Ten years ago I graduated from Northumbria University a bit of a crossroads. With a degree in English Literature and Film Studies, an empty wallet and a C.V. which included a variety of trades, from meat-packing to tea-towel printing, you could say I was a little confused about what to do next.
However, rather than selling my soul to become a prodigious blues guitarist, instead I decided to train as a broadcast journalist – before swapping a career as a hack for PR and marketing. The rest as they say, is history.
So when I was invited to deliver a presentation to MSc International Sport Management students at my old university stomping ground, it felt like I had come full circle. Having been asked to share my insight and experience of what industry best practice looks like, I jumped at the chance to hop on a train to Newcastle.
Inspiring future industry talent
The private sector has an important role to play in sharing advice with young people on the key attributes and skills they need to enter the workplace. While I get the sense there is still more work to be done in this area, positive strides are already underway.
Stripe is an agency committed to developing the next generation of communication professionals. As well as regular visits to present to students at Edinburgh University and Queen Margaret University, we continue to hire young and dynamic talent through our graduate recruitment programme, Stars and Stripes.
Each year we take on bright and enthusiastic grads to join our ranks and be part of Stripe Academy, our training and development programme. Now in its eighth year, the programme has kick-started the career of 25 outstanding graduates.
My presentation was focused on providing students with a better understanding of the value of PR, and its effectiveness for delivering impact as part of a brand’s integrated marketing strategy. As well as demystifying the industry, we discussed strategic thinking, campaign planning, media relations, community management, measurement and evaluation, agency life and what brilliant work looks like.
Of course a sport-themed lecture wouldn’t be complete without some career highlights, and a few sporting anecdotes from a portfolio that has included sponsorship activations and event management, from football to mountain biking. I was delighted to wax lyrical about some of the projects I’ve enjoyed working on recently, such as the IRN-BRU Cup activation with A.G. Barr and the SPFL, Strathmore water’s Do More campaign and the UCI Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup.
But the key takeaway I wanted to share with students was that while the rules of engagement may have shifted over the last decade, the fundamental principles of communication are as relevant today as they always will be.
For me building strong relationships, no matter what industry you work in, will always open new doors and spark fresh opportunities. While creating deep and meaningful stories will always be the difference between a good campaign and a memorable one.
But if you’re thinking about a career in PR, here’s some of my top advice to get you started:
- Writing wizardry: From drafting media releases to crafting sticky social content, excellent writing skills are an essential tool for PRs. Starting a blog, writing for your local newspaper or simply keeping a diary can help improve your tone of voice, spelling and grammar.
- Confident communicator: While sending and replying to emails is a daily job, PRs are not keyboard warriors. Starting conversations is what we do best – so make sure you have great set of social skills and enjoy talking to real human beings!
- Stay informed and be curious: As a PR it’s important to stay on top of current affairs and the wider news agenda. We work closely with the media and speak to reporters every day. With the rise of fake news, it’s best to go straight for quality journalism and pick up a newspaper.
- Organise work experience: There really is no better way to learn about PR than gaining first hand industry experience. Why not apply for a week placement with an agency, or in a brand’s marketing department. I’d also encourage getting in touch with your local paper, TV or radio station.
- Make a good impression: Showing interest in the job is a no brainer, but don’t forget to be passionate and enthusiastic about what you’re doing. If you get the chance of work experience, it’s your opportunity to make your mark.