Tag Archives: students

How do you measure effective work experience?

Work ExperienceRecently the Learning and Work Institute commissioned a consultation with the Department of Education which revealed there is some confusion over “what effective practice in work placements looks like”

When talking to employers in the PR industry, my experience is that they are keen to offer work experience placements to school aged children, and internships or apprenticeships to school leavers/graduates. Employers know that to secure the future of their industry they need to invest in junior talent and encourage the next generation to get PR experience. Continue reading

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10 starter subjects for PR blogs

starter blogging ideasIf you’re looking to break into PR, one of the easiest ways to build a network online and raise your personal profile is to write great content and share it on social media.

The trick is to write content that other people will want to share, and the easiest way to get someone to share something is to write something about them. This may involve a bit of legwork first – asking for quotes from various people – but you might be surprised at how generous PR folk are when it comes to giving comments. Continue reading

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What graduates don’t know about PR careers

I have often argued that one of the reasons that there is such a lack of diversity in PR is that graduates from more diverse backgrounds don’t know enough about the industry to consider it a viable career option. Partly because with a lack of black and ethnic minority role models in communications there are very few people to tell them about what an interesting and challenging career it can be.

But it’s not just ethnically diverse candidates who lack a proper understanding of the industry and I get asked similar questions all the time from all types of graduates who are puzzled by the communications industry and would like to know more, but don’t know where to start.

So, if you’re a student or graduate listen up, here’s what you need to know that no one else has told you.

Public Relations is a very broad term
What does PR mean to you?  Do you immediately think of champagne swilling celeb promoters?  If you do, you’re not alone.  Even seasoned PR practitioners can struggle to explain what public relations is but what you really should know is that it is such a broad term that encompasses many, many different disciplines and sectors – including corporate communications, consumer PR, corporate social responsibility, digital PR, media relations, internal communications, crisis management, brand management, public affairs, financial PR, healthcare PR, technology PR… the list goes on and on and on.  Make sure you properly understand all the options before dismissing it as not for you – you may be surprised at the variety of work available in the communications industry.

 

You don’t need a PR degree
PR degrees have become increasingly popular over the last few years and some of them are very good, but you don’t need one to start a career in PR.  In fact, you don’t need a degree at all in many cases as some employers are much more interested in commitment and experience than what you did for three years at university.  PR degrees vary and some of them are really not that helpful when it comes to your first job – I know of graduates who spent three years at university and never read any media other than The Metro.  I don’t even know how it’s possible to study PR without a broad understanding of the media landscape and current affairs but apparently it’s perfectly possible as they graduate with good grades.  If you’re going to study PR with the aim of working in the industry then choose wisely.  My advice is to go for a course which offers a year long industrial placement because that experience is going to be extremely helpful when you leave university and start looking for your first job.  If you have a degree in another subject, don’t despair.  The vast majority of PR employers don’t really care which subject you studied (the exception here is healthcare PR, I’ll come to that later), they just want to see you have fairly decent A level grades and have finished your degree course.  The more experience you have the better so make use of your holidays to grab some work experience or an internship to liven up your CV.

 

You definitely don’t need a masters
I am regularly asked “Will a masters help me get a foot in the door?” and, frankly, the answer is a resounding “no”.  By all means study a masters, in PR or in any other subject, if you are interested in the topic, but don’t expect it to be the golden ticket to a junior PR role.  Experience trumps education every single time so your time is better spent doing a few internships if the sole aim of your masters is to help you get a job.
Agency vs In-house
What’s the difference?  A PR agency or consultancy will work with many different clients.  Some specialise in a particular industry and some have a variety of specialisms but the key thing is always that they are offering a service to other companies.  In-house PR teams are only doing the communications for that particular company.  In the case of large companies (think BT and BP) it may be that the in-house team feels very much like an agency as they have a variety of in-house clients or departments who put different demands on them but the vast majority of in-house teams feel quite different to agency.  There are pros and cons to working on both sides.  I often hear PRs say that the best start to a career in communications is on the agency side, but I tend to disagree.  I think that actually it doesn’t really matter whether you start in-house or agency, just getting 12 – 18 months experience on your CV on either side is the most important thing.  Once you’ve hit that 18 month period you’ll need to think carefully about what you want to do next though.  If you’re agency side it’s not such a problem as it’s pretty much always possible to move from agency to in-house but if you’re in-house you might find it difficult to transition to an agency once you’ve been there 18 months to two years so if you want agency experience now would be the time to make the move.

 

Job titles may vary
I did a quick search to see what roles companies are looking to fill at graduate level.  All the following job titles popped up
– Graduate corporate communications executive
– Junior account executive
– Account executive
– Intern
– Associate
– Consultant
– Internal communications officer
– Press officer
– Social media executive
– CSR officer
– Public affairs consultant

 

This list is by no means exhaustive either.  There is no standardised way of describing a junior job role in communications, which can make searching job boards very difficult.  Salary may be a better indication but even then there’s quite a broad range as entry-level roles can pay anything between £16k – £25k depending on the sector and discipline they’re recruiting for.  Keep an open mind when looking for positions and don’t get hung up on job titles – the substance of the role is much more important than what your title will be.

 

Jobs at boring companies can be the most interesting
Lots of graduates who are looking to work in PR are attracted to the more glamorous end of the industry – music, fashion, beauty, entertainment, celebrities and so on.  Here’s the thing, as a rule of thumb the more glamorous a job is, the less you’ll get paid.  The much less glamorous roles pay substantially more and may actually be far more interesting than you think.  In particulary, financial PR, healthcare PR and b2b (business to business) technology PR are the better paid sectors.  Healthcare PR is one of the few sectors where which degree you did really can make a difference to them employing you.  Often healthcare PR agencies are looking for graduates with science or bio med degrees who have an understanding of difficult scientific or technical language.  When I was a recruiter we LOVED healthcare and tech PR people – there are so few of them that they are so easy to place and they command high salaries.  To begin a career in financial PR generally you’ll need an interest in the business world (reading the FT is a good start).  A good grasp on numbers is an advantage but you don’t need to be a maths whizz.  For tech b2b just being able to demonstrate a genuine interest in technology will help you get a foot in the door.

Similarly, lots of graduates want to work for big brands (Google and Innocent Drinks often pop up on a graduate’s top ten wish list of companies to work for) but the reality is that competition for those roles is fierce and it may be much easier to break into the industry by starting with a small, unknown company where the PR challenges may actually be more interesting anyway.  In any case, do you really want to make all your first job mistakes at your dream company?

 

You can make a difference very quickly
It’s possible to climb the career ladder in PR very, very quickly.  I know a graduate who joined a financial PR agency on a grad scheme at £18k and three years later he’s earning £38k as a Senior Consultant.  This is not unusual at all.  If you can prove your worth then companies will want to invest in you with both training and salaries.  If look at board directors in PR agencies some will have as little as eight to ten years experience, so if they left university at 21 they’ve made the board before they’re 30. Again, not unusual.  Check out PR Week’s 30 under 30 for career inspiration.

 

You can aim for the board

Not only is a place on the board of a PR agency possible, but increasingly PR advisers are seen as part of boards in-house, including in FTSE 100 companies.

 

Starting to think that a career in PR might be for you?  If you’re a BAME graduate, do check out the Taylor Bennett Foundationwe’re recruiting right now for our autumn programme.  If you don’t meet that criteria, then I have a list of 150 other PR internships, apprenticeships and graduates schemes right here.

For a more in-depth look at the PR industry and guidance on starting your communications career read How To Get A Job In PR.

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To Tweet Or Not To Tweet?

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Last Thursday I went to a really fantastic conference, Bright One’s Impress London.  And I’m not just saying that because I was a speaker.  Aimed at students and graduates looking to get into a career in PR.  There was a fabulous line up of speakers.

The strongest message of the day, repeated by every single speaker was “when we recruit grads, we expect them to be savvy in social media.”

And so, I was quite surprised that so few of the attendees tweeted during the event.  During his introduction, Ben Matthews told the audience that the hashtag for the day was #impress.

A few people got the hang of it, and very quickly I could form a view of who they were by viewing their Twitter profiles.  By the afternoon session on social media with Stephen Davies, Chris Reed and Rob Dyson I had give up tweeting on my BlackBerry and was brazenly tweeting on my netbook – in the front row.

On Friday, I mentioned on Twitter that I felt quite rude tapping away when others were speaking – which sparked a bit of debate.

When asked if they were bothered by people tweeting when they spoke the response from the speakers was unanimous – no one minded.

Nicola Jones:  “if anything I advocate it, it’s cool to hear what people agree with /don't agree with about what you are saying”.

Stefan Stern: “You can't beat feedback in real time.”

Jaz Cummins: “Agreed, instant feedback is fab. I think tweeters will like it more than non-tweeters though.”

Rob Hinchcliffe:  “not at all, enhances things I think.”

RobmDyson:  Good to tweet for others not present. I'm an advocate as I know how useful & transparent it can be to follow remotely. & spreads awareness / PR of speakers ;)  I'm v used to tweeting at confs. & it means I can 'virtually attend' confs outside England like #begoodbesocial 😉

 

And Stephen Davies raised an interesting point, he encourages tweeting at conferences but added that he  “Can understand why [people may be uncomfortable tweeting]. In non geek circles people are told to switch of their phones before a conference starts.”

But despite the acceptance of the practice among the speakers, some of the attendees had obviously felt uncomfortable about it. 

Carly Ann Smith, a student at Lincoln, said she felt slightly rude if she went on her phone and Rhian Burrell-Joseph commented she thought it was rude to tweet when someone’s talking to you and it would be helpful if the etiquette of what to do in that situation was more established.  And that seems to be at the crux of the issue, some students are not encouraged to tweet at University, so aren’t comfortable doing it outside of lectures. Amy Brunsdon, a student at the University of Gloucestershire, commented that it was nice to be able to tweet throughout as it’s frowned upon in her lectures and J’ara Ami  agreed “I think it was so cool that we were encouraged to tweet at #impress!  It’s all well learning social media but it’s another to engage.

 

Given that graduates are so strongly encouraged by industry professionals to be active on social networks in order to be employable, surely banning Twitter in lectures is short-sighted? David Phillips agrees.  He encourages students to tweet both in lectures and beyond.

Richard Bailey takes a different approach.  Email and Facebook are banned in lectures and so it’s easiest to ban social media tools across the board, including Twitter.

Phillip Young, lecturer at Sunderland University says tweeting has its place and it is important for academics to encourage social media engagement,   “Sunderland was one of the first universities in the UK to incorporate teaching social media into its PR programme and I know from many practitioners and graduates that this knowledge did and still does help them get jobs and, more importantly, make a real contribution from the day they start work.

 I think it is very difficult indeed to separate social media theory from practice! Also, there is quite a difference from being an enthusiastic personal user of Facebook and running a PR campaign with a social media dimension. Understading how you and your friends use social media to find out about the world can give very useful insights but building a strategic campaign that eets specific objective is  rather different, and making the linkages is should be part of any PR degree. (If the students could do it thelmselves why bother going to university!)

 It is my belief that today all PR is online PR. It is no longer a specialism but an integral part of any lecture, and lecturers and  academics who don't appreciate this need to think carefully about their own understanding of the discipline.”

I went on to ask him how he felt about attendees tweeting during conferences, or students during lectures.

“I am reasonably comfortable about tweeting during academic or practitioner conference presentations, which I often do for the benefit of those who cannot attend. Also, as a presenter I find it useful to see feedback and questions.

That said, it is not an easy skill – listening, understanding, then typing something worthwhile at speed in 140 characters is tricky and a lot of presentation tweets (including my own!) aren't of great value.

I can see advantages for students in crowdsourcing comment on lectures – "we are being told xxxxx – what do others think?" but I am not sure how useful general back channel chat is.

One of my students did make an (almost!) plausible claim that being on Facebook during lectures helped her concentrate. Her argument was that  if she was just listening her mind might wander but if she was worried about being caught Facebooking she would then have to listen more carefully to what was being said to avoid being caught out.

I am (sort of) coming to believe that younger people genuinely are better than my generation at multi-tasking, but I am not sure they are that good!”

Jane Crofts, lecturer at Lincoln, takes a slightly different view.  “I find it irritating/distracting if students use their phones during my sessions and I always ask for them to be turned off in sessions. I think it is quite rude to use a phone and engage 'outside the room' during lectures and seminars. To me it is akin to holding private conversations in class and just plain rude.

It's a bit like if I was in a business meeting I would regard it as rude if other people started using their phones for a purpose other than if we had agreed in advance, say to check a point – such as the concept of 'phone a friend'. Now whether this will change as a younger generation take over the board room/lecture theatre I don't know.

Having said that if it is a debate/large lecture session I don't see why there cannot be an agreement at the start to tweet, but it should be done with prior agreement…bit of a Chatham House rules approach.

Now, as to using social media as a teaching/assessment tool that is different and I set blogs and tweets as assignmenets and have done a session just this week on the use of the hash tag, setting it in the context of #demo2010 which failed to trend. I am of the view that social media are just another channel for PR to use and should be used appropriately and selectively, one size does not fit all.”

 

As someone who spends a lot of time teaching graduates how they can make themselves more employable, I am always keen that academics in the field keep their fingers on the pulse of what the industry requires of graduate recruits.  I believe it is in the academic’s interest for their students to go on into glittering careers in communications.  What better advert for their course than successful graduates?  As social media becomes a necessity for every graduate recruit, it is a foolish university that ignores those tools completely.

But the question of etiquette is a good one – I would never tweet , text or email during a meeting, but I would tweet at a conference where it was invited and I think that’s the key – established boundaries and encouragement where appropriate.

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PR Graduate Recruitment Schemes

Over the past couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time giving job hunting advice to recent graduates.  Given that they’ve graduated in the worst economic climate since the ’30s, they need all the help they can get I reckon.

We recently started investigating which PR agencies have graduate recruitment schemes and what their application criteria is.  Here’s what we came up with but I am pretty sure there are plenty more out there.  If your agency would like to be included in this list, let me know.

PR Graduate Recruitment Schemes

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