The top three WORST things you can do as a PR graduate

People can be their own worst enemies sometimes, and new grads are no exception. In fact, I believe new graduates can be very hard on themselves. After finally getting over the stress of your final year at university, you’ve now ticked that academic box of (hopefully!) success and have been firmly thrust into a dauntingly big pond. *Hint: You are the little fish.

There’s an awful lot of competition out there and everyone is vying for attention; so, rather than adding to the swathes of articles/blogs/columns touting what you *should* be doing, I have made a list of the top three worst things a grad can do to damage their chances and nailing that sought-after role.
1) Assume you have nothing left to learn

This is key. Don’t be arrogant and assume that now you’ve graduated or attended a prestigious school that you’ve got nothing left to learn. PR degrees have become increasingly popular over the last few years and although some of them are very good (I like to think my MSc was), you don’t need one to start a career in PR.  In fact, you don’t need a degree at all.

Yes, you’ve earned that certificate saying you know about your subject but knowing the theory for why something works doesn’t always translate into being able to do absolutely everything entailed in a role.That often only comes with hard graft and experience.

Employment is a learning curve but common areas for personal growth once in a PR role include:

  • Phone skills and ‘selling in’ to journalists.
  • Email Etiquette for different stakeholders depending on your/your agency/client’s relationship with the recipient.
  • Technological capabilities – There is a HUGE number of programs and tools out there that you won’t have had access to whilst as a student.
  • Client management
  • Confidence in your abilities – This is something that comes with time but being a new hire and a new entrant to the industry understandably comes with a bit of insecurity and if you’re like me that means you might overthink things on occasion. Trust in yourself and and don’t be afraid to ask for help/support/a second pair of eyes.

2) Sell yourself short

That being said, don’t let yourself feel that you need a degree from a prestigious college to be successful, or that you need to live up to your peers’ achievements or that you need to have all these skills going in. Without sounding trite, everyone has their own journey and although yes it might feel frustrating to feel like you’re struggling, good employers will make a point to support new hires in building these skills. After all, it’s a win-win.

It’s a balancing act of acknowledging your areas for improvement and demonstrating the confidence, initiative and passion for the industry you want to succeed in. A lot of the time it’ll really come down to being willing to learn so have confidence in yourself and go in to interviews with a positive mindset.

 

3) Disengage from your personal brand 

This is something I will openly admit that I personally struggled with once I started working. Managing all of my personal branding and research on top of a jam-packed professional day was difficult to adjust to, particularly given that I was also battling long commutes and a landlord with a vendetta against modern technology…

Seriously… no wifi?! How is a girl supposed to connect with the world?!

It should come as no surprise that my mobile data plan was wiped out within days…

The first tip for countering this is to try taking some time out of your weekend to write. Depending on what you can juggle around, you can either write a post a week just giving updates or you can write a few posts and then schedule them to be published during the week whilst you’re at work – the latter being more successful in practice for us PR folks I think.

As for my second tip, it isn’t really what I’d call a tip but more of a tool.

*Disclaimer: If you haven’t come across ‘If this, Then that‘, prepare to have your mind blown!

IFTTT (as it’s more commonly known) is an online and mobile app that connects your platforms to each other and basically does what it says on the tin with very little in terms of faffing.

Once you’ve set up your preferences the way you like, the app will automatically respond to you doing ‘this’- ‘this’ being anything from uploading a picture to Instagram or posting a Tweet – by doing ‘that’ whether its sharing that photo on your blog (*See below) or sharing a blog post to Facebook.

It’s a great way to make sure you integrate all your online platforms so that your online profile is consistent and up to date.

Getting your proverbial ‘ducks’ in a row is really very simple with a little bit of planning and once you’ve managed it, it’s even easier to fire off those CVs, wow the recruiters, and nail that all important interview.

If you’d like to look at a more comprehensive list that relates to both senior and junior professionals, I highly recommed Edelman’s latest post.

 

 

 

Day in the life

Making that transition from education into professional life can often be a struggle. Suddenly, you’re expected to hit the ground running and put all that theory into practice with often only the support of your colleagues and online career advice to guide you.

That being said, it’s important to get an idea of what you’re jumping into as an Account Executive so – taking into consideration that no day is really the same in PR – I thought I’d grant you all a small exposé as to what a normal day at London’s Houston PR (the agency which gave me my ‘break’ into the world of professional public relations) would involve.

6am – My first alarm which (unsurprisingly) I would snooze… repeatedly. Suffice to say, I’m not a morning person.

7.10am – Leave for the bus, usually running because I’d rather do that than spend an extra second standing out in the cold/wet.

7.30am – The bus arrives. It’s supposed to be an hours journey by (perhaps typically for the London rush hour) it never is; luckily I’m early enough on the route to regularly manage to get a seat for the majority of the journey.

8.40am – Arrive in central London and buy coffee no. 1 of the day as well as a bagel or small salmon baguette. The baristas in both Pret and Cafe Nero know me on sight, but Cafe Nero wins the morning coffee slot with their extra shot – something I definitely need.

8.45am – Arrive at the office (just around the corner) and check national news websites, my to-do list for the day and my inbox (both in-case of something urgent that needs attending to and also in case I’ve heard back from any journalists).

9.10am – Weekly staff meeting to discuss updates on all clients as well as where we are within our new business pipeline.

9.40am – Quick briefing with my direct superior to go over my notes and discuss direct actionables for the week which I add to my to-do list in order of priority. I also provide an update on the progress of the bi-weekly insight sessions I currently run on social management and analytical tools.

9.50am – Check keywords for whether any coverage has been achieved overnight and (after verifying them) add any new pieces to the clients’ cuttings files and coverage documents alongside their respective details. We have a couple of clients who prefer daily updates so this is a common (and relatively simple) task for when I first get into the office.

10.10am –  A few responses have come in from a couple well-known magazines requesting more information about a client’s product line. There are also one or two blogger requests for items to review. I check their circulation; one has a high enough reach to be suitable so I fire off an email checking how the client would prefer it handled in terms of logistics.

10.30am – Called into an impromptu meeting by an Account Manager to discuss a new client whose meeting they want me to sit in on later today.

11am – Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. And I finally get the chance to eat the breakfast I’ve been picking at for the last two hours.

11.15am – Back at my desk and client has called in needing a list of all major technology publications so I start going through our online databases pulling out titles that are appropriate for their market, outlining their circulation as well as contact information for the most appropriate journalist, and collating them within a report to mail over.

12pm – A call comes in from a client requesting feedback on something I have been involved in but not directly enough to be able to help. She sounds stressed and expresses that it’s needed within the next day or two. I make a note of her request and forward it to the appropriate colleague with an offer to handle it if needed; they’re in meetings for most of the day but will most likely be checking email periodically. I also make a point to reassure the client and give a fair estimate of when she can expect to hear from us. I’m hoping that after a month or so of emails, she might remember me – she doesn’t, but she sounds a lot more positive by the end of the call so I hope she will do soon.

12.10pm – Back to trawling databases for leads. I’m now cross-referencing the list I’ve compiled against publications’ reach and the names of journalists with whom I know our agency has a pre-existing relationship. It’s always nice to skip the introduction stage after all.

12.30pm – Proof and make edits to a press release that is due to go out. It needs bulking out with more facts and/or quotes so I trawl through the hivemind of Google for something appropriate and tweak it before sending it back to my colleague to go out.

1pm – The coverage report I sent out for one of my clients was missing a couple of items that didn’t show up on our media monitoring. The client noticed the omission and – given that its the second time in as many weeks that our cuttings service hasn’t picked up everything it should – understandably they’re pissed and (because they know it’s not an oversight on our end) I’m tasked to recify the issue and liase with the media monitoring agency to try and find out where the gap is in their scope.

1.20pm – Lunchtime! Due to living in a glorified box without kitchen facilities, this is my main meal of the day so I take my leave of the office for a short walk and some “me” time (often used to plan these blog posts) before making a choice on what to eat… working on the Strand means the options are endless so today I swing by Koshari Street (an Egyptian street food cafe on St Martin’s Lane) for a Lentil and Swiss Chard soup.

2.20pm – Social media is an important and essential tool for both our clients and our business. To keep ourselves up to date with the myriad of tools and tricks out there, I host a bi-weekly insight session on key tools that would benefit specific clients but this means taking the time to research and assess their relevance before adding the relevant details to the powerpoint I’m designing.

3.30pm – I sit in on a client meeting with a manager and the MD. We have a couple of international clients so despite the difficulty of juggling timezones, regular conference calls allow us to better understand their needs and expectations as well as making sure they appreciate our role and where we are within their campaign.

4.30pm – The meeting took longer than expected so I start finishing up today’s To-Do list and make my final calls to journalists following up on coverage or pitches.

5pm – Before I leave, I tidy my desk space and write up the key actionables for tomorrow morning.

5.30pm – Leave the office and grab a sandwich or soup before I get to the bus stop. I can already see that the traffic is insane and – as more people leave the office – I know it’s only going to get worse.

7.15pm – Home. Finally.

7.30pm – Shower

8pm – Blog and skype my family and friends.

9.30pm – Put on a film and try to relax. More often than not I end up scrolling through Twitter and industry news sites.

11pm – Sleep.

Need help beating writer’s block? Check out these 7 Top Tips

Every single day 4.5 billion pieces of content are shared.

Read that again. Four and a half BILLION pieces of content.

Constantly writing, snapping and sharing fantastic content is a daunting challenge for any creative blogger; aspiring or otherwise. Incidentally, it is probably one of the key reasons (alongside work and flathunting) that has led to my being a bit AWOL this last month – sorry, guys!

Anyway, my lackadaisical attitude towards actually finishing a draft post has given me a few ideas that might help you guys not fall into the same mental traps as I did.

  • kitkatFirstly, Stop over-thinking it – This is the main crux of my issues and it might well be at the centre of yours. 63% writers claim the biggest causes of writer’s block were: their own high expectations, their fear of failure, and the pressure of unrealistic deadlines.
  • Take a break and do something else – 56% of writers say that doing something other than writing helped the words flow later.
  • Write little and often – Take a leaf out of Mark Twain’s book and write a little at a time.
  • Make notes – Inspiration can hit you at any time so make sure to always carry a notepad and pen for when you’re inspired.
  • Using a dictaphone or smartphone app, Walk and talk. That way you can get all of your random thoughts down to go through and organise, saving you time and effort later.
  • Create a mental memory map/ladder – Although this may sound a bit ‘Inception-esque’, building a simplified mental system of ‘rooms’ or rungs in which you organise your thoughts and ideas can be incredibly handy when it comes to remembering them for later use.
  • Work out when inspires you and make use of that situation. Me? I always have random creative ideas in the shower and organisational ideas right as I’m about to sleep. Using the condensation and a notepad next to my bed have become invaluable tools in my mental repertoire.

Check out the handy infographic (below) by StopProcrastinatingApp for a few more ideas, and feel free to leave me a note in the comments section with any of your Top Tips!

Writer's block cure

The 7 Top Tips for a #PRstudent to get their first graduate job!

neesonSo, it’s that time of year again where summer is almost over and we’re slowly coming to terms with the looming reality of returning to university or *gasp* facing the daunting prospect of needing to get a job.

Now, if – like me – the prospect of becoming a fully-fledged adult (complete with taxes and commuting) has a tendency to give you heart palpitations, I thought I’d make things a little less stressful and give my top seven tips for getting that all important graduate job.

1.  Experience is (almost) everything!

Public relations – and, for that matter, most creative industries – is notoriously competitive to get into. This competitivity is even more pronounced at junior levels where swathes of new grads are fighting it out for the attention of increasingly discerning employers. One of the best ways to get their attention (and those elusive job offers) therefore, is to show whoever is potentially hiring you that you know your way around an office and the positions you are looking to fill.

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Whether it is an internship, a collaborative project like Stephen Waddington’s #PRStack, writing for communities such as that built by Behind the Spin or volunteering your abilities within/for a not-for-profit, all experience is readily seen as good experience and, as such, does wonders for not only showing an employer you won’t crumble in the job, but also helps you gain confidence in your skillset and your ability in applying your academic knowledge to a professional context and environment.

2.  Figure out what makes you special and own it!

Now anyone who knows me knows I have a wide and arguably uncommon variety of interests (from WWE to politics to rats to blogging on a regular basis). As an undergraduate, I believed that being seen as ‘weird’ would put agencies and employers off but the more I’ve explored the industry and built connections within it, the more I’ve noticed that in fact the opposite is proving true.

Being ‘weird’ and having seemingly ‘quirky’ interests has been a godsend during interviews as I genuinely feel that it has been one of the key aspects that has ‘set me apart’ and led to my applications being memorable – something that is all to important when you know the person hiring has umpteen CVs to go through where every CV is going to look basically the same.

3.  Know where to look.

There are thousands of job sites across the Internet. Some are great, while others are riddled with spam, so finding the most helpful sites for what you’re looking for can be a mammoth process. The best course of action is to of course browse job boards that specialise in public relations like the handy list provided below:

4.  Stand out on social media!WORKING

I know. I know. Breaking through the noise and standing out online (particularly in a positive manner) is much easier said than done. But networking online across all the commonly used platforms is one of the key ways in which to get your name out there and your profile known.

Additionally, social media also is a great way to find job ads and stand out to employers. Indeed, I have recently gained a graduate role myself through securing an interview with Hamish Thompson, MD of London’s Houston PR, via Twitter based on his reading my blog and discovering a few of my quirkier interests – particularly my love of stationary (something that is shared within his team already).

5.  When it comes to applying/interviewing, Research. Research. Research.

Social media however, is not the be all and end all for getting a graduate job. Keeping up-to-date and being knowledgeable about your industry as well as the agencies you’d like to work for is so important in making a good impression. Interviews test your ability, skills and character but an interviewer is often looking for more. Stand out by commenting on campaigns the agency has been involved in, content they have posted or their client’s industries.

6.  Be gracious (in both success and defeat).

It’s amazing how many people don’t follow up an interview by sending a quick note to say thank you.

DO NOT LET YOURSELF BECOME ONE OF THEM.

Show your appreciation to anyone and everyone who helps you out (and even the people who don’t). It leaves such a positive impression and will pay off in the long run. After all, PR is a surprisingly small industry, and you never know who you might end up at an event with (or even working with) in the future.

Most importantly though is number 7. Keep a cool head and don’t let the slog get you down!!! Stay positive, keep a balance, hang out with your mates, and you’ll get there eventually.

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Don’t just take my word for it though! Leave a comment below and let me know what you think! Are there any tips you want to share?

Let’s get digital (and social) with #MyDigitalCareer

So it’s been almost a week since the end of #MyDigitalCareer 11703358_632840450085757_8939266814298482214_nand I feel its  probably time to put my thoughts to paper (or the online equivalent of paper anyway).

Now for those of you who don’t know – which may well be many of you, the #MyDigitalCareer event (the brainchild of London-based Cloudnine Recruitment) was aimed at providing students and recent graduates with insights into social and digital roles, and advice on how to break into the industry.

At each evening’s talk (as the event lasted five days across a variety of London locations), twenty of the most influential and interesting leaders and practitioners in the Social Media & Digital industries, including: O2 Social Media Manager,1513681_632846740085128_3830231672129821664_n Rachel Kneen; Associate Director at Edelman, James Poulter; Head of Social and Community at The Guardian, Laura Oliver; and Salesforce digital guru, Jeremy Waite, author of “From Survival to Significance” (which I highly recommend by the way), gave us a breakdown of their experiences and insights into what’s important for those looking to follow in their footsteps before taking part in a short Q&A session prior to networking over drinks and nibbles.

I will admit, even before arriving last monday, 11694776_632840490085753_6290195808492707933_nI had high expectations of the event – not least because I knew Ketchum‘s Chief Engagement Officer, Stephen Waddington – who recently judged Behind the Spin‘s National blogging competition (in which I secured joint Second place) – would be one of the guest speakers.

These expectations however were far far surpassed.

As such, I thought it only fair to share with you my top ten key take-homes of the week. So, in no particular order (as they’re all great points to remember):

1) Read! Read journals, read blogs, read up on current affairs within whatever sector peaks your interest. As Jeremy Waite stated on Friday, “It matters most to be informed.”

2) Write; and (perhaps just as importantly) spellcheck. Not only does it demonstrate your interests, your industry knowledge, and your business awareness, but it is also highly regarded by both employers and their clients.

3) Be yourself! Without being loud or obnoxious (I mean how off-putting would that be), be confident enough in your ability to stand in a room and make yourself known for your deeds.

4) That being said, also be very conscious of what aspects of yourself that you present – particularly online where years-old drunken photos and ramblings can rear their ugly heads once more.

5) Pick a path but be ready to move with the times. Knowing what you love and going for it wholeheartedly is admirable after all, but we must not tie ourselves to one way of doing things in case it restricts our future growth. Time always changes things after all.

6) Network. Network. Network. This point in particular hit home for me as almost every speaker stated that every job they’d secured had been recommended to them via their networks.

7) Find a mentor; someone who will support, challenge and prove a helpful sounding board throughout your career.

8) Know that there’s no such thing as a work/life balance.

9) That being said, Learn how to say no, and try to maintain some semblance of one. That, or risk burning out early on in your career.

10) Stay curious. Whether it be about new trends, new tools, or new technology, staying curious will keep your knowledge, industry awareness, and skillset up to date and relevant. It is this (so they claim) that will set us apart.

Top 10 tips for a tip top press release

A staple tool in any PR Exec’s toolkit; the traditional press release is something we are – or will soon become – all too familiar with. There are lots of dos and don’ts that new entrants need to master however to avoid triggering journalists’ pet peeves and get the maximum amount of coverage possible. After spending a day or two considering what would irritate me as a journalist (are therefore the main areas I feel I need to keep in mind as a PR grad), I thought I’d share my top ten tips with you guys on the off-chance I include something you’d not considered. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Contact information

When it comes to pitching and selling in press releases, don’t just leave your email, leave your phone number. Journalists work to tight deadlines and losing out on coverage because you didn’t refresh your inbox in time isn’t going to sit well with your superiors or your clients.

Titles: Keep it catchy

Disclaimer in advance: the title PR’s suggest is very rarely going to ever be used in the final published piece.

Keeping this in mind, the purpose of the title from a PR perspective is to basically grab journalists’ attention and spur them to read on. So, stick the title in the subject box (of the email), cut out the company name and any unnecessary words and you’re pretty good to go. This strategy makes it easier for journalists to establish from the get-go whether they want to keep reading, and (because of this) forces you to get really good at coming up with simple snappy headlines really fast.

Interesting Introductions

The general rule of thumb is to try and keep it under 25 words. When starting a job or internship straight out of uni, this might a tricky task; after all, you’ve most likely spent a solid three years learning how to bulk up your writing to meet word counts. Now you’re being paid to be concise, its a challenge. If your story is newsworthy though, it’s a doable one, so practice, practice, practice and you’ll soon have the technique down.

Who’s your audience?

Consider who would really care about this? Pitching to industry-specific websites/publications who are already going to be interested in your client’s work is going to be far more effective at securing you coverage that blanket pitching to every Tom, Dick and Harry publication regardless of your relevance to them.

Let’s be honest here, if you’re client is a fashion boutique, you’re going to have a MUCH harder time getting them coverage in an engineering magazine unless you come up with a really strong, interesting and relevant angle.

Focus on facts

Facts are important to make your press release interesting, relevant and useable. Make sure to only present information that is true, correct and doesn’t mislead the reader. Forgoe this point at your peril. You will be found out and it’ll not only damage the reputation of your client (which they will not be best pleased about), it’ll also damage your reputation with the media.

Quotes

It’s an industry faux pas to quote people who aren’t available to interview, but aim to include at least one quote in every press release. It gives your client more credence and your story more personality.Without doubt, the more interesting the quote, or the more unique/memorable its source, the more likely you are to get coverage. But!!! Keep in mind the relevance and credibility of the source being quoted. People are going to pay a lot more attention to Alan Titchmarch’s opinion on a gardening product or landscaping company than they are Joey Essex.

A picture tells a thousand words

Supplying journalists and editors with a range of high quality photos that are relevant to your story/client is going to earn you a lot of goodwill. After all, everyone wants your piece to look good in print/online, and a couple of great visuals are going to do just that. Also consider that saving journalists/editors effort by taking the time to collate these images yourself is going to go down brilliantly and is going to go a long way to spurring them to use your piece.

Avoid jargon

Enough said really, but to spell it out bluntly, not everyone is going to understand the techno-babble of your client. Using plain language without the frills is going to open your piece to a wider audience as it means your story is more likely to be understood – both by the reader and the journalist you are pitching to.

Proofread to perfection

Typos and grammatical mistakes are unprofessional, irritating to correct and off-putting to read. Be sure to proof before pitching and clean up any accidental mistakes. Do not rush this stage.

Keep it simple. Keep it snappy. Keep it short.

The whole point I’m trying to make here is that to get coverage, you need to make publishing your piece as relevant as possible to the journalist you’re pitching to, and convenient as possible for them to actually use. So my final tip in this top 10 is going to have to be that you aim to keep it under a page in length.

From my journo training, time constraints and deadlines mean we have to quickly scan press releases to establish whether they are worth pursuing/using, so I know that when working in PR, keeping a press release short and to the point is going to be much better received than something that reads like a bad memoir.

Building your PR portfolio: A cheat sheet for those without the opportunity of a student-led firm

Having a portfolio to take to interviews is a clear advantage for any budding graduate.

Having a portfolio that is brimming with great examples of work is no doubt better.

But when you are a student undertaking a Bachelors or Masters qualification on a course that doesn’t provide the opportunities to participate in a student-run PR firm, building a good portfolio can be a task which is easier said than done. For any student, finding the opportunities to gain experience (not to mention pieces for your portfolios) is a challenge, so I thought I’d put together a post containing a few potential starting points to consider.

1) University departments Every university (especially in the last few years) has made staffing cuts. However few are willing to let these cuts infringe on the quality of their marketing Therefore, is there a department looking to start (or that needs to start) using social media, or one which is actively searching to increase course/event attendees? Consider asking your lecturers or the Head of your course if they know of anyone who could benefit from your services.

2) Campus organisations Every university has a Student Union; a fact which every student becomes aware of after the first week of attendance (also known as Fresher’s Week). The Student Union is student-led (or graduate-led), and organises often bi-weekly (or even tri-weekly) events which require promotion. Similarly, university societies are always seeking to increase their membership and promote their events. Both are of course limited in terms of capital and so are often going to be jumping at the bit for support from someone who knows how to market and promote beyond the basics of Facebook and Twitter. Offer your services for free and use university tools to promote the event, and you’ll soon be both indispensable and with a portfolio brimming with good copy.

3) Small businesses Check out organisations in your area that you like or which have just opened to see if they could use some help. Not only are you building your experiences and portfolio, you’re also giving back to the community and helping support local business.

4) Not-for-Profit organisations Also giving back to the community, you could research local charities seeking to raise their public profile and increase support and/or donations. Create a list of organisations and contact them about the services you can give them, such as creating a media kit, writing press releases, or even improving their social media presence.

5) Public Organisations It’s pretty easy now thanks to the Internet (God bless you, Google!) to find the names of people working in the Communications Departments or Media Teams of public organisations such as your local Police station or Town/County Council. Make some enquiries and see if you can arrange a meeting to discuss whether there might be an opportunity to volunteer or intern within their team.

If they have the space (not all do) and you seem fairly capable of being of use, they’ll often help you figure something out; or at the very least, be able to point you in the direction of someone who can.

When arranging a specific project though, keep in mind that you need to:

  • Set up expectations right away including: what they require of you, how often you will be in communication with them/meeting times, and clear deadlines.
  • Don’t overcommit to work you won’t have the time or energy to do, as it can damage your (and your peers/university’s) reputation.

The main point I’m trying to make is:

A) Be proactive.

B) Think outside the box.

C) Get in early.