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Opening the door can have a huge impact

My dad died two years ago at the age of 65. He could be a difficult man and I often see some of his not so pleasant traits in me – pig headedness, competitiveness, and a need to be in control. But he could also be kind, generous, and mischievous.

He was wired that way for good reason. As a toddler he had polio (anti-vaxxers, stay away because I will not entertain your rubbish – a vaccine would have improved his life – and lengthened it – immeasurably). As a result, his right leg didn’t work, he wore a calliper and in the final years of his life was confined to a wheelchair permanently. He knew that the odds were stacked against him and when that happens being pig headed is an asset.

In the late 1950s children with physical disabilities were often sent to school with those who had a range of learning disabilities. As a result, all his school taught him was how to read and write, and how to use a knife and fork. He left without a single qualification, although he did go on to learn how to repair TVs and radios which he never really put to use.

When he met my mum, a student nurse, he worked in a metalwork factory where there was no such thing as health and safety and he often came home with bits of brass in his eyes. He earned a pittance and the boss got so fed up of him asking for a pay rise every month he gave him a shilling and told him not to darken his door and ask again for another year. My mum persuaded him to look for an office job in the mid 70’s (I was born in ’74) and he went to some recruitment agencies which eventually found him a desk clerk role at a company which dealt with imports and exports. He stayed at that firm for the rest of his working life. It was taken over twice, latterly by ANZ bank, and he finished his career there working in middle management in the IT department – having taught himself a bit about computers on our Vic 20 at home.

He also had several jobs outside of his regular role. He did mobile discos at weekends (there are photos of a baby me laid against speakers at parties!), he drove a mini cab at night, he did regular boot sales with dodgy stock that he’d procured from who knows where, and he did trips to Calais to buy booze and tobacco and then sold them on.

So he was quite entrepreneurial and not afraid of a risk, which I also get from him.

When Gillespies employed him they did so because they had a quota to fill. They had a policy (and I’m not sure if it was self imposed or a legal requirement, but I suspect it was the former) that they had to have a certain amount of disabled employees. Dad was bright, enthusiastic, keen to learn and was always the first in and the last out of the office. He was a good hire. They also made some concessions – he had a parking space allocated to him so he could drive to work as public transport was so unfriendly for the disabled in the 70s and 80s (and is not that much improved now!)

He openly acknowledged that getting that job was down to the quota. However, keeping it for nearly 40 years, being regularly promoted, and avoiding several rounds of redundancies was down to him.

Without that quota it is likely that he would’ve stayed working in a metalwork factory, or similar, for the rest of his life. He’d probably still have done a bit of wheeling and dealing on the side, but he would’ve had a much harder life. He may not have been able to get a mortgage and he almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to send me to university – I remain the first and only person in my family to have done that. The impact of that quota echos down the generations as without it I wouldn’t have had the education I have had, which led to work opportunities which would’ve been beyond my reach and, I suspect, my children and their children will continue to reap the benefit of dad’s change of employment circumstances.

Taylor Bennett Foundation AlumniPerhaps it was inevitable then that I ended up working for an organisation which is rooted not in quotas, but in positive action. Taylor Bennett Foundation aims to open access to the PR industry from those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds not because they aren’t perfectly capable of performing roles in communications – and excelling, but because sometimes it takes someone to open the door and let you in.

We conduct yearly impact measurement with the Foundation’s alumni and ask them where they’re working, what their title is, how much they earn, and how their experience with the Foundation has impacted on their lives. Some of those alumni have gone on to have children of their own and we will never really know what impact we’ve had on the lives of their next generation – but my own experience tells me that just opening that door can make a huge difference.

 

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6 ways to work with the Taylor Bennett Foundation

If you’re an employer in comms and PR, either agency side or in-house, it’s likely that diversity is up there on your corporate agenda.

I’ve written before on different initiatives which can help you tackle diversity issues in your organisation and thought now might be a good time to highlight all the ways you could get involved specifically with the Taylor Bennett Foundation.

The Taylor Bennett Foundation was established in 2007 to improve access to the PR industry for young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME). We do this through an award-winning ten week traineeship programme, mentoring, and summer internship placements. Over 150 PR employers support these programmes by donating, hosting visits, offering mentors, and offering work placements.

Sponsoring a programme
Each year we run a number of 10 week PR traineeship programmes for BAME graduates. 97% of our alumni are employed and over 60% work in communications. These programmes are a large commitment for the sponsors which previously include Brunswick, Finsbury, FTI Consulting, Talk PR, Edelman, MHP, The Red Consultancy, Charlotte Street Partners, and Standard Life Aberdeen.
If you would like to discuss sponsoring one of these programmes email sarah@taylorbennettfoundation.org

There are also a number of other ways to get involved:

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Taylor Bennett Foundation appeals to PR community

TBF TraineesThe Taylor Bennett Foundation has been around since 2007, and is widely regarded as being at the forefront of taking action on the lack of ethnic diversity in the PR industry – in other words, we get results.

In the world of non-profits we’re considered a small charity, with an annual turnover of less than £300,000 a year. Much of our funding comes from our generous PR agency sponsors but that only covers about half the cost of running the organisation, our training and mentoring programmes, and supporting our alumni. We have to fundraise for the rest. To expand our programmes and increase the number of young people we help, we have to fundraise even more.

So when Stephen Waddington offered to brainstorm ideas for fundraising in his influencer session at #PRFest, my colleague Anne jumped at the chance to ask if the Foundation could be the focus of that work.

As you’d expect with a room full of creative comms people, lots of ideas came out of that session. Some we have used successfully in the past, some we have previously discarded as non runners, but one idea in particular struck us as something we’d not yet had a bash at and so, we’re giving it a go.

The Taylor Bennett Foundation 10th Anniversary Fundraising Appeal was born.

We’re aiming to raise £50,000 by the end of the year with our Just Giving campaign which will enable us to continue to run four training programmes next year, expand beyond London and launch a profile raising campaign in BAME communities to promote PR as a viable career choice.

Everyone I talk to about the Foundation tells me what great work we do, that the industry needs us, that the graduates need us and that we are making a difference not only to the diversity in communications, but importantly offering opportunities to young people who would otherwise not have access to PR as a career.

We have honed our programmes so that they get fantastic results. Over 70% of our alumni work in communications. Over 700 graduates have attended our assessment days and had detailed feedback to help with their job searches.

We have the skills, knowledge, passion and experience to deliver brilliant teaching, mentoring and work experience to BAME graduates, but none of it is possible without the funding.

So we are asking you, the PR industry, to demonstrate your commitment to improving diversity in the industry by digging deep and giving to our fundraising appeal. Your donation will make a real difference to a young person’s life.

Thank you.

You can donate to the Taylor Bennett 10th Anniversary Fundraising Appeal here.

This blog has also been published on #PRfest

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UnAwards 2016 – what next?

A couple of weeks ago I went to Birmingham for the first time ever to attend the Comms2Point0 UnAwards 2016.

UnAwards are not like the usual glitzy Grosvenor House affairs.  This was much more casual – held in a cinema with sweets to watch a movie with. It was a pretty full house and it was really clear to see that the comms industry is thriving with some really interesting and innovative campaigns being show cased.

To top it all off, I won the 2016 award for diversity, sponsored by the NUJ. Continue reading

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6 habits of highly successful PRs

6 habits of highly successful PRsI’m currently mid-way through delivering the current Taylor Bennett Foundation programme. We’re also about to publish our impact report, which spells out in stark figures the outcomes we’ve achieved over the past nine years including this astonishing statistic: 93% of our alumni are employed – 81% of which are working in PR & communications. That’s pretty good going.

 

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Rude graduates don’t get jobs

 

rudeStats on graduate employment make depressing reading.  It is one of the hardest times ever to leave university and secure a graduate level job.  My trainees worked out it was taking them on average 33 applications to secure an interview.  AN INTERVIEW, not even a job offer!  These are well trained grads who write great cover letters and have sparkling CVs which experienced PR headhunters have combed through in great detail, and even they struggle.

 

Which is why I was surprised on Monday when six out of twenty graduates invited to come along, didn’t turn up for the Taylor Bennett Foundation assessment day.  Two¸I believe, had genuine reasons not to be there but the other four contacted us after 8pm on the day before to say they  wouldn’t be turning up.  One said “I’ve had a change of circumstance”.  What could possibly change on a Sunday night that they didn’t know about on the Friday?

 

None of them had the balls to call us on the phone.  Even the two with genuine reasons. They all sent vague emails.  That really grips my shit.  It’s rude, and cowardly.  Although in the past we’ve had some who haven’t turned up and haven’t bothered to contact us at all and that is unforgiveable.

 

To get an assessment invitation they had to fill in a very very long application form.  It is deliberately long to test commitment to the programme and to give me the opportunity to check out whether they write well and whether they have the right motivation to be selected.  Then they have to attend a two hour pre-assessment briefing where they are given a rundown of what the assessment day entails and a presentation topic which they have to spend several hours preparing in advance.  Finally, they have to complete a 30 minute online personality suitability test.  It’s hardcore.  It’s detailed.  It’s designed for us to get the best.  These six graduates completed all these stages and yet still didn’t show for the assessment.

 

They are told, even if they don’t secure one of the eight coveted spots on our programme we will give them very detailed and honest feedback.  This takes considerable time and effort by our assessors and our Programme Manager who has to collate all of the handwritten notes from the day.  It is feedback they are never likely to get anywhere else.  It is unique to us and it is our way of helping more than just the graduates who join us for the ten week traineeship.  Only about one in ten grads bother to reply to us to say thank you for the feedback.  Manners, it seems, are not taught at university.

 

If I were a grad in this economic climate, I would have to be on my deathbed to not to turn up to such an amazing opportunity.

 

In a way, those graduates did us a favour.  It saved us the job of weeding them out as unreliable and uncommitted during the assessment process.  However, they did not do other grads a favour.  If they had given us enough notice – say, Friday lunchtime – then we could have invited others to have taken their place and have a shot at getting a place on the TBF programme.

 

So if they apply again, their applications will automatically go in the bin.  We don’t take rude and selfish people at the Taylor Bennett Foundation, and I suspect other employers won’t either.

 

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What skills do you need to run a PR internship?

2012 is turning out to be quite a year.  Not only will the Taylor Bennett Foundation be running four PR internships, and increasing the intake from six graduates on each programme to eight but also, rather inconveniently, I am having a baby.

It was a planned pregnancy.  Well, planned in that we have been trying to conceive for nearly five years with no luck, but I never really had expected it to happen and so in terms of when the baby is due to make an appearance, it was not diarised.

For anyone who knows me well, you will realise that this has caused me endless sleepless nights.  My role at the Foundation is completely unique.  I have never met anyone who does my job elsewhere and so I take great pains to make sure I am not away on holiday when the internships are running so that someone else doesn’t have to take on tasks they never imagined they’d have to.  I never imagined, therefore, that I would be taking four months maternity leave in the middle of the year and leaving my precious interns in the hands of someone new.

The baby has been warned that it must appear on its due date of May 5th as to be early would be disastrous and to be late will mean mummy will be cross.  My friends have scoffed at the idea of a child who follows my spreadsheet but it will have to learn pretty quickly I tell you.

The question of who will manage the internship programmes while I am away is still up in the air.  We’ve had a few ideas but the decision of who takes over is down to the Foundation’s trustees so I have my fingers crossed they will go with my first choice.

Whoever it is will have to take on a bewildering array of tasks.  I have been running these programmes for two years now and I had never quite grasped the variety of things I do on a day to day basis.  To ease the cover person into the role, I have started compiling a “Guide to Running the Taylor Bennett Foundation Internships”.  It is twenty pages so far and I’m only up to what to do to recruit the interns and how to settle them in on their first week.

I am very lucky in that I love my role.  It is challenging, interesting and can be very rewarding, but it demands of me some unusual skills.

So, for those of you who fancy running such a scheme here are just some of the more random things you’ll be tasked with:

–          Make sure the interns understand how to change a toilet roll (no one likes going into the loo to find that the last roll has been used and not replaced)

–          Ensure you’re up to date with popular culture so as not to seem a million years old (I am 37 so to the average 22 year old I am ancient) and, if running an internship focussed on fashion PR, be clear in your understanding that Paul’s Boutique bags are chavvy and Mulberry are not

–          Be clear when giving instructions.  Graduates are used to pages of academic instructions with little room for interpretation.  If your directions aren’t clear, they’ll go off piste

–          When giving them career advice think about it from their mum’s point of view.  If it’s not advice you’d give your own child, it’s bad advice

–          Bring them cake.  Homemade is best, but if you’re six month’s pregnant and can’t be arsed to bake then Krispy Kremes also go down well

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