PR Perspective this week features Simon Wakeman. Simon is a marketing and public relations professional with a wide range of marketing, strategy and digital communications experience. He is currently Head of Marketing and PR at Medway Council in Kent, as well as working as a freelance marketing and PR consultant. He started his career at retailer Boots, but then soon developed a passion for the internet and using new technology for marketing and public relations. Since then he has worked in marketing and PR for some of the UK’s leading digital companies, including the world’s first transactional interactive television services, Open (now Sky Active) and the world’s largest internet bank Egg.
Simon blogs at www.simonwakeman.com
How long have you been blogging?
I started my website way back in 2001, but didn’t really do anything useful with it until January 2006 when I started writing a couple of posts a month. In May 2006 I relaunched the site and started blogging "properly".
Why did you start?
Two reasons really: I was keen to expand my professional network and knowledge base, especially as working outside London and having moved into the public sector I was conscious that I needed to make a real effort to broaden my horizons beyond the sector I work in. Having moved into public relations from marketing I wanted to brush up on my writing and editing skills. Reading other blogs, commenting and writing my own blog has really helped me develop my writing styles.
Do you thinking blogging has helped your business?
On the freelance side I’ve definitely had more enquiries from my website, both directly from blog posts and from the improved search engine rankings that regular blogging gives the site. I now have more freelance work than I can handle as a part-time freelancer. I think my blogging also benefits my main employer too. The blog conversations I have, both on my site and other blogs, really improve my PR knowledge and awareness of latest developments in the profession.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge about writing a blog?
Having enough time! Developing an audience for your blog means writing regular posts. Finding the time to do this alongside work and family commitments can be a challenge.
What do you want your readers to know about you?
I’d like them to know that there’s more to me than marketing and PR! On the blog I try to be strict with myself and stay on-topic – I think readers subscribe because I write about marketing and PR, not to read about my running or anything else about my personal life. I do sometimes worry that this approach makes me seem impersonal – I’d like my readers to know I do have a life outside marketing, PR and blogging too!
Which other blogs do you read regularly and why?
Hundreds! My feed reader is tracking around 300 RSS feeds, ranging from general news (BBC, FT, Guardian) through to specialist blogs on marketing, public relations, web development. In the public relations area the ones I always check first are Neville Hobson, Stuart Bruce, Simon Collister and Stephen Davies – these were among the first PR blogs I subscribed to and continue to provide consistently interesting content.
If you knew someone was thinking about starting a PR related blog what advice would you give them?
Read, read and read more PR blogs. Get to know the PR blog scene, learn the unwritten rules of the blogosphere and be very clear why you’re doing it. Then find a niche in which you can be authoritative. There are more and more general PR blogs, so to differentiate your blog is important if growing and audience is among your aims.
Do you think Web 2.0 is having an impact on how PR is practiced?
I think it’s probably the reputation of the profession. Tarnished by a combination of "spin" and dubious practices from the fringes of the profession, we have a challenge to promote what public relations people actually do and to demonstrate how they add value in the private and public sectors.
What would be your advice to someone who is looking to embark on a career in PR?
I’d advise them to get as much practical experience as possible, and combine this with a decent academic qualification too (like the CIPR Diploma). Take opportunities to broaden your skills, even if they don’t look ideal at the time. In the nine years since I left university I’ve learnt that every job I’ve had has given me more skills, knowledge, exposure and confidence to open another door for me later on in my career. There’s no such thing as a "traditional" career path – when I started out in marketing the internet was just emerging as a consumer tool and I’d never have anticipated the impact it would have on my professional life now. I’m sure I’d say the same another nine years into my career – all you can do is keep up-to-date with professional skills and embrace change in your career.
Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
The question I usually get asked is "how come you’re working for a local authority in Kent?". And the answer is quite simple – three years ago I made a significant decision to stop the two and a half hour commute from sunny Whitstable into London and get a job closer to home. I have a young family and I chose seeing them each evening over working in London. Technology’s changing working practices so I may never need to go back to full-time commuting, although when my family is older I expect I’ll be moving back to work in London in some way when the time and the role is right!