See beyond your age: 26 life lessons at age 26

lonely playground

lonely playground

Last Monday I hit the beginning of my late-twenties and started to think about life lessons.

I find it difficult to comprehend that I was 18 years old eight years ago. Family photos show the quick transition from boyish complection to manhood. Time stops for no man; the years are racing.

For me right now, life is a treasure chest of opportunities. Whether that is translated through my appreciation of philosophy, joy of reading, understanding of the arts (yes, I’ll include heavy metal in this category!). After years of curiosity, I’m even turning my hand to amateur photography for the first time.

Whilst an enthusiast for life, I’ve also experienced some tough life lessons. Losing a close-friend, turmoil of relationships as people transitioned from university, the depression of being stuck in a job that wasn’t right. Sadly, natural parts of life and more to come.

At the end of the day does age matter? Not in my eyes. It’s your attitude, thoughts, and actions that really count. In my head is an excited eight-year-old chasing dreams and the surly older man who is told that he thinks beyond his years.

So in a similar style as Stephen Waddington’s wise observations from middle-age, I’ve contributed some of my own life lessons below. Broadly categorised into the main things that matter in life; purpose, relationships, career, learning, approaching life.

Perhaps when I hit middle-age some of my approaches to life will change? I’m still learning. The below shows where some of my thinking currently stands.

Purpose

#1 Live for pleasure

The primary form of intrinsic good in life is pleasure. It’s safe to be directed by a hedonistic lifestyle if it operates within ethical guidelines.

#2 Be lead by convictions

The most turbulent personal years was when I hadn’t formed my own convictions. Be true to what you believe in and put this before everything else.

#3 Freedom of enquiry

Be thankful that you live in a liberal society and don’t be afraid to approach life as a sceptic.

#4 Be inspired by others, but don’t imitate

When it comes to role models, life is full of potentials. Be inspired but don’t try being somebody you’re not. Perfect yourself.

#5 Challenge perceptions of success

Your life is not an advertisement; material gain will not bring you happiness. Your journey through life might be a mess, you will have to work hard.

Relationships

#6 You’re never an expert

I’m certainly not.

#7 You’re not singular

Where possible put yourself before others, act as a couple and contribute to your communities and society. Self-obsession makes life impossible.

#8 Build bridges

Do not burn them. Treat people as you would like to be treated. Don’t let emotion overcome you in difficult situations.

#9 Keep calm. Carry on.

You’ll meet lots of different people through life. Don’t count your friends, value the relationships you have.

Career

#10 Do what you love

This goes back to #1 ‘live for pleasure’. You’ll spend almost ¾ of your life working, make sure you enjoy it (this is the secret to success).

#11 Beyond money

Whilst it’s not always possible, try to think of money as an outcome of enjoying work. This is challenging in the entry-level roles of a career, but I’m certain it makes a difference. Being motivated by money alone is not attractive.

#12 Be prepared to work

Nothing in life comes for free, you have to work for it. Rather than aim for the successes in life, think about what you’re willing to struggle for. Do you want a big salary? Then be prepared to work through late nights for it.

#13 Respect

Everyone is different. Everyone knows something you don’t. Don’t be quick to pass judgement, you have no idea what people are dealing with behind the scenes.

#14 We’re all human

We all face the struggles of life. We’re all naked under our clothes. When things get tough, realise that the world is much bigger than the contained situation you’re dealing with. I find perspective alleviates stress.

Learning

#15 Learn something new each day

Try to learn something new each day. No, Google is cheating. Actually talk to people and leave the confines of the home and office. True learning is through experience.

#16 Never give up

Nothing was worse than struggling with dyslexia as a child, but having a passion for reading and writing. It was frustrating, but I beat it. Today I manage and almost hide my dyslexic traits entirely. How? I can recognise the way I think and know the mistakes I make.

#17 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

I’m not telling you to mess up a multi-million company merger. Just don’t be afraid to try new things, receive advice from others, and build on your abilities. Learn from your mistakes, create something incredible.

#18 Listen

Stop talking. Listen. You’ll learn a lot.

#19 By guided by passion

In life I’m a child lost in a sweet shop, chasing interests and being guided by curiosity. Let your learning be guided by your passions.

Life lessons

#20 Balance

Technology has merged our careers with personal life, try to keep these separated. Use the off button, otherwise what’s the point in living?

#21 Dealing with hardship

Life can be difficult; some situations are tough to understand. Stay true to yourself and eventually try to use experiences to help others. That’s why I made the decision to contribute this post to CALM last year.

#22 Support

You’re not giving up by letting others support you. Always be willing to support others. The human race is biologically one big family.

#23 Actions

There is a difference between action and intention. Make things happen in life, otherwise you’re just speaking empty words.

#24 Look after yourself

Sadly, we’re not immortal and the decisions we make with our health today may impact the rest of our lives. I’m still trying to look after my body better.

#25 Love

Without love, life is not possible. Nurture love, try not to understand its complexities, but appreciate it.

#26 Age

See beyond your age. Don’t let it sway your approach to life.

Three tips for working in a city PR agency

Google works in mysterious ways. Even though I have an in-depth understanding of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) it’s still fascinating to see which blog posts continue to draw in web traffic after a few years. It’s the beauty of blogging – posts act as personal memories attempting to give public advice. Once you’ve kept a blog running for a few years, there are certain posts that keep producing results time and time again.

Out of all the 300+ posts on this blog, one of the popular is ‘How I landed myself a Graduate PR Role’. Written in June 2012; once a year when the Red Consultancy Graduate scheme is running I usually get two or three messages from hopeful applicants asking for advice. Of all the posts on this blog, that post from 2012 was probably my most honest. It talked about personal ambition, bad experiences whilst job hunting, and it seems THE INTERNET enjoys it. Even Google seems to know that it was a brutally honest post.

That post about job hunting was followed up by ‘Now an Assistant Account Executive at Red’ – a happy time, but god. That agency marked the worst period in my working life. In the words of a typical break-up, “It’s not you, it’s me” – seriously. Jumping into London agency working life was tough, as all my previous work experience had been from Cheltenham where the pace of life is much slower.

So, if you’re a student who reads this blog and are going to start out working in a city based PR agency, here’s some advice (and sorry if it’s a bit black and white):

Stop romanticising about PR
I’ve lost count of student blog posts and social media profiles that somewhere say ‘love PR’ or ‘PR 4 ever’. There is nothing wrong about being passionate about the industry, and believe me, you’ll need to be passionate about your job to remain productive. Just don’t lose sight of the realities of starting out in PR for the first time – it’s bloody difficult. Some entry level roles are heavily admin based, may not include client contact and will put enormous amounts of pressure on you hitting close deadlines. Most of the time, it can be a shit place to be. A far cry from the jolly social media activity that exists around the industry.

A competition of contacts and knowledge
As I continue working in the PR industry (although I would now call myself a digital marketer / reputation manager) it’s obvious that there are three types of people who step ahead in agencies (they are usually a mix):

  • Contact driven sales people
  • Knowledge driven business development people
  • Client management juggernauts

In order to reach bigger salaries you need to prove your worth to your agency and constantly refresh your knowledge. You have to offer something to your agency others are not able to, and in the tougher agency environments, protect your job role against internal competition. Which of the above are you? Have you invested enough time in your abilities to be the best?

A way of life
Working in an agency is a way of life. Already in my career there have been moments where I’ve had to leave for work at 5am, not returning home until the early hours of the morning the next day. When you sign that contract, you agree to serve clients to the best of your ability. This occasionally means unsociable working hours and being constantly connected to your agency’s work network to monitor emails. If you want to work in social media, then the role is even more intense – there are usually rotas in place to ensure social media activity is being managed effectively.

 

I would argue the above points aren’t a negative way of looking at things, they are true. What I haven’t talked about is the array of reasons to work for a city agency. Such as the ability to work across a range of different clients, gaining knowledge about multiple industry sectors, career ladder progression and evening entertainment. All of the perks though are grounded on the reality that succeeding takes a lot of hard work, that’s way more intense than university.

I’m aware everyone has different experiences of agency working life, especially those who work outside of cities. The above is just my personal advice and not a reflection of my current role but instead the path I had to personally take so far.

How to build an audience for your blog

Everyone likes to think that their blog has an audience, but does it really? My blog wants to communicate with students, fellow PR practitioners and prospective clients. Out of all these groups I may have a very small audience, typically those who have signed up via RSS feed and email subscription. Otherwise, each post of mine is pitching cold into the social media void.

small audience

It is this void, this noise, which is the enemy to building your audience. This is a PR blog, but it is hardly unique – there are hundreds of blogs online all about PR and public affairs. If you want to build your audience, then you need to keep them – this means capturing data.

This is an important part of content creation because unless you can build an audience, even a small one, then you will find it much harder planning content. To capture data you need to gain an understanding about the value of the content you are creating, the various touch points across the website where you can ask for personal information (mostly email addresses) and a method for handling the data.

Aspects to consider are:

  • Does your blog allow people to subscribe via email?
  • Have you got content you can give away in return for peoples’ information?
  • Do you want to have a subscribers only section?

Once you have captured this data and people have given you consent to be contacted, what is your approach?

Some bloggers like to:

  • Do weekly or monthly newsletters (I tried this once, it takes dedication to do well!)
  • Giveaway exclusive gifts (such as guides, training sessions, etc)
  • Simply sign people up to their blog mailing list, to be alerted to new posts

Unless you are capturing data then you are pitching cold each time. You may receive a few clicks from social media sites, search engines may send you traffic, but you will lack direct visitors to your website. Again, remember the why element when blogging – especially if you are a business.

Struggling to write? 5 pieces of advice

My thoughts have been rather constipated of late, which has negatively affected the quality of my writing. An especially painful inconvenience as my professional role largely depends on copywriting for clients. No matter what I do, thoughts refuse to flow. Out of sheer frustration I left the office one day to purchase cigarettes, a very old writing habit of mine whilst at University. Thankfully sense prevailed – I shan’t be trying that again.

When I am stuck for words, I usually find the five below steps a suitable laxative.

Get out
The overwhelming sense of frustration at staring at a blank page can be mesmerising for any writer. The page stares back, echoing the emptiness of your own thoughts and continually loops in your mind. When this happens get out; leave the office or your home. Go for a walk, get a coffee, do something that is away from the screen. If you don’t have a fixed deadline to meet be patient and wait for those words to emerge after a day or two.

Brain dump
If you know the subject you are going to write about then instead of drafting an article straightaway, instead just ‘brain dump’ all of your ideas onto a piece of paper. This can be in one spewed mess or mind mapped as a diagram. It often helps if you can read the ideas in your head, rather than just have them as thoughts. Brain dumping is a useful part of the planning process.

Plan, obviously
Everyone who is a serious writer plans, as anything of complexity takes a degree of planning to organise in a coherent way. Research the subject you are going to write about through reading newspapers, books, magazines and the internet. Make notes, use your brain dumped ideas and timeline how your article will appear on the page.

Speak to a colleague, friend or family
Sometimes it helps to run an idea past somebody else. Two brains are better than one, and everybody thinks differently. By getting advice from somebody you trust you may gain an additional perspective on a story, allowing you to get writing. I personally find this a powerful motivator to getting an article written – it will also intellectually invigorate you to challenge your own ideas.

Alcohol! Caffeine! Nicotine! Sugar!
I’m not going to judge you… everyone has their own medicine. Just don’t binge regularly, okay?   

Business Startup Tips from BBC Apprentice Star

In 2010 I like to think I became close to becoming one of the business bods on BBC’s The Apprentice. The initial application resulted in an email and phone call for the first stages of interviews, yet I felt conflicted. I was already on a priceless internship with Microsoft, needed to finish the last year of university, plus I didn’t have a BIG business idea; something which I fuddled together on the application form. A brilliant contact of mine put me in touch with the only flack yet to appear on the series who basically advised me to avoid the show. I never met Lord Sugar.

Nick Holzherr
Nick Holzherr

So when I heard one of the stars from the 2012 series of The Apprentice, Nick Holzherr, speak last week at the eCommerce Expo in London about his company Whisk, I began to wonder what I missed out on. He too had questions about taking part in the 2012 series. All it takes is one tiny slip up to get filmed, then you’ll be known as that person who “Is completely clueless when it comes to maths, creative planning…”, the list goes on.

You know what? The Apprentice went really well for him. The commercial value of primetime exposure on BBC One was worth the 12 weeks of nonstop tasks. Of which the BBC allegedly fork out £1m per episode! Astronomical, but that’s exactly what buys all the resources behind the tasks and locations.

Lord_Sugar_announces_air_date_for_The_Apprentice
No!

Despite Nick waking up each morning with a microphone hanging over his head, when it came to the crunch hardware-centric Sugar said “no” to his company. Inevitably it has grown massively. Despite not getting any PR around winning, today Whisk has support from the major supermarkets and is simply revolutionising how people are ordering their groceries online.

What is Whisk?

Whisk creates smart grocery lists from recipes, helping you buy ingredients easily and use them efficiently.

Where I’m interested in Whisk is from the technological point of view. Just how do you take masses of unstructured data from recipe websites and build a platform that deciphers this into coherent information. Well, the process has a lot to do with semantic analysis (which I’ve written a dissertation on); building an algorithm that allows a computer to understand written language. In the case of Whisk, understanding which product is which and what are the quantities. Only then can this information make enough sense to be relayed to online supermarket shopping baskets.

Here are the key takeaways I got from his talk:

  1. People have a perceived lack of time on the internet. Whilst you may spend over an hour walking around a supermarket, in the online space a minute can seem like an hour. Think accordingly.
  2. Don’t be afraid to share ideas with others or use other people’s ideas. We all need to learn from each other.
  3. Beware of the project plateau. At first you will get a real buzz about a project and when times get tough, don’t switch to a new idea straight away. Stick at it.

Nick Holzherr is an inspirational guy. He is clearly passionate about running his own business and happy to help others do the same. Even being incredibly open about his own weaknesses, something few can admit to. It’s fascinating hearing stories from startup founders. It’s not a path suitable for everyone but if you’re considering starting up a tech company, it’s the best time to do it.

Playing around with my credit card sized computer

Designed by members of University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, Raspberry Pi has already fuelled incredible technology projects around the world. As a fully programmable micro-computer it has the potential to be a media centre, a PC, digital photo frame or your next computer science project. It is as diverse as your imagination extends and I’ve been playing around with it.

Raspberry Pi won’t replace your PC but it does serve as a useful programming platform for devising technology projects. Due to the ever closing affinity between PR and the internet – top digital professionals should be expected to have a good understanding of the technologies behind platforms and channels, not just how to post updates on social media sites (which any monkey can be trained to do).

So if you work in digital PR: buy yourself a Raspberry Pi and get programming! If you really want to, watch my awful YouTube video below.

For those technically inclined the specifications of my unit are:

700Mhz ARM CPU
Videocore 4 GPU (capable of running at 40Mbits/s)
256GB of RAM
2 USB ports
1 HDMI port
1 S Video Port
8GB SD Card (I purchased this separately)

 

5 Things to Remember when Blogging this Year

4773693893_4ea90d9483_z

This time last year I wrote an article for ProBlogger entitled “8 Reasons Why Students Should Blog”. The post is still well received to this day with over 600 re-tweets! The post set out why students should blog but could actually apply to anyone considering taking up the reigns of blogging.  Now that we are the start of another year I have taken the effort to revise a few of the reasons here.

If you are thinking about getting into the swing of blogging this year, here are a few things you should remember.

1)      Your blog shapes the professional internet
Your personal internet is shrinking. Once signed into Google all your results will be personalised based from previous searches and what your network of contacts have recommended. The purpose of this functionality is to make search results more relevant for everyone but at the same time, much content is being censored, being pushed back through the search results.

Think of your chosen industry as a spider’s web, each strand connected to a professional who could have that dream job for you. Blogging enables you to become one of those stands on the web and stand among your industry’s thought leaders.

2)      Mobile is BIG
With the number of smartphone users in the UK to double between 2012 and 2016, from 19.2 million to 41.9 million, it’s essential to be creating compatible content. Blogging is one of the few channels which can easily adapt its content across a whole range of platforms. I know that this blog can be read on my PC, smartphone, tablet, even my Xbox. All it takes is a few free WordPress plugins and you have compatibility which many companies still pay thousands for. The challenge for blogging is to create diverse content which can still hit a number of platforms.

This year I am probably going to write an estimated 25,000 words on this blog of which 12,500 are probably going to be read on mobile devices (judging from this site’s stats).

3)      Blogging takes a lot of stamina
This point remains relatively unchanged from last year because blogging is still tough. The whole public relations industry produces but still struggles with content. The blogging sphere is so crowded that getting your voice heard above others can be really difficult. To tackle this effective blogging requires the support of social networks and, for public relations students, it’s worth adding yourself to the CIPR Conversation.

If you believe that rather tongue-in-cheek point from CEO of Econsultancy, Ashley Friedlein, then 2013 will be the year of the long blog post.

4)      Consider other forms of advertising
There is nothing wrong with trying to make some money blogging. However, using banners ads can be a painfully long process to pay off. Instead consider other forms of advertising such as sponsored posts, anchored links (although this is gradually being killed off due to search changes) or selling premium content. With the growth of eBook readers consider self-publishing short books – the online space is full of money making options.

5)      Your fellow bloggers
It’s all very well learning the latest bit of public relations theory, how to build effective campaigns and having conversations with the experts but go back to the basics. Remember to follow, recommend and comment on other blogs. Blogging is a community activity and in all likelihood your traffic levels will be partly reliant on the recommendations of others.

And remember, blogging is a marathon and not a sprint.

 

Now, what have I missed?

5 Tips for Building your PR Campaigns this year

Introducing social media elements to a public relations campaign requires more focus than tailoring content for Twitter and Facebook (which really is a 2008 mentality). Instead, we should focus on the wider media mix.

Remember: campaigns aren’t split as traditional public relations and social media; instead we just see the media.

When running a public relations campaign this year it is worth bearing in mind:

1)      Break down communication channels
Understand all the communication channels that will be used in a campaign and then build a strategy for how they will all interconnect with each other. This may include the usual mix of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon) but stretch out a little bit. Remember that newspapers and radio can comfortably sit alongside online channels.

2)      Niches can mean big wins
Segmenting audiences online is a tough business and automatic segmentation, such as drilling down on what users have written in their profiles, can miss key influencers in the long run. Remember that people online will congregate around values and that the stakeholders in your campaign can be drilled down to individual value subsets. This is closely aligned to my research last year.

3)      Content is still king
The public relations industry has been creating outstanding content since the time of Edward Bernays. Yet some clients make content creation difficult (through lack of news or tough sells) and this can cause campaigns to really struggle. Tackle this by part sourcing content from online, share the positive sentiment of your customers (remember to keep copyright in mind!).

4)      Remain fresh
Throughout campaigns be open to new strategies and tactics. The next Twitter could be around the corner or already exist as a growing social media site. Keeping up-to-date with the latest digital communication news can be tough. Follow industry bloggers and those who work in digital (like me!). Reading, attending events and trying out new approaches keeps the industry fresh.

5)      Measurement is crucial
Although this is my last point it should really be at the top of the list. Measurement is key for the public relations industry to survive against online advertising and marketing. It happens before a campaign for identifying audiences and influencers, critical for monitoring and necessary for showing results at the end. Before you start any campaign understand how you are going to measure each part of it.