August 2011 - Archieve

Under the hood articles from the past.

My first.... Press Release

When I first starting writing press releases, I always used the same guide provided by Friends of the Earth as it occured to me that it may not stay online forever, so I thought I'd repost it and share this fantastic template.

"The formulation of a Public Relations strategy properly begins with listening, not talking."

Building up an online reputation via twitter, blogs and websites isn’t easy. One graduate from Bournemouth tells how she came about to building hers up to the point, she came back to Bournemouth University to give us a lecture! What a privilege...

Aimee Carmichael graduated from Bournemouth University studying Public Relations with a 2:1 although she believes if she was more motivated, she may have come out with a first... a thought I’m sure we’re all familiar with. She is currently working freelance but is an expert in digital communications.

Key advice for students:
  • · You can’t afford to dismiss the internet or the online element in PR – the dynamics have changed and budgets have shifted. Not only can digital roles now demand higher salaries but you will see a real shift in the skills required when applying for roles.

  • · Research the company you are going for a placement/job for. It seems obvious but I recently interviewed some students with one of my clients, and I was shocked by the poor level of answers. I think Jessica’s post on questions will provide you with enough ideas to start preparing.

  • · Plan ahead - Although you might be eager to secure your first job, if it is not a graduate scheme make sure you ask questions about career progression, training and development. Some companies often think they can get away without these and you want to make sure you can advance as quickly as possible. It is your own fault if you don’t ask these questions upfront and don’t be afraid as you want to know the job is for you as much as you want the employer to know you are the best candidate! Ask questions during interview.

  • · Optimise your Linkedin profile! Employers will use linked in to vet you, and you can also use it to generate business interest! Even if you think you don’t have much to put on there. Linked in has changed the recruitment industry in the last 2 years, more and more employers are using it to source candidates directly so make sure you can be found!

  • · You learn the most by doing! Make the most of your placement and try and gain as much work experience as you can.

  • · Concentrate on building your own personal brand. I am talking about you! Agencies, brands, businesses will always buy into people not experience or skills – it sounds silly but it is true.

  • · Remain passionate - You can get any job you want even if you don’t think you have the experience as long as you have the skills and the passion and know how to apply them.

  • · Read - Don’t stop reading after you finish Uni – you will never stop learning and discovering new skills! In fact you should read more!

After much deliberation on writing this post, I have finally decided to contribute to Jessica’s fantastic blog. Thinking back to university seems like so long ago and I will be honest at the time I had very little idea on the route I wanted my career to take. In fact – it wasn’t even on my radar, and I would not have expected to end up where I am today.

So why PR?
This is where I am supposed to say that I had lifelong aspirations to embark on a career in PR and that Max Clifford was my idol and that I obsessed over knowing all there was to know about the UK media....

Sadly not!

It was a combination of social influence, research and gut instinct. I was a strong academic candidate but I was too young to make an informed decision about a university degree.
So I guess I kind of fell into PR. I enjoyed Business studies and always knew I wanted my own business one day and I seemed to naturally love the marketing units. A few of my friends wanted to do marketing and PR so that aided my choice a little and I started to research the field a bit more. As for choosing Bournemouth well it was renowned as the best university for PR and it also helped that it was close to all my home comforts!

At Uni...
It wasn’t until placement year that I really started trying my hardest, I did well in the first two years but I think because there was not enough practical application, I struggled to remain passionate. I really wasn’t a dedicated student like some of the people on my course who I admired and I have changed so much since then. I missed a lot of lectures and didn’t maximise my time at Uni. However when it came to the work and assignments I guess I am lucky as I generally pick things up very easily and I was always able to catch up on anything I had missed.

I wouldn’t advise this attitude - yes Uni is a social experience but you are also paying a lot of money and won’t get the experience again. I would like to see BU move placement year back to the second year because it really changes your whole outlook on things. Most students are in socialising mode and not business mode and the placement is exactly what is needed. If fact if the whole course had more practical units it would be better! When I returned from placement I was instantly more career focussed and returned to a final year knowing what I wanted to achieve. The final year was definitely the hardest but best year and I was sad to see it over so quickly. I really enjoyed the dissertation (the research more so than all the writing and re-writing!) and my choice of topic was actually influenced by the placement experience where I observed the gender divide in PR, and decided I wanted to explore whether there was a new glass ceiling preventing young males from selecting the PR degree.

Ironically, I disliked the Online PR unit, but I’ve ended up in digital communications.

I took a role for a green social network called Cooltribe in 2009 which dropped me in the deep end. Not only was I doing traditional and editorial PR, which I was comfortable with, but I was also working solely on a digital platform and learning new skills I never knew before. Well I knew them, but I didn’t exactly know how to apply them.

During my time there the membership to the site grew by 79%. I helped the company transition into social media and from there my passion grew. I started to see the value of the internet as a publishing medium and the real shift of how consumers media consumption was changing. I started to take a real personal interest in finding out everything I could about digital and social media. I would say that 70% of my knowledge in the field of digital I have I learnt myself – inspired by others of course.

The internet gives any one who wants it a library of endless resources to improve yourself, your skills and your employability. You just need to know where to look and be prepared to work hard at it. Hessia Fernandes the founder of Cooltribe was also one of a few business women who have really inspired me, I have now been lucky to have met about four or five fantastic women who have changed my whole aspirations on what I want to achieve.

Digital Communication is no different to any other form of PR apart from the mediums used.

I have always had a entrepreneurial edge – looking for opportunities and analysing everything in great detail. I left my last job as PR and Communications manager at a digital agency and took a difficult decision to go freelance rather than straight back into a permanent position.

Although I am not as old or as experienced as many freelancers, I have long had a passion to have my own business; I realised that I had a personal urge to try and achieve something alone. I am currently acting as a freelance marketing consultant specialising in digital. It might not be forever but things are going well for me now – I am empowering smaller businesses to embrace social media through training and strategy planning and assisting some great PR agencies to offer clients more digital solutions. Many clients and prospects have come to me after seeing my presence on social media.

In addition, I am a co-founder of a new online business called Tellfriendz, I began working on the project as a bit of fun but have since developed a viable business model. Tellfriendz is a local daily deal site but with a difference - Tellfriendz rewards its members for doing the marketing for us and is dedicated to supporting local businesses in achieving sustainable growth. We have just opened up for membership now and urge any one to take a look and find out more for yourself. You can view the page here but please bear in mind, the site is still in ongoing development.

I also do a lot of blogging: Easywriting was set up as a blog as a result of some of the pieces I have written personally and for employers. I have also been asked to write for some trade publications and was featured on BBC World Service radio on a social media campaign debate in 2010. I am now looking to develop a new personal site which is more focussed on how I can help businesses.

I also run a diet and fitness blog which I set up myself over a year ago called beseenwith. Running this has put me on the receiving end as a journo as I have started building relationships with PRs for product reviews and placement etc. I hope to take the site further this year and look at ways to monetise it beyond basic adsense and affiliate marketing. However at the moment this has been more of a hobby due to time restraints etc. Check it out on twitter @beseenwith. It has featured some good brands already – Soreen, Pole Motion, Neuro diet drinks.

I am always looking for contributors, these are voluntary but I’m always happy to provide anyone with a reference/recommendation.

You have a huge following online, how did that come about?
I enjoy and have always loved writing, and I started to love the internet so the two fell together. I found that I really loved forming relationships online and embracing the huge online community which exists. The following came from hard work, I am dedicated to building those relationships online and have a real passion in doing so. I actually have two personal account
Social media needs time and harnessing and it is all about content. If you are using Social media for personal branding and relationship building your approach will be very different from a business user/business who wants to use it for brand building and lead generation. But one important factor which boils back to the fundamentals of PR is the need for two-way mutual communication. I see brands and users everyday pumping out one way messages and just think what a waste!

But what I say to all my clients is, don’t focus on wanting to build a following, if you provide good content the following will grow organically, in addition you also need a strategy plan in place otherwise you can spend countless hours achieving very little!

I have yet to work in-house for a long period of time, I think the next job I would consider will be a digital specialist for an in-house team so I can really focus and channel all my efforts and ideas into one brand. The downside of agency work is there is always the feeling that you want to do more for each client and are often working to a limited set of objectives. When you work in-house you get a real understanding of the business vision and can see how your efforts translate into the overall success of the business. I do think everyone should experience both though.

Favourite Campaign
I see great campaigns everyday but I referred to this one recently.

Samsung did a great social media campaign on Facebook. Like, reveal and win it. They were giving a TV away each week. Fans had to like the facebook page and then unlock pixels but inviting friends to the competition, so the more friends you invite the more chances of winning. It all tied in nicely because the pixels were on a TV and it was a Samsung TV competition. Also unlike many competitions which engage a user once to enter, this one re-engaged participating fans on a weekly basis to remind them to invite more friends for a chance to win again.

The concept seems simple when you read it but it really was a well implemented campaign which was perfect for Facebook. I think a lot of brands have tried to be too creative across social media. You have to remember that particularly on facebook people are there to procrastinate and chat with friends; trying to get them to engage too deeply with a brand page which will detract from the reason they came online in the first place and will have limited success. You can create an all singing and all dancing app for Facebook, get it featured in the industry press but if your objective is to increase social media following and drive engagement you might find the ROI for this kind of activity is poor.

NB: I asked Aimee to kindly explain ROI for those of us not quite as much in the know!
ROI refers to return on investment. Another useful term is KPI (key performance indicators). But just FYI you learn all the correct methodology at Uni, but in business world people won’t always work to the text books!

ROI is a business calculation used to measure the success of an activity, (or an investment). So for example if you spend £5000 on a social media campaign and the objective is to drive consumer engagement to generate sales you might set the following as KPIs. (These are also similar to objectives and people seem to use things interchangeably.)

  • Activity on the page

  • Likes

  • Entries to a competition/data capture form

  • Clicks to the website

  • Sales from a website
My point about the Facebook apps is that I have seen many created, all singing and dancing but no one really uses them and the effect is short lived. Hence they may cost £1000’s in development costs but if the objective is to build a community on Facebook this won’t be the best way and therefore the ROI will possibly be poor.

Another debate on social media ROI but I will save that for another interview!

So why did I want Aimee to share her tips and experience with you all? Many current students and graduates would be outright lying if they said they simply focused on their degree throughout university, even if we’d like to pretend we did. Quite simply, Aimee remains down to earth and honest about her experiences and how she got to be where she is today. Rather than using this opportunity to push her CV, she genuinely speaks about where people can fall and mistakes and how you could learn from older students - kind of the whole point of this series! - Digital communications is an ever-changing field but one it is vital to keep on top of in this day and age, Aimee has a huge following online and works across many projects at once. You can check out Aimee’s many ventures using the below links. And she has very kindly said that she is always happy to advise so feel free to email her or tweet her.

The role of an "intern"

During interviews for placements, one line was usually brought up:
You’ve achieved a considerable amount of experience in such a small amount of time. 
I never know what to say to that.. “thank you”? Usually silence is my preferred answer but it doesn’t seem to matter how many places I can work with or for, the lines between an intern and a member of staff blur and your position, your role and your duties can very quickly become unclear. 
Where do you draw that line? 
Recently a number of debates have come about from interns, and companies that exploit them - offering them little to no pay and essentially ask them to photocopy and make coffee. I’m completely unsure of where I stand on this debate. As a student, I should be completely in favour of paid work experience. But to be honest, I’m all for voluntary too - just in small doses - part time helping out around the office outside of university hours or possibly a week to a month full time. Any more than that and I’d start to think you were a little over qualified to still be an unpaid kitchen maid. 
I’ve met several people with extremely hierarchical views where if you’re still a student, you are not qualified to have an opinion. That does wind me up. 
I've dedicated an entire series on here entitled The Best of Bournemouth showcasing some of the best, in my opinion, current students and graduates. Some of those people are truly amazing, and don’t get me wrong there are people at other universities too who will be included at a later date! 
Presumably these negative opinions of interns come from experience and it really doesn’t help when you get the occasional idiotic intern that does this:

At university, we were warned of the basics, some of which you’d hope no-one would dream of doing anyway... like the above. 
  • Don’t wear too much makeup.
  • Don’t wear low cut tops or short skirts. 
  • Don’t sleep with the boss. 
I have to say, I’d happily rock up in trackies with hair scraped back if it wouldn’t look distinctly unprofessional, although I did actually do that for one of my “experiences”, and reflecting on it, if it had been me in charge, I wouldn’t have been at all impressed.
One of the reasons I decided to complete my placement at BBC Worldwide was because in the interview they said to me “We treat our students as a press officer, you would not do anything we’re not happy to do ourselves.” And I have to say, to this day, that certainly appears to be true. 
But working at a seemingly “equal” position has it’s complications; I often find myself so focused on a project that I forget that I am actually an intern and I should still be completing minor tasks which, yes, to me may be less interesting and second priority but to those senior, is my job. Finding the balance is difficult. 
How do you do an outstanding job on your projects, brands or clients, be around those more experienced to learn from and make their lives easier with the smaller tasks such as coverage reports, coffees, photocopying etc. Prioritising is difficult. 
Don’t ever be afraid to speak to your line manager. It’s not worth you making the wrong decision, upsetting any colleagues, any clients, or yourself to get it all done. You also don’t want to be doing a crappy job because you’re trying to save time. As scary as it may seem, your manager is there to advise and guide you. 
A couple of companies I’ve worked with have had fairly loose policies on how my time should be divided or who in fact is in charge of that, whether it be yourself or your manager. 
Always check who has the final say over your time. 
A lot of these places, particularly agencies, have a knack of throwing work at the intern with little to no communication between themselves so they have no idea you have six pieces that need to be done - as everything does in this industry - “right now” rather than just their one piece. By just sitting them down and talking to them about your work load, you could find yourself with a much nicer day and to-do list. And do not ever be afraid to say “No, I don’t have time for that right this second, I can have it done by...” 
From speaking with peers, there doesn’t seem to be much in between; you can make the tea or you can be an “employee”. But with that comes responsibility and if it goes wrong... the buck stops with you. I find it too easy to get caught up in that working world. Last summer, I spent three months working in an agency and returning to university was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I only expect it to be worse after completing this placement year. 
But everyone wants something different from their placement, and the difference for me is between this being a job and being my career. Ask anyone that knows me and I’ll always place credit where it’s due of my knowledge of PR, and it starts with that first real work experience. For me, the sports industry. Not one I hope to get into at any point but certainly one to learn from. I have honestly never met more hard working people in my life - with their phones constantly ringing. You could be that good and there’s nothing to say you can’t still be a student. They do exist. 
I’ve spent the past eighteen months saying if I get to half that level, I’m succeeding. And through each of my experiences, I’ve always felt one to be a step up from the last, but the closer you get, the harder it gets and there really are a million things no-one ever tells you. 
I think I’m gradually realising that through later nights, poorer diets and less socialising, you sacrifice a part of your life to get to that level and those who have done it, I congratulate.  The students in that series and others who have worked to create that reputation, that personal branding of themselves, before even gaining a qualification well and truly deserve the jobs and roles that they receive in them. They should not be ignored simply because they’re a student