The day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing

University library

Learning is for life, if you’re not learning at least one new thing each day then it’s time for a change. Part of this means having the confidence to throw yourself into situations, occasionally opting for the ‘agree now, learn how to later’ approach. If you’ve got a drive and passion, an inquisitive mind, and a highly controlled inner ego that only wants to be recognised for high quality work, then these are some of the ingredients needed to succeed in the PR industry.

In reality though, what do any of these things mean? It’s emotive. If you were entering other professions such as law or accountancy, then you would have a logical framework to follow for entering the profession. A particular set of qualifications or work experiences needed, even a form of competency framework that shows you the core skills needed to progress from A to B.

In this respect the PR industry needs to work to identify the core competencies required in a role, the various ways to enter the profession, along with an effort on Continual Professional Development (CPD). To my knowledge the piece of work that gets closest to outlining the capabilities required in PR is Global Alliance’s ‘The Global Capabilities Framework Project’ – although do leave a comment if there is more recent research to read.

Both industry bodies, the PRCA and CIPR, offer CPD programmes and to complicate matters further, various agencies run their own development programmes who have accreditation with either industry body. Given this complicated landscape of qualifications and CPD programmes – how do you make sense of everything?

PRCA Industry vs. Academics Debate

To (eventually) help find an answer to this question, the PRCA ran their first ‘Industry vs. Academics’ debate in London last month. Chaired by Stephen Waddington of Ketchum, the panellists were:

Faith Howe, Director & Partner, Head of Talent Development, UK and Middle East at FleishmanHillard

Chris Owen, Director, M&C Saatchi PR

Dr. Nicky Garsten, PR and Communications Programme Director, Greenwich University

Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer, School of Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, Leeds Becket University

A deliberately contentious title to draw in the crowds – It worked. Around 120 people filled the room, a mixture of academics and practitioners, many of who have gained industry recognition and influence for their dedication to the subject. It was a unique opportunity to catch up with old friends and contacts; all united in the belief that the PR industry needs to formalise education and career development.

The event led with the question ‘Is it necessary to have a PR degree?’ and obviously the answer is no… But the panel’s two main focuses were how people enter the profession and dealing with attrition later in a PR career. Particularly how PR education is often guilty of focusing too heavily on theory without giving practice enough attention. For a full write-up of the event visit Marcel’s blog.

The evening was not short of discussion and occasional moments of debate, particularly from some passionate supporters (mostly on Twitter) who saw PR degrees as providing the critical foundation knowledge for entering the profession. Although where higher education can provide a theoretical foundation of knowledge, it was noted many students lack the necessary ‘soft skills’ needed for activities such as holding conversations on the phone.

Even though I invested £20,000+ in a PR degree, it’s clear that there are many ways you can enter into PR. These days you could argue ‘degree required’ entry-level roles actually inadvertently filter for the same old ‘blueprint’ candidates. In this area the fabulous work of the Taylor Bennet Foundation to get Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates into full-time work is critical – the fact this initiative is needed at all is a little embarrassing, why isn’t the industry diverse already?

What’s the answer?

The big question students were asking at the event was ‘Have I wasted my time and money on a PR degree?’ – my answer to that is no! I’ve blogged about that before here, my PR degree has paid off well for me so far and has probably accelerated my career journey in many ways.

There were many answers to the ‘industry vs. academics’ debate:

  1. To improve the quality of people entering the PR industry, there needs to be a better working relationship between practitioners and academics (often there is a blend between the two)
  2. There is a responsibility of managers and HR teams to recognise the importance of accepting a wide range of candidates to PR roles – don’t just get drawn towards the same white middle-class degree laden mould
  3. Despite the innovation brought by digital over the last 11 years, we’re still slow to accept the fact developments in automation (among other things) could have severe consequences to our bottom lines
  4. Given the importance of grounding PR work in theory, in my view there isn’t enough theory being updated to account for how digital has changed everything
  5. There are many ways to enter the PR industry, each way in relies on experience and eventually contacts

Ultimately, the day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing.

Why a Public Relations (PR) degree is worth your time and money

Printing newspapers

My parents have three sons. All three of us have achieved first class degrees, except mine isn’t in law or science, it’s a public relations degree. A degree I would describe as 50/50 academic and vocational. It’s for this reason that I’ve never had a problem with employment.

Before I graduated I had a job waiting and it’s been like that ever since. Every month I’ve had a salary hit my account as a direct result of PR related work. I don’t intend to boast. I’m from the University of Gloucestershire class of 2012 – entering education as the recession laid agencies to waste. The world hadn’t recovered on graduation.

Like most, I had little understanding of PR before studying. It was a last minute choice after my passion for computer science was extinguished after seeing a class of overweight sweaty males tapping away at computers during a university open day. I escaped to my true passion. The one I could not live without; writing.

A journalist at the University of Lincoln explained how most people live their life in a box: they drive to work in a box, type in front of a box, go home to watch the box, and then eventually end their life in a box. A life of a journalist would allow you to escape the box.

I was sold. However, had real concerns about choosing journalism as a degree.

So instead opt’d for PR after being convinced by the top-class teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. Crucially my degree also had the backing of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). An institution that is pushing the PR industry forward and isn’t afraid to join important debates. Alongside the CIPR was the PR student community driven magazine, Behind The Spin, of which I’ve just been made an associate editor.

My degree was probably cheaper than yours, tuition fees stood at £3000 a year (plus accommodation costs). Today a PR degree will cost you up to £9000 a year and that’s for an industry whose average salary is £33,680. Whilst other professions will earn you more, I’m willing to bet that employability in PR will be higher than other subjects such as law or English. Although this is an assumption.

My own course had a sandwich year, which was a one year placement in industry. Without a doubt this year is worth it. In my case I was earning a decent salary and could wave decent work experience on my CV to put me a step ahead of ‘academic experience only’ competition. My sandwich year also kept me in plentiful supply of cigarettes and alcohol for the final year of University! The first habit I’ve now kicked. The second has flourished.

So yes. Big success story. Sound the trumpets. A PR degree will give you glory, as it did for me.

Maybe.

I cannot praise the value of a PR degree enough but also realise that it’s been a while since I was a student – so how has the standard CIPR accredited degree changed? Also, the PR industry is changing so rapidly, is it possible that now other degrees are becoming more important for the survival of the industry? Ultimately, PR’s first aim is to win the budget battle in the company boardroom; by proving its value.

My role today is purely digital and social media. I work in an integrated team that offers online and offline solutions. Just because it’s integrated doesn’t mean that it’s balanced, digital projects keep coming. It may just be that the computer science degree I first rejected is becoming more important than my PR based skills. The amount of online data that digital teams need to chew through to reach client solutions is astounding and growing in complexity. PR degrees must offer in-depth digital marketing training; including social media, search engine optimisation and online advertising to be of real value.

So you tell me, are PR degrees still worth it today? I hope so. But only if digital accounts for 50% of work. And yes, the other half should all be about creative writing, media relations and researching.

I wrote this blog post after being inspired by Live Love Laugh PR’s ‘10 blog post ideas for PR bloggers

This is how Religious Education should be taught

NssA new report published by the National Secular Society (NSS) (PDF file) has revealed that publicly funded schools are being exploited by evangelical Christian groups. The report was published in light of many parents getting in touch with the NSS with concerns that schools were allowing external visitors in with unwelcome religious interests.

This seems like a clear aim by religious groups to prey upon young people with the ultimate aim of relaying a set of beliefs and winning conversion. Much of the report could be seen to be targeting the loose definition of Religious Education (RE) itself. The specific aims and purposes of RE are all too ambiguous, which is giving external Christian groups a foot in the door.

The report comes in the wake of last week’s report by Ofsted that more than half of England’s schools are failing pupils with religious education. Not only are teachers failing to understand the subject but the subject is failing to get pupils to think about fundamental questions surrounding human life. Contrary to some of the comments surrounding this story, I believe that RE is of significant value in schools but first its purpose has to be defined.

Firstly, the purpose of RE should not be about pushing children/teenagers into having a faith. Classes should be interactive thought-provoking environments, where children can discuss their individual beliefs openly. We are living in an increasingly multi-cultural society and intellectual understanding of different beliefs would serve the future well. There are themes behind all religions that relate directly back to sociological, physiological and anthropological roots.

The next step should be to support the British Human Association’s reform of RE. Approaching RE impartially; allowing students to explore religious and non-religious viewpoints. RE should be integrated into other humanities, exploring the social and historical relevance of religion and belief. In turn this would clash against confessional teaching in state schools, where pupils must follow particular religions and are denied a balanced objective syllabus. It certainly wouldn’t allow exploitation by outside religious groups.

This would be fitting for two reasons. RE can now be entirely beneficial to the students and devoid of internal education despotic interests in evangelism or forced cultural conformance. It would introduce RE back to the principles of the Age of Enlightenment, promoting intellectual thought and skepticism.

EC=MC, Generation Y is the answer

As observed in a blog by David Phillips, there is a massive shortage of digital skills available to the PR industry. This is a worry. The industry needs to protect its budgets, especially from online advertising which can promise much but delivers questionably. Organisations who have remained traditional have felt the heat of digital approach them. Online campaigns, social media monitoring and online publishing are all common place – the PR industry must be ready.

The transformative question is… EC=MC

(Every Company is a Media Company)

The phrase was coined by Tom Foremski and describes how companies are publishing content to its stakeholders, meaning that companies must have an understanding of the publishing tools available. The phase never really caught on in the UK but its effects are being felt across the profession.

PR agencies are publishing an increasingly large amount of content online but still write in a fashion which most would deem unsuitable for the internet age. Digital platforms are not designed for dull press releases but rich, dynamic and engaging content. Therefore, agencies not only need to have an understanding of how to use digital tools but also those who understand the correct tone for the digital age. Essentially, agencies need to understand content curation (and this is another blog post altogether!)

In most cases (only in my experience), the right people are not always the more senior. Instead we should avert our eyes to generation Y. Only they can solve the EC=MC equation.

In 2004, whilst most upcoming seniors were still writing press releases, generation Y were already engaging with digital tools. In most cases these were:

        • PHP Forums
        • Instant Chat (such as IRC)
        • Growing blogging platforms (such as WordPress)
        • Building websites from nothing (pure HTML goodness)

MySpace was VERY popular whilst I was growing up and to make any sort of design changes required rather in-depth HTML knowledge. Am I saying PR people should have a knowledge of programming? Yes I am.

The online landscape is as diverse as the cultures living in a student’s dorm. It is more than just social media, far more complicated than “social media gurus” can comprehend. The subtitle of this blog is “Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations and Stuff” because digital has blurred all disciplines and there is even stuff which cannot be categorised.

PR agencies need a helping hand and, in most cases, generation Y is the answer. So go on, give a student a job!

 

My thanks to Neville Hobson who highlighted EC=MC at his #CIPRsm session last week, “How social do you want your PR?”. To see a full list of other sessions taking place visit the CIPR Social Summer page.

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?

New Website allows UK Students to sell and buy used books

My name is Joanne Brady and I am the founder of TheBookPond.com. I am a graduate of The University of Hull, and of Durham University, and I am a mother of four very lively girls.

TheBookPond.com is a site which allows UK university students to list their used textbooks for free in order to sell them locally to other students, cutting out un-necessary P&P costs and reducing ‘textbook miles’. The site is totally free to use, and always will be. I set it up as I am a big fan of saving money and hate to see wasted resources.

Whilst at Hull University, I bought and sold a lot of my textbooks using the department noticeboards, but I found it wasn’t as convenient as it could be. I did a joint degree and I was posting to multiple noticeboards. I also found a lot of my notices went missing for one reason or another. Selling my books as a graduate is even harder work as being away from campus makes it necessary to use online book sale sites, which means paying for P&P and a sales commission, which can be quite a chunk.

The idea to have a site which anyone can access, either on or off campus, and encourage people to sell books directly to buyers is one I spent a little bit of time developing. Having no web programming skills and no budget, I found someone with the skills that was prepared to work on the site as a project and take a punt. I found Graeme, a computer studies student at The University of Strathclyde, and the site was launched in the autumn term of 2009.

Since 2009, in between me having children, us both completing our studies, and Graeme taking a work placement abroad, we have been making adjustments to the site, and have started a blog. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed too, and are big fans of social media. In the summer of 2011, we were featured on BBC News 24’s technology programme Click!, which was a massive boost to us. We attracted some worldwide interest, but we are focussing on the UK for the time being. Currently we have over 500 members and growing, and we have over 400 books listed on the site.

I completed my masters degree studying users of electric cars last year, and am now on the lookout for a PhD studentship which fits in with my family commitments. TheBookPond.com is a long-term project which I’m sure will continue to grow and to provide students with a way of contacting each other to save money and stop those once loved textbooks from gathering dust.

 

The main site – www.TheBookPond.com

The blog – http://bookpond-thebookpond.blogspot.co.uk/

The Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Book-Pond/132542209559

The twitter feed – http://twitter.com/#!/theBookPond

My email – [email protected]

The CIPR Must Play a Stronger Role in CIPR Approved Courses

UPDATE (16/02/2012): THE CIPR’S RESPONSE TO THIS POST HAS NOW BEEN POSTED HERE.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) must do more to support their student members. Graduate unemployment has hit its highest level since 1995 and prospective PR graduates from CIPR approved courses are not being adequately supported.

The formula is simple. As students we are concerned with Return On Investment (ROI). Currently student membership to the CIPR costs £35. Other than dozens of copies of PR Week what benefits do we get in practice? To me CIPR student membership is really just a magazine subscription. If you believe this observation is overtly cynical then chat to the students who have decided against student membership. Their main concern is over the benefits.

“What benefits will I receive for joining the CIPR?”

According to the CIPR’s website student members will receive the following benefits:

  • Skills guides on essential areas of PR practice
  • Best practice case studies of PR in action
  • Research and reports on key communications trends and issues
  • Work placement finder to help you get practical experience
  • Networking opportunities to help you build “you” (Need to check your grammar CIPR…) contacts
  • Opportunities to get involved with your local CIPR group
  • Free subscription to PR Week

In reality all student members will get their PR Week subscription and be able to access their work placement finder (Their work placement finder was not up-to-date when I used it. Has it been improved now?). Every other benefit remains unfulfilled in my experience.

We all know that a PR degree is near worthless without the relevant work experience. Rachel Barkley (2nd Year PR Student from Leeds Met) debates in her latest blog post over the nature of work placement and sandwich courses. Should placements be compulsory? It is vital that a PR degree is supported with industry experience – this is an area I would like to see the CIPR delve into.

In their student member benefits they have already noted that students will receive “networking opportunities” but I have never noticed such events. Either the CIPR is doing a bad job of promoting their events or this benefit is not being supported. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the CIPR:

  • Arranged for their regional groups to organise networking sessions for PR students in their local area.
  • Arranged events purely for students from CIPR approved courses for networking between Universities.
  • Maintained a graduate database of PR jobs.

To my knowledge the only student members of the CIPR who receive any form of benefit from the CIPR are the CIPR Student Representatives. I was fortunate enough to be a representative for my University during 2009/10. You get to network with your regional group and arrange a CIPR approved event (albeit with a tiny budget). This isn’t enough though.

As PR students graduating from CIPR approved courses we can expect to receive ACIPR professional accreditation. No doubt, the title is fancy. Where is the value though?

As a student who is only four months away from graduating I have received no contact from the CIPR. Aren’t I meant to be on a CIPR approved course? I would at least expect an email enticing me with networking opportunities and asking me to renew my membership. Nothing though. Hands down, the most useful resource of PR students looking to graduate is Ben Cotton’s list of graduate schemes.

The CIPR define the industry as, “Public relations is about reputation… Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour…”. Yet it seems that the CIPR has close to forgotten their student membership and CIPR approved degree courses. For the continuation of the CIPR these groups contain vital stakeholders. Hundreds of students are about to graduate. What is the CIPR doing to support them? My membership has lapsed. I want to know my £35 to renew will provide me with more than a magazine subscription.

I have two questions for the CIPR:

  • What do you currently do to support PR students from CIPR approved courses?
  • What changes will you be making to the CIPR student membership benefits?

 

PS. Whilst writing this post I noticed that the University of Gloucestershire is not listed as a CIPR approved course. This needs fixing.

3 Blogs I Love (and you will love too)

Each day I read a variety of different blogs and the three listed below are my favourites. We should all take the below authors as examples to improve our own blogging and spend time appreciating the work they produce. Perhaps follow their blogs online and leave them a comment.

 

Nightmare Pixel
Kyle Mullan tells stories designed to provoke, push social boundaries and to enchant readers down a path few dare to tread. It is unclear whether the stories he tells are based from personal experiences, even metaphors for aspects of life many of us choose to ignore. A “gonzo-journalistic style” surrounds his writings. Kyle Mullan is an accurate amalgamation of Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk and George Orwell – I love the result. He has recently started telling his stories on YouTube.

 

Mostly Harmless – the good news blog
Nobody can ignore the theme of negativity which underlines our top news stories. Ben Hamilton’s newly started “Mostly Harmless” blog reveals to readers the hidden agendas behind news stories to show the world isn’t that bad. Coupled with the usual flare of a columnist Ben Hamilton observes the wider context of stories to gain transparency which assists readers to understand the real meaning of a news item. Support this blog project, it has only just begun.

 

Social Web Thing
Ben Cotton works for the Edelman Digital PR team and his blog has become a useful resource for PR students and practitioners alike. Whether you need to know about 2012 PR Graduate Schemes or you want to know his observations of the PR industry, he offers it all. Indeed his blog has become so useful that he has been nominated in the highly acclaimed and cheekily titled CRAPPs awards – his blog deserves your vote.