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Advice for advancing your career in PR – one year on

career-111932_640In my first few months working at Spark Communications, I wrote a blog offering my initial advice to those starting their career in PR. Over a year on, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt.

1) Don’t be scared to ask

When I first joined the company, I was reticent to ask questions because I didn’t want to appear incapable. Now, having learnt the hard way, if you don’t understand something it’s always better to ask questions and ensure you know how to tackle the task at hand. At Spark, my colleagues are always happy to go through a pitch or piece of work, which helps me to save time in the long run and avoid making unnecessary mistakes.

2) Follow up on your follow ups

As PRs, the ultimate aim is to get coverage for our clients. With this in mind, it is not usually enough to just call or email a journalist once and leave it at that. I had a tendency to not want to ‘bother’ journalists too much when I first joined the world of PR, but I now know how important it is to keep on top of a current sell-in, and ensure that I get a solid answer from every contact. While just phoning over and over again and asking ‘did you see my press release’ will be annoying for a journalist, I’ve now learnt the tricks of the trade that will ensure that the journalist finds my call useful (rather than infuriating) in helping complete their article. Or worst-case scenario they tell me why they aren’t going to cover the story.  I have perfected the art of avoiding a fob off!

3) Relationship building

While phoning journalist ‘strangers’ can be really daunting, once you have called a contact a couple of times it’s easier to build up a rapport and feel more comfortable pitching a story. At Spark we always make an effort to meet with a range of journalists that we deal with on a regular basis, whether at events or over a drink after work – nurturing your contacts is key to this industry and puts a face to the voice on the end of the phone.

4) Organisation is the key

Over the course of my time at Spark, I’ve been forced to become more organised in order to advance in my career.  In PR we are paid to deliver value to each client and it is important to ensure that every client gets what we’ve promised.  If I don’t keep on top of the process such as ensuring that coverage reports are up to date and features lists are updated then I won’t get the results that will impress.  If we have the right angle, pitching a feature is the easy part, it’s getting the timing right that is the challenge – too early and the journalist will be distracted with his or her current workload – too late and he or she will have heard it all before from the hundreds of other vendors pitching for inclusion. This is a prime example that was worth the detective work. One top tip – make friends with your email folders and desktop shortcuts!

5) Laugh!

According to reports, PR came out as one of the most stressful jobs this year. While it can be easy to let the pressure get to you, it’s also important to laugh and look on the bright side of life. Letting the stress pile on is not conducive to a good job – so trying to stay positive actually does help to produce the best work you are capable of!

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The death of the Yes Man: 4 times ‘no’ is the best answer in PR

no-68481_1280In PR it can be really hard to say no to clients since, from your first Saturday job, the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is drilled into you. However, as consultants we need to have the confidence to say no sometimes if we feel this would be the right course of action. For example, if a client suggests creating a hashtag to promote a message, the PR should advise if it will likely be used positively or if it could end up backfiring and cause more damage than good. The best PRs know their job is not just about blind promotion, but about achieving the best results for the client and to achieve this honesty really is the best policy.

Where’s the news value?

Sometimes in PR clients ask their agencies to do things in order to create a ‘buzz’ but haven’t asked the question ‘will this actually lead to coverage or meet our goals as a business to engage with a particular audience?’  While press releases without hard news can be useful for marketing collateral or for SEO purposes, writing a release for a new appointment or a new office opening does not necessarily always resonate with journalists. Given that I try to avoid saying no, (there is nothing worse than a whingey, negative PR person) I will write the press release, but only once I’ve confirmed that the client is sure it is what he or she really wants.  I’ll also make them aware of the results that will be achieved and advise against pushing the story too hard as it could annoy the very journalists that the client is hoping to influence, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t burn bridges

We’ve all been there – an interview takes place with your spokesperson, an article is written and the client has a point of issue with a word or message and wants it to be changed. While it is fine to ask for corrections for factual errors such as incorrectly spelt names, we can be asked for corrections just because the coverage isn’t exactly what the client expected. In this case it could often be the right thing to say no to requests to change the article to avoid damaging the relationship with the journalist. If we take the long-term view, in time and with further briefings from the company the journalist may become one of the client’s best advocates, which would never happen with pestering them to change every story they write. 

The best bang for buck

As PRs we should also be comfortable saying no or steering our clients on specific campaign tactics if we feel they are missing the mark. We love Infographics, we really do, but sometimes they might not be the best way of engaging with the relevant audience for a B2B technology brand. Sometimes tactics are suggested for their own sake without thinking what the intended result would be. Similarly, a flash-mob or take on the Ice Bucket Challenge might not be the best way to sell accounting software. While we need to keep ahead of the times and think laterally about the best way to promote our clients’ message, quite often a series of lunch briefings or finding some hard statistics can yield much better results.

Getting controversial

While a little controversy can be useful to elevate an issue or create a debate, it is not necessarily a good way of promoting a message when used for its own sake. Taking a little dig at competitors in a light way on social media can resonate well with your followers and show a sense of humour, while a little bit of controversy in a news story can make the article more compelling for a journalist to write. However, it is far better to praise the competition faintly and use them as a platform to promote one’s own message, as this will often be viewed as more mature and professional by existing and potential customers.

While we should try and act positively in our clients’ interests and saying no should not become second nature, we should have the confidence to say no when needed. The best value we can offer clients is through providing our insight into how the media works and the best way to convey their message, not just being a yes man/woman.

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A belated Coverage Cup round up

Coverage cupAhem .. so it’s a few weeks since we have had a Coverage Cup round up, so better late than never!  Highlights include some successful news hijacking around the DVLA website going t*ts up, case studies on Computer Weekly and Retail Gazette , and through-leadership comment in the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Forbes.  Below are some of the highlights:

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Coverage Cup round up w/c 8 September 2014

Coverage cupWelcome to this week’s Coverage Cup round up! Smartphone security was at the top of the agenda this week with SRD Wireless commenting on the potential security risks of iOS 8 and the ICO’s report into how mobile applications are using data. Meanwhile the Elsevier team successfully placed an opinion piece on the science behind geoscience decisions with Hart E&P. In addition, it was great to see Changepoint included in a Times feature on the subject of project management.  

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Securing an Interview in PR – Advice from a University Graduate

jobGraduates tend to think that the degree you get at University dictates the industry you get into. Speaking as someone with a degree in Television and Broadcasting, I can definitely vouch against that! I made my mind up in my third year of University that I wanted to go into PR and since then, I’ve learnt a thing or two about the application process…

 

Do your research

The first bit of advice is ‘Do your research’. Find out about different companies in the area of PR you want to get into. Think of it like shopping for a contract phone; you wouldn’t just get the first one you see and be happy with it, would you? Each company has its own way of operating and it’s important that you look into these and find what’s best for you – it’s a career, not a job so you’d better be sure you’re going to enjoy it!

CV

CV’s are important because they’re the first impression that an employer will have. Writing a CV for a job in PR is different to the standard ‘apply for anything’ CV filled with every bit of experience you’ve had since you were 5. Make it look stylish and tailor the CV to the company based on the job listing (if there is one) whilst trying to make your personality and interests come across. It’ll help the employer decide not only if you’re good for the role but, put bluntly, whether they’d want to work with you for an extended period of time!

There’s one word that sends shudders down the spine of every graduate – “experience”. These days it’s more about experience than qualifications alone, which is both a blessing and a curse. Most jobs say they want someone with experience but how’re you supposed to get experience if you can’t get a job? It’s a vicious cycle! One option is (usually unpaid) internships – I did a short internship at a tech start-up, which was helpful on my CV as well as giving me a taste of what the PR world is like.

It doesn’t have to be directly related as experience can come in other forms – I run a technology blog in my spare time and that was a major factor in getting interviews in tech PR. Why? Because they could see that I had a passion for technology and was a place to showcase my writing skills. You can say what you’re good at on your CV until you’re blue in the face but it’s always better to back it up with evidence!

Email

In my experience, I researched PR companies and contacted them myself instead of going down the recruitment agency route. This will make you stand out to a lot of employers because you’ve personally sought them out and shows that you’re committed to getting a job in PR. The email can be pretty daunting as it’s the first contact that you’ll have with your potential employer and first impressions count! The most difficult thing is to try and get the right combination of being formal while still letting your personality come through. Stilted emails are a one way ticket to the recycling bin and mass emailing should be something you avoid like the plague!

The aim of the email is to get the employer interested without revealing everything about you. Keep it to the point and tease them (figuratively of course), make them want to see more of what you have to offer! Include the strongest points about why you believe you’d be an asset to their company and try to tie your reasoning in with what the company are looking for. Remember, the likelihood is that they’re getting a lot of very similar emails so you need to make it memorable enough that they want to look at your CV. 

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