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.

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?

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!

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.”

Why should we blog?

Writing in all its forms has long been known to have many benefits. Storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest art-forms and characterises a unique human skill that has been shared across the human race throughout the ages. Bringing words and the world to life; it stimulates the imaginations of the listeners and helps create a sense of community within societies, reinforcing personal value systems and identities.

From personal experience, writing a blog has given me a lot. Expanding on my teenage attempts at poetry (consisting admittedly with all the standard angst and drama of that age group – thank you so much raging hormones), blogging has allowed me to not only improve my writing and granting me the opportunity to voice my opinions, but also familiarise myself with industry issues and hone my ability to practically apply my academic studies. This of course adds to my personal ‘brand’ as it were, and hopefully demonstrates my commitment to growing professionally and also personally.

Previously, I have been a huge endorser of Tumblr for its microblogging capabilities; Its simple to use interface and almost overwhelming number of like-minded users kept me enthralled for many years as I wrote and reblogged content I found interesting or meaningful – no, not just cat videos and memes (though there have been a few that still make me chuckle upon rediscovering them).

This year however, and coincidentally coinciding with the platforms takeover by Yahoo, I became a little disillusioned with Tumblr. That’s not to say that the takeover really changed an awful lot; barring of course giving the aging Yahoo! brand a foot in the door with millennials and the younger generation.

My experience with Tumblr thankfully however didn’t change an awful lot; I can still scroll through hours and hours of content, and post as much as I like. The growing presence of brand profiles and advertising heavyweights did however create a bit of a knee-jerk reaction away from the platform as I adjusted to the realisation that what had previously been my comparative online ‘safehaven’ from brand editorial and advertising content was a ‘safehaven’ no longer.

Admittedly, I didn’t have much faith in Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’s promise “not to screw it up”, and despite now seeing that my fears were largely unfounded, I’ve since transferred my online ‘loyalties’ as-it-were to the more considered, traditional blogging style of long form posts via platforms such as WordPress and Blogspot.

This is not only because the style provides the opportunity for more in-depth and therefore analytical analysis and reflection, but also because Tumblr, despite its charm (and believe me, it has its definite charm once you get going), doesn’t have the right audiences for the content I now want to cover and comment on. Tumblr is, without doubt, a brilliant platform for social commentary, humorous anecdotes, memes, animal videos, and even citizen journalism; for PR/Comms and Advertising analysis and commentary? …not so much.

But still… back to my original point: Blogging. Like all writing, it can be challenging. Long form, in particular, can be a sometimes frustrating endeavour and who knows, I most likely waffle on far longer than needed – much as like in real life. However, I believe that it is precisely that challenge which makes blogging so rewarding.

Even if it has to be changed a hundred times until it’s right.

Even if no-one ever reads it.

Even if EVERYONE reads it and hates it.

At the end of the day, that effort has still been made to put feelings and opinions and dreams down on paper (or the digital version of paper anyway); not only that, but effort has been made to put those feelings, opinions and dreams down in a cohesive and understandable format for other people to see.

Blogging provides individual’s with a personal voice in an infinite ocean of digital sound. That personal voice that can speak volumes and, with the right words and in the right context, I believe it can make all the difference.

10 Things about me

I suppose this will be an introduction of sorts – albeit admittedly, a belated one. I’ve never been great for talking about myself to be honest as I generally prefer my work to speak for itself. That of course doesn’t quite work when writing a blog however, particularly one that I hope will get people’s attention rather than the standard online diary-esque approach I usually come across on Tumblr.

That’s not to say that I have anything against Tumblr or personal blogs of course; I’ve had several over the years, but its not really the approach I want to take here.

So, to take away the mystery of who I am, I thought I’d make a top ten list of what makes me.. well.. ‘me’ I suppose.

1) I’m a postgraduate student at Leicester’s De Montfort University studying an MSc in Advertising and PR Management after graduating in 2013 (also from DMU) with 2:1 in BA International Relations and Journalism.

2) I chose to pursue an MSc is due to my interest in pursuing these areas not only as marketing tools, but as management disciplines. Being able to see how roles interacts and works alongside each other both in-house and in agencies, I think will best allow me to build on my industry awareness, expand my skillset, and work out where my abilities truly ‘fit’.

3) Between graduating and starting my MSc, I’ve gained B2B editorial, Marketing, Communications and PR experience with:

  • Communicate Magazine
  • Weston-super-Mare Town Council
  • PAPER CIC (a Bristol-based social enterprise targeted at helping creative graduates gain the skills needed to enter careers in the creative sector)
  • KREOD International (a FDI and architectural initiative seeking to host business conferences in a custom-made structure alongside the 2016 Rio Olympics)

and, most recently,

  • Hopwood PR.

4) I have a LinkedIn profile (http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/ashley-keir-bucknall/35/52b/394), a Contently portfolio (https://ashleykeirbucknall.contently.com/), and a Twitter page (@AshleyKB91) as well as this blog of course – Going into PR, I’d assume these are staple platforms so I’m glad mine are all sorted now (although, saying that, I ought to update my Contently portfolio).

5) I was originally born in the Middle East (Sharjah) to British expats and spent my formative years in Dubai, but have lived in the UK since I was eight.

6) I lived and worked abroad as a nanny between my first and second year of university. Although I can wholeheartedly say Paris is a wonderful city (I really enjoyed the then-novel experience of the Metro as well as the cafe-culture and amazing Fête de la Musique), nannying (although rewarding) is a job I would not choose to repeat.

7) 5 & 6 led to my unending interest in other cultures and learning foreign languages which has lead to my recently starting Mandarin classes as well as reviewing my German ability. I am also tentatively exploring the ideas of solo-studying Arabic and Japanese.

8) I spent an almost unholy amount of time online, and most of it is spent reading. This is something that is an endless source of frustration/amusement for my boyfriend, and something that I have no intention what-so-ever of slowing down. After all, keeping on top of developments in the professional market is what is balancing out the more in-depth, yet understandably out-of-date knowledge shared on my course.

9) From what I’ve seen so far, appearance and a good attitude is everything; or at least it is a BIG factor in PR. I’m not a wilting wallflower in the slightest so to balance my big personality, I am trying to get in shape for when I graduate – the operative word there being: ‘trying’, but I’m slowly making progress.

10) If you hadn’t already guessed, Je suis un Nerd (and yes the capitalisation is deliberate). ‘Nerdiness’ may be gaining acceptability in society but it still has a long way to go, I think. Being passionate about things however is what’s allowed me to grow as both an individual and professionally, so its not something that bothers me in the slightest.