Final year PR students across the country are currently tightening up their research, polishing off their dissertations and prepping for their finals at the same time thinking about entering the profession for the first time.
It’s a daunting time but one of the key objectives of the CIPR is help and support those coming into the profession as well as mentor and support those already in it through continual professional development.
So, as a CIPR Midlands committee member and with 24 years experience in the profession, I was asked to present at a lunchtime slot for Lincoln University’s third year PR students on what they might expect.
In order to give them value, I also needed the collective wisdom my peers: they gave it to me in bucket loads.
First up was President of the CIPR Jason MacKenzie “Commit yourself to continual professional development – to keeping your skills sharp and to learning in a consistent and planned manner. That way you’ll stay ahead” closely followed by CIPR Midlands chair Bron Eames (“Read/watch/consume as much as you can about good vs bad practice and learn from both!”) and and fellow committee member Katie Bregazzi (“Prepare for the unexpected and relish everything that, it brings! PR serves up an exciting variety of challenges on a daily basis, and the opportunity to learn and develop all the time. Be willing to learn, throw yourself in at the deep end and to thrive at new challenges will set you in good stead.”)
And I was overwhelmed with responses from former Government colleagues from the COI* all of whom now work across Whitehall, in their own businesses or in-house, covering every known sector of PR you could think of.
These are their views:
- Don't assume you can manipulate a target audience into doing something they don't want to do or don't need. Find the relevance to them.
- Never, ever lie. In PR you're only as good as your credibility and that goes up in smoke the minute you lie. No matter how bad a situation is, lying is guaranteed to make it worse.
- What is their personal brand? They need to decide what they want to be known for. And what happens when employers look at their social media accounts - what will they see? It needs to represent them too.
- If somebody is waiting for something from you, always give regular updates on progress, even if the update is "there is no progress". And always get back to people.
- If you get found out for lying or half-truths your credibility goes down the pan. Also, give yourself time for planning - and don't be impetuous. Never rush in with both feet even if you come up with an incredible idea.
- Be absolutely sure you enjoy the job. If not, pack it in - otherwise you will never fulfil your potential.
- Always think about why you're doing something before launching into how you'll do it. Prove your strategic value by questioning and don't be afraid to say what you think.
- Be on time.
- Keep promises. Do what's right (which might not always be easy)...
- University isn't everything. What you need to be successful in PR, you learn on the job.
- Focus on the outcomes you want to achieve and work back from that when planning. And tailor your campaign to your target audience. Sometimes a piece in a respected sector publication will get more response from the people you need to reach than a big flashy piece in a national with a general audience.
- Don't be pushed around by power-hungry senior colleagues.
- Be humble and smart enough to listen carefully to what your audience wants and how those people are perceiving your client/what you are saying. You won't like the answers sometimes - but people don't think or react the way you want just because you want them to.
- You may be in PR but you need to know intimately how marketing works in detail - because your clients/colleagues will.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. In particular why you have been given a specific task, it may make it easier to do if you understand the task in the context of the project/campaign. In fact, you'll probably do it much better if you see your role in the context of the project/campaign. In fact, you'll probably do it much better if you see how your task fits in with the overall strategy.
- Your managers should (should!) make time to help develop you not just use you as a slave, but having said that, you do have to do lots of crappy stuff. So just do it, finish it and people will love you for it.
- Be incredibly well organised, remember the details of who you spoke to about what, record things.
- Be professional and polite at all times (but you can still have huge amounts of fun, I did).
- Try to put yourself in the client's position and think like a client.
- Recognise that 'awareness raising' is pretty pointless unless you have an aligned goal of behaviour or attitude change. Oh, and make sure that the organisation actually has capacity and intent to respond...
- Think about what the person you want to reach is thinking. That's it.
- Don't panic and laugh in the face of adversity.
- Understand your audience. And be passionate about your subject; it's infectious.
- Always tell the truth - no "alternative facts". Also, do as much preparation as possible, and keep a sense of humour.
- Understand what your 3 key skills are and find a role that incorporates them. Then you'll always love what you do.
- Build your skill set then set about ensuring you learn something new every day.
- There’ll always be PR and Marketing, but how they will be delivered will change. Learn the core principles, develop your particular skills, and keep a lookout for the new.
- Don't expect your career to go in a straight line, it will meander around all over the place but it will be fun!
- Don't be afraid to ask for ideas and suggestions.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help! Nothing worse than sitting there, not knowing what to do and being too stubborn or scared to ask! Better to ask (what you might think is an obvious or stupid question), than to make a (obvious and stupid) mistake! There is always someone who knows more than you / has more experience and is willing to pass it on.
*The Central of Information (COI) was born from World War2’s Ministry of Information and aimed to turn propaganda into helping the citizens of the UK. From 1946 to 2012 it was the largest single centre of expertise in Government communications worldwide.
From early campaigns ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ through the promotion of swinging 60s Brirtain and encouraging the world to invest in the country, right through to Change4 Life and thousands of other campaigns, all branded with the client departments logos, it consistently delivered campaigns with long lasting impact and award winning campaigns.
Careers at the COI were highly sought after and it regularly made The Times’ top places to work. One of the reasons it was a great place to work was its organisational development and training programmes. Attracting, retaining and developing the best staff was at its core.
Its legacy in decades worth of campaigns and with the people who are still operating at the cutting edge of the profession today.