the 1970’s, the 18-24 age demographic have had the lowest voter turnout of any age group, but this year they could very well be the game-changers holding the power to influence who ends up in No. 10.

Young people need to feel engaged by the political process so its no surprise that jargon is a complete turn off. I believe young people are more discerning than we’re given credit for and although many of us are interested in politics, we are also very cynical of politicians. Who wants to be preached at when half of what is said goes over your head anyway?

When MP’s target and start listening and moreover including young people in the political process, finding out what issues we feel are important (because despite some snarky feeling that all we care about is student fees, that’s most definitely not the case) and hearing our views on public policy.

The issue that got under my skin in particular was the suggestion by one commenter that young people under the age of 24 are “idiotic beyond belief and will most likely be voting for disaster/Labour #Morons”… Gee… thanks.

Despite the (completely false) idea that young people somehow automatically vote Labour, this stereotype of the ignorant, politically-uneducated-therefore-clearly-left-wing, hippy ‘yoof of today’ is totally unfair and (as a young person myself) pretty darn offensive if I’m honest.

The main challenge for politicians today in engaging young people is pretty much the same challenge they face to the rest of the electorate (but perhaps to a stronger degree). Average Joe Bloggs (both senior and junior) no longer trust politicians to be honest in either their policies or their values, and it is THIS failure to engage in a trustworthy and believable way that political parties need to work on.

How an Itsy bitsy teeny (and controversial) bikini can help explain brand integrity

This week in class we were debating if there is ever such a thing as ‘bad publicity’?

Although many were aligned with Phineas T. Barnum’s statement that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, I believe this stance can only go so far.

True enough, if someone is seeking notoriety and a scandalous reputation, perhaps this opinion may have some credence. But if publicity is centred on a product or service that has been shown to be physically detrimental to the consumer or the environment ala BP after their latest oil spill, then there is little likelihood that that publicity of the issue is going to increase sales or improve brand awareness in a valuable way for the business.

Our focus led us to looking at Protein World‘s ‘Beach Body Ready!’ OOH campaign which a few days ago was pulled by TFL.

Launched on platforms across the London Underground, the campaign’s bright yellow poster (shown below) is illustrated by the requisite (although allegedly un-photoshopped) woman in a tiny bikini as well as examples of some of their protein-based meal-replacement products. 45775830-2510-465f-a8cb-bda9b5a82951-620x372

Reactions, perhaps surprisingly, were mixed.

Call me cynical but this campaign’s message doesn’t really stand out (neither amongst its competitors, or within the general media). Maybe I’ve become desensitised, who knows…

Others however, have taken a stand against the ad on the principle beachbodydeface2that any ‘body’ which makes it to a beach this summer is a ‘beach body’, and that Protein World – and by extension, Richard Staveley (Head of Marketing) – are adding to the commodification of women’s bodies within society, and are ‘fat-shaming’ those who do not meet their body ideals.

Campaigners claim that the company is “directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model in order to sell their product” and have not only taken to social media to express their views, but have also defaced ads across the London Underground and started a (now successful) petition to have the campaign pulled.

As a self-acknowledged chubster, its easy to understand why some women might find these ads offensive, but it was the brand’s response that really threw me for a loop. Instead of apologising and taking a softly-softly approach centred on the ad’s role as a motivational device, they doubled-down and held their own.

The resultant outcry and subsequent media attention has meant that in four days, Protein World has secured 20’000 new customers, over 113 million media views, and has made over 1 MILLION in revenue.

By causing a debate on such a fraught issue as obesity, the brand Picture1has polarised the media and its audiences in a way that (because they are in a niche market) means they can be completely unrepentant in their stance whilst meeting the ideologies and general attitudes of their key consumers – those who are or want to lose weight – even if that causes an awful lot of controversy.

Rightly or wrongly, the campaigns objective was to increase sales and, by creating a newsworthy story that everyone had an opinion on, social justice campaigners didn’t just give the brand a MASSIVE boost in exposure but also meant that those who agreed with their ideology would be more interested in actually making a purchase.

INGENIOUS!!!

Think about it.

They secured free coverage in several key national publications and news outlets as well as even more in women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Coverage that would have otherwise cost them thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – to pay for themselves.

All it took was them maintaining their brand’s integrity.

If your brand is consistent in its actions, values, principles and behaviour, then it is seen to have integrity, and as such, will be meaningful to the audience to which it is aimed – however distasteful it might be to the rest of us.

It’s not about trying to be good anymore (though that might be one aspect of your brand) and its not about being ‘nice’ or even looking good in a yellow bikini; it’s trying to be honest, authentic and representative of the people who really matter – if only to your brand.