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

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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

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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

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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)

First impressions always count

I’ve got my bag packed, lunch made, and coiffed my appearance into a semblance of order, and yet still there is that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I’ve forgotten something… Have I researched the company well enough? What if I say something daft?

“Its ridiculous really”, my long-suffering partner informs me as he continues to yawn into his coffee. Annoyingly perhaps, he’s right. I’ve always been an over-planner, especially when I am excited about something. I enjoy working to deadlines and I enjoy making plans – you know, the kind with multiple highlighted and italicised sections.

Luckily, after focusing on gaining Comms and PR experience over the past year, I am now able to truly sate my organisational cravings by undertaking an MSc in Advertising and PR Management at De Montfort University. A fact which may or may not mean that I currently have numerous notebooks and planners as well as text books stacked on my desk.

So, to celebrate the milestone of having a mere 2 weeks to go until classes start, I have bitten the bullet and created this blog. As an amateur fanatic rather than a seasoned professional, it is a work in progress. In addition to original features and reviews of relevant copy and campaigns in PR, advertising and marketing, it will also hopefully provide an amusing and (ideally) interesting insight into the ups and downs experienced on my journey through this industry.

That journey starts with what will prove to be the first of many steps I hope to take now that I have returned to Leicester, namely a two week internship with Hopwood PR – an agency I have admired since becoming aware of them in 2011. Two weeks being exposed to working with clients in the NFP and public sectors as well as campaigning; I can’t wait.

Don’t worry though, I’ve got a long list of posts lined up, so you’ll be sure to regularly have the chance for a latte and a laugh.