Hot off the press!

To PR people, the concept of not keeping up with the news is unthinkable.

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Source: KellyB. (Flickr)

Whether its via broadsheets, tabloids, online or offline, keeping on top of the latest news is a key part of our day. How else would we be able to follow all the developments in current trends, let alone see the opportunities or face the challenges that might influence our clients’/employer’s brand(s).

I even know of one girl studying for her masters in PR whose primary source of news was Instagram – something that deeply shocked me until I realised that (given her passion for celebrity fashion and beauty trends) it was actually a pretty understandable outlet for what she wanted.

That being said, when I read this article over at Clareville Communication‘s blog, I was stunned to find that a whopping 10 per cent of Brits don’t keep up with the news and that this number DOUBLED in the last year alone.

*ENDLESS FACEPALM*

What is going on Britain? There is more to life than Celebrity Big Brother and what little ‘news’ that works its way onto Facebook to be scrolled over for want of yet another prank/cat/baby video.

Check it out anyway and let me know what you think and why you can (or can’t) be bothered.

 

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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.

What is a MarComms project anyway? And what’s my topic?

Before I start I should probably explain that a Marketing Communications project is slightly different to a Dissertation. I’m not *entirely* sure about the details but (from what I can understand) the main difference is that whereas a dissertation centres around the exploration of a concept or theory, a MarComms project centres around a particular brand through which you explore a concept.

So an advertising project focusing on the way a brand is advertised towards a specific group ie) Alcohol (WKD) towards young adults, might follow a simple structure of:

  • Introduction (theme/trends/context etc)
  • Market Analysis
    • Brand Analysis (of WKD)
    • Competitor Analysis (of similar brands)
    • Consumer Analysis (of young adults and youth drinking culture)
  • Objectives
  • Target Market (specifying who are being targeted by the brand)
  • Creative analysis (could focus on content analysis of a selection of different adverts)
  • Analysis of trends within alcohol advertising (Using a PRESTCOM analysis etc)
  • Conclusion

Obviously there’s a lot of lee-way within this.

A focus on PR, a different market sector, a different brand, a different target market, even a different methodology or framework approach, can completely restructure a marketing communications project so that it looks completely different to this (outside of the Intro/Conclusion sections obviously).

So, onto my idea.

As you have probably gauged, I am super interested in Politics. That’s not to say I’m party-affiliated; I’m not. What I am, however, is passionate. One of the key things that I learnt growing up was to speak out if you feel something is wrong; never be afraid to stand up and be counted.

Showing this passion in a way that will be acceptable to many employers can be tricky. I know I always worry about whether my background in public speaking and debating contests (not to mention my now 6-year membership of my university’s Politics Society) might suggest that I’m confrontational or aggressive with my views – which (I like to think) I’m not.

The man young people love to hate. But is he a sell-out or a scapegoat? And how important is our belief/trust in him for Lib Dem's success?

The man young people love to hate. But is he a sell-out or a scapegoat? And how important is our belief/trust in him for Lib Dem’s success?

Luckily for me, my initial concept of looking at personal branding (a much under-analysed topic of discussion in my view) was tightened down to looking at the personal brands of party leaders in the run-up to this year’s elections, and then further tightened to specialise in the personal brand and campaign strategy of one specific party leader – Nick Clegg.

As any Brit knows, Clegg’s 180 degree turn on tuition fees hugely upset a large number of his voting base who – as young people – had invested in him largely due to this policy above all else. Not only was he proposing to cut tuition fees though, he was also the fresh-faced ‘man of the people’ who finally seemed to care and have policies that directly benefited the young – We who had often been overlooked as a demographic due to the high percentage of voter apathy and disengagement within our age group.

By looking at the case of Nick Clegg’s personal brand, I intend to look at image/knowledge transfer the ways in which trust and personality impact on brand success within politics, and (on a larger basis) whether lack of trust in the personal brands of political leaders is indicative of the wider disengagement and voter apathy within politics.

Of course it is still early days and, as such, I’m still very early on in the planning process. However, based loosely on the initial research and reading I’ve managed to get done alongside my other assignments, I think I’ll most likely be tackling this subject using a combination of secondary research (into brand-building, reputation and trust (they’re different things); political marketing in general; the ways brands try to engage young people in terms of messages/creative/platforms; and voter apathy/disengagement and its causes) and media content analysis (perhaps through analysing Clegg and his followers’ use of Twitter as one example).

SUPER excited now that I’ve narrowed my subject down to something achievable and interesting and relevant – all important points that I raised in my last post on ‘Planning a postgraduate marketing communications project‘.

I can’t wait to get started!

Is necessary for students to have a personal brand, or is demonstrating competencies/qualities better?

In a recent Adweek article, Cheri Eisen, Head of HR at Fusion, raised the point that when hiring new employees, employers don’t think we (by which I mean: students, recent graduates, and even entry-level employees) really need to develop a personal brand for ourselves.

Given the post I published earlier this week outlining my ‘Personal Branding cheat sheet‘, this revelation, I have to admit, was a little annoying,. After all, I did spend a fair amount of time noting all the ways to build and hone our personal brand so that we can get noticed by employers.

Instead, she says, “[we] need to know who [we] are, what [we] want to do, what [our] strengths are, and where [our] passions lie”, as, “depending on how many years [we’ve] been in the marketplace, [we] may still be experimenting with different types of roles.”

It makes sense really when you think about it. Until we’ve truly worked in an agency or in-house role where our work can directly impact on our client(s) bottom-line, how can we possibly know where our skills and approaches fit best?
I’m not talking what sectors or disciplines we’re interested in. Being interested in a sector doesn’t necessarily translate to being effective within it (or vice versa, as a matter of fact). I’m talking whether we fit a particular organisations corporate culture; whether we are capable in a range of roles or better if specialised in just a few.

The more practical skills you have when job hunting can of course lead to a higher chance of getting your foot in the door for an interview.
But, saying that, when it comes to scoring an internship, or even a job after graduation, it seems to me that the key to getting your foot past the door and into the role isn’t to reel off a list of skills as long as your arm, but to be authentic in the qualities/competencies you claim to demonstrate (and humble in your willingness to learn/work your butt off).

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d use the rest of this post to outline (in draft form) a couple of the qualities I feel I can offer an employer.

1) Authentic
What you see with me is what you get, and I don’t believe in hiding myself behind lots of jargon and marketing artifice (my advertising copy maybe, but not myself). I believe in honesty, integrity and creativity, rooted in getting work done both on-time and to a high standard.

2) Committed
I’m secure not only in my abilities but also in my willingness to learn. I know that my academic studies and professional experiences have provided/are providing me with the theoretical frameworks and competencies that can be applied to a range of roles, and I have dedicated myself to advancing not only my awareness of the marketplace in a range of sectors, but also to my own professional development through my memberships with the PRCA and CIPR.

3) Confident
This commitment and willingness to learn has resulted in my being confident in both my current abilities/competencies, and my ability to successfully build on areas which I need to improve. I am part of the ‘three screen generation’ which allows me to quickly learn and become proficient in new software, and I actively enjoy presenting and engaging in discussions which (I like to think) is an aspect of my friendly disposition.

These qualities, in addition to my ‘professionalism’, ‘energy’ and ‘talent’ have been recognised by past employers such as, Simone Kidner, Managing Director of PAPER CIC, who said:

“Ashley is a very talented young lady with a lot of energy for work. She is incredibly professional and confidently applies herself to every project that she is given. She’ll be a fantastic asset to any company and a joy to work with. I wish her all the best.”

Personal Branding cheat sheet

Judging from the conversations I’ve had with my classmates these last few days, not to mention the conversations I’ve had in the past with recent graduates, its fair to say that few are aware of their ‘personal brand’. Admittedly, not many of us have consciously worked on building these brands, but they exist nonetheless. As much as the internet has aided our ability to communicate and share knowledge, so too has it become a digital store of every single thing we say, upload or share – no matter how old or seemingly innocuous it might be – and each one of these help form the way our ‘brand’ is perceived.

Facebook in particular, is a trove of embarrassing drunken club-night photos from our teenage (or, in some cases, more recent) years; photos which, if discovered by a employer or client, can damage our ‘image’ and reputation. The question therefore is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but whether you choose to manage and build that brand or let it be defined for you – both positively and negatively. UYB-Slide1

Being able to trust those that you work and associate yourself with is such a hugely important part of modern business, that to not attempt to at least manage your personal brand, can have far-reaching impacts on an individual’s professional and personal life. Its more than likely that whatever business or organisation you end up working or interning for after graduation is going to be using social media to recruit and source new employees as well as to increase connectivity and productivity. Googling variations on your name as well as working out precisely what your social media profiles say (and don’t say) about you is the first step in gauging what ‘image’ your digital footprint is promoting to your boss.

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After all, people want to do business with other people, not with corporations or ‘brands’, but, saying that, they also want to do business with people they can trust to do what’s in their best interests. As such, personal branding allows you to establish a reputation and an identity for yourself whilst maintaining the personalised level of trust and interaction with clients, employers and audiences, that social media allows.

Just as so with a traditional brand, personal branding requires you to find a ‘signature image’, a unique ‘voice’, and at its height, a particular written standard that readers, fans, and employers can grow to recognise. Once you understand how you want to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic in building and shaping your personal brand. Below you can find the four key steps to get started in building a personal brand for the creative sector:

1) Cut, edit and paste your social media profiles to perfection

personalbranding

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, even Instagram and Pinterest; Look at what each of your profiles say about you. If your Facebook and Instagram is filled with drunken photos, either delete them, quit having photos taken of you when you’re worse for wear, or make sure that the aspects of your profile that could be negatively misconstrued are made completely private (though you will need to regularly check this as Facebook is notorious for its changing privacy settings).

In the creative sector, Twitter and LinkedIn are professional lifelines, and its important that you come across well on them. You’ll need to professionalise (particularly on LinkedIn) but try to keep some personality to your tweets/posts; after all, nobody wants to work with a robot.

2) Start creating your own content

WORKING

Employers want to see what you can do, particularly in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism, so blogging is a simple and easy way of building your ‘brand’ whilst honing your professional ‘voice’. The key to this is writing a) about what you know, and b) about what you’re passionate about. For me, that’s communications; which, given my broad spectrum background in Journalism, B2B and B2C PR and my current studies in PR and advertising, has led to my blog covering a range of these sectors to try and demonstrate not only my industry and subject knowledge, but also my writing style and personality.

3) Find a niche and separate yourself from the crowd

penguintie

A strong personal brand is dependent on a strong narrative. If you have multiple areas of interest across your blog(s) and social media profiles, this can dilute your brand. Therefore, the strength of your story becomes even more crucial in creating a unified and consistent theme. Whether this is focusing your work towards a niche audience, such as in the case of Behind the Spin (which focuses on appealing to PR students), or diversifying the focus of your content in terms of discipline, such as, Internal Communications, or sector, such as: Food and Drink.

Finding a niche is something that can be done simultaneously to creating your own content, or something that can come as a naturally forming secondary aspect once you have established an audience who respond and engage with your brand. Personally, due to the breadth of my experiences and academic studies, I have chosen the latter approach as I feel that firstly, building the foundations of my brand as a communications professional is at the moment more important, and secondly, that by measuring the success of each post I upload, I will better be able to gauge the ‘niche’ my audience and writing style best fit.

Its all about what works best for you.

4) Network like you’ve never networked before

networkingExpanding your professional network and engaging with social influencers is now more critical than ever. Whether its professionals already working in your desired industry/sector, social influencers with lots of connections, or simply people in great positions to help share your work, sparking conversations and making contacts is key in helping you grow and promote your brand.

Meeting people at events is great but no matter how you engage, be sure to follow it up either through email or LinkedIn to not only expand your network, but also to reinforce your contacts memory of you in a way that leaves a lasting positive impression.

Never forget to share your story, but be sure that each part of your story is one that is worthy of sharing.

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Skill-building for students: What we need to impress employers

One of my current favourite blogs, the ever-insightful Comms2point0, published a post on Friday by Sarah Stimson covering her perspective on what skills are currently needed for a career in PR; namely: ‘Likeability’, ‘Writing skills’, ‘An interest in media and current affairs’, ‘Attention to detail’, and being “savvy” with social media.

Whilst these areas are of course valuable, I don’t think the article perhaps addressed the nitty gitty specifics. Seeing a gap, I’m intending to fill it with a breakdown of a few slightly more specific things that we students/newbies need to be able to demonstrate when job-hunting – that’s not to say we need all of them however, as agency and role requirements vary to suit their and their clients’ needs.

I’m basing this post on a compilation of suggestions by marketing, journalism and PR academics such as Sheffield Hallam’s new PR whizz, @LizBridgen; DMU Journalism Lecturer, David Penman; and my own experiences facing what employers claim to expect skill-wise in interviews and job descriptions.

Some may be obvious. Some may seem like they’re unnecessary for any but the highest over-achievers. But I believe they all have great potential for being useful not only to initially ‘get’ a job, but also to succeed once in it.

Writing skills

Arguably the most important aspect of a communications/marketing/PR role – It would be idiotic to claim otherwise.

Writing doesn’t always come easy though, and your tone of voice in what you write needs to be adaptable. Creating your ‘personal voice; however is something that only really comes with practice, I find, so specifically, the following will help with that and in building your professional ‘brand’ as it were.

  • Create and regularly update your own Blog. Don’t forget to share posts via Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Blog and tweet about current media issues and areas.
  • Review PR/marketing/advertising books on Amazon.
  • Write for a local or University magazine.
  • Write press releases and blog posts for University societies and clubs.
  • Write for a student PR magazine such as ‘Behind the Spin‘ or for CorpComms Magazine.

As well as practising and honing your writing skills (including your attention to detail), all of the above can be a way of demonstrating that you have an active interest in media and current affairs that goes beyond just reading Metro headlines on the way to the interview.

Creative skills (for Advertising and Marketing)

Practice. That’s all I can recommend. It doesn’t need to be perfect, you have time to hone your ‘craft’ but being able to show you’ve done some of the following go’s a long way to suggesting you have the creative/innovative and therefore useful approach that employers like.

  • Create a perfect portfolio. Only contain the best of your work; remember your choices are what are ‘selling’ your ability to an employer, show them what you can accomplish.
  • Practice creating under pressure. @OneMinuteBriefs I’ve found really helpful for this even if my attempts are usually notebook doodles rather than cut-past collage masterpieces
  • Draw/sketch/paint/design every day that you have the time. Some may be rubbish, but soon you’ll pick up on ideas and improve time-wise.
  • Visit Museums, art shows, theatre performances. Attend niche music events and watch independent films. Breaking out of a personal ‘bubble’ exposes us to a wealth of creative inspiration that we can use.

Networking

Some of us love it. Many students don’t. How do we get our identities known so we can get that elusive ‘big break’. The following are a few of the ways I’ve come up with for meeting and greeting (within PR particularly). They don’t take an awful lot of effort either if I’m honest. Easy peasy!

  • Join the CIPR (small fee for students, free membership for students of Uni’s with CIPR-recognised courses).
  • Join the PRCA (free for students I believe).
  • Research the agencies you want to work for and the people who work there.
  • Find current agencies and practitioners with personal blogs. Have an opinion! Ask for advice! Give feedback!
  • Follow and engage with relevant people on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comms chats like last week’s #measurePR discussion are particularly great!
  • Create your own business cards. Moo.com is cheap. Make sure to include your LinkedIn, Twitter, Email and Blog addresses or even a QR code.
  • Go to CIPR events and local business events.

Social media savvy

To me, the term ‘savvy’ never fails to bring ‘pirates’ to mind (thanks to a childhood love of Johnny Depp) but that’s probably the one thing I’d recommend not to do. I know it may seem low risk to grab that innocuous torrent but with the way things are going, in my opinion at least, its a silly thing to risk a reputation and finances on. The following however are skills with a potentially giant reward of getting your foot in an employers door, so keep these platforms and skills in mind.

  • Twitter. Enough said. For the few that don’t yet have/use Twitter, have you been living under a rock? For marketers, advertisers and PR execs, this is your bread and butter platform, so definitely make sure you have a profile and engage frequently in conversations with those you want to engage with.
    • Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Both are great apps for making Twitter a lot easier to manage, Hootsuite is perhaps more commonly used, but I like Tweetdeck’s interface a lot.
  • Facebook. Not chatting to your mates of course, but learn how pages work and how to measure impact and engagement.
  • Google adwords. Research, learn, understand.
  • Learn how to blog using WordPress or Blogger.
  • Understand how to network and engage on LinkedIn beyond its use as an online CV.
  • Do video blogs and host your own YouTube channel.
  • Make use of Vine and learn the best ways to be creative/innovative. Experiment and see what works for you.
  • Learn the marketing potential of Instagram and consider how that relates to what you want to do/achieve.

Technical skills

For me, technical skills is a broad-brush term that includes all of the below plus many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten/haven’t come across. The perhaps annoying thing about web 2.0 is that its forever changing the goal posts BUT, saying that, its also a great opportunity to get really good, relatively quickly at a range of skills. Such as, for example:

  • Adobe Creative Suite, particularly: Photoshop, Lightroom and InDesign. For January only, Skillfeed are offering over 63’000 video tutorials for various software
  • Basic coding. It might seem daunting but websites like CodeAcademy are really simple to use and learn.

General skills

  • Language skills. Set yourself apart from your competition by learning a ‘business’ language i.e. French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin etc. It shows that you’re internationally minded and appreciate other cultures. It’s also a valuable commodity given that in the EU, we Brits are significantly disadvantaged in terms of foreign language ability.
  • Get a full drivers licence. Even if you don’t intend to ever own, drive or be in any way associated with a motorised vehicle, it ticks a super common box in application forms and is a basic technical skill of modern adulthood outside of inner-city London.

Experience

Very simple. Get some. It’s one of those things that shows you’re serious about what you claim to want to pursue a career in, and that you’ve impressed someone else within the industry in the past. Although payment for work is never guaranteed, and the jobs aren’t always the best, here are a few ways I’ve found work well to getting you noticed.

  • Volunteer to do PR for a local event or charity.
  • Volunteer in a local public sector business or for your University’s Media Department or Student Union.
  • Apply for internships here, there and everywhere. Though I’m a huge advocate for paid placements, if you can afford it, then widening your search to include unpaid short placements hugely increases your options.
  • Use your contacts and friends. Everyone knows someone and those ‘someones’ might well have your golden ticket to experience.

A new section is born: “Notes for novices”

A big part of my learning process has been the realisation that pretty much every single person I’ve met in my position or in their first creative job role is scared. They’re scared about money, about their current situations, and most of all (I believe) they’re terrified of how to get themselves noticed. Today’s creative industry is so competitive, its understandably a daunting challenge that anyone worth their salt is expected to overcome.

Working for a social enterprise: PAPER Arts, which focused on helping unemployed young people build skillsets for roles in (or to start their own businesses in) the creative sector, was a true eye-opener as to the sheer number of young people who don’t know where to start.

I wouldn’t claim to be the font of all knowledge (for one thing I don’t have the ego) but I’ve thought that, as well as my own analyses and opinions on various aspects of advertising and PR, it might be beneficial to include a section of tips or notes for other students/young people trying to break into the business based on my own gleanings and take-homes on the off-chance they learn something new that might be of use.

So here it it.

A new *star* – by which I mean ‘section’ – is born.

“Notes for Novices” (Name in progress)