Degrees vs Apprenticeships

I have now graduated from university, with a 2:1 BA Hons in Public Relations. It’s a fantastic achievement, but after reading more articles on graduate employment struggles and increasing youth unemployment it got me thinking, are apprenticeships the way forward?

University is something that in my secondary school was expected of you. You finished your GCSEs, did your A Levels and off you went to university. Apprenticeships were something you did if you wanted to be a mechanic or a plumber, not something you did if you wanted to go into PR, but why not?

My degree was a four year sandwich course, and in those four years the landscape of public relations has changed dramatically. For one, social media wasn’t the communications tool it is today, in fact when I started university I didn’t even have a Facebook account *shock horror*. I imagine that if I started a PR degree now, it would look a lot different to the one I have studied for the past four years, and that’s a good thing. My gripe is that although the base theory and knowledge I have learnt is still relevant, a lot of the rest of the degree is now pretty out dated. However if I had spent two years straight after my A Levels in a PR apprenticeship at an agency, not only would I be learning on the job but everything I would be learning would be current and up to date.
I’m not denying that there is a place for university and degrees, what I am saying is that there should be other avenues for entering into professions such as PR. Apprenticeships attached to colleges or even universities seem to be a utopia, but there is no reason why they can’t exist in the mainstream. Learning by doing is, in my humble opinion, the best way. Like other practical apprenticeships, students would spend three days in the agency and two days in the class room combining both theory and practical. I recently expressed this opinion in an interview and to my delight (and surprise) was met by agreement from the agency’s director. I know that there are colleges and agencies out there offering these apprenticeships, but I don’t think that’s enough. The CIPR also have a duty to invest in these types of schemes. They need to look past their accredited degrees and into accredited apprenticeships, what’s more they need to be more hands on with students enrolled on accredited courses, they are after all the future of the industry.

I don’t regret going down the university route, it was the only real option for me at the time. However I think the Government and the likes of the CIPR and CIM need to seriously look into the development of professional apprenticeship schemes. They present an opportunity to decrease unemployment (including youth), as well as offering a more rewarding learning process, which could also open up careers to students who may otherwise not have considered industries like PR and Marketing. Apprenticeships is an organisation that are coordinating apprenticeships in all sorts of sectors including marketing, this is something that needs much more focus and funding from the government so that its good work can be offered out to more people. I know if I had been offered this type of scheme I would have definitely chosen it over going to university.



What are employers REALLY looking for?

I didn’t want to write another reflective piece on my time at University and the struggles and hardships of the last four years, because well frankly there’s hundreds of those floating around the blogosphere. So instead of that I want to know what the employers out there are looking for out of a graduate.

Now that degrees are 10 to the dozen and everybody applying most positions has one, what makes me any different?  While studying we are constantly told that you need a USP, something to differentiate yourself from the rest, so what exactly does my future employer want from me? Do they even know what it is they want? And if they aren’t entirely sure, then what chance do I have of knowing? So many questions and the only way to really find the answers is to apply jobs and hope for the best (Is it really ok to ask an employer why you missed out on the job?)

So with all of these questions swimming around in my head I decided to turn to the power of the Google search to see what it is that employers want. This research is in no way scientific, I literally just picked the penultimate answer from the first page (trying to avoid specific University pages) and to be honest it wasn’t much help. The general gist of the article was to demonstrate your ‘key skills’ which were common buzz words including teamwork, interpersonal and communication. Now I’m not saying that these aren’t important, but they are hardly going to set me apart from the other 70 people applying for the same job (The Guardian reported in 2010 that on average 70 graduates will apply for every position). So do I need to rely on my degree grade to set me apart? Most graduate jobs that I have seen expect a 2:1, but surely I’m worth more than a grade? And what if I don’t get a 2:1, I could still be a worthy applicant but how do I get that across to the employer?

First impressions are everything to employers and where these impressions were traditionally based on CVs they can now also be done using social media. It is becoming a well known fact that employers will look at potential employees Facebook profiles ahead of interviews. So now not only do you need an impeccable CV but you also need to smarten up your social media before you can even get a foot in the door of an organisation. Jobs are competitive, that’s a given but you wouldn’t run a marathon without any training so why should looking for a job be any different?

With all of these questions still haunting me I think its clear that University hasn’t prepared me for the job search ahead, something which I am sure is in part fueling the high unemployment rates of young people today. When I started my course, I was determined not to become one of those people who gets a degree and ends up never using it. I still hold that view, but I have to be realistic and now when I finish in the next month, I will just be grateful to get a job. What I hope for future graduates is that Universities will invest in some real career advice including compulsory modules involving talks with employers, CV writing and other useful career focused topics. If students are entrusting these institutions with their further education and shaping their career paths, I think they have a duty to ensure that their graduates are as prepared as possible to enter the work place.

If you are an employer and have any useful tips for a graduate embarking on their professional career I would love to hear from you!


The Trials and Tribulations of Working in a Team

For my degree I have taken part in various team work experiences, but the biggest have been the GlobCom projects. GlobCom is basically a Global Communications Project, it’s where students from Universities across the world are put together in teams to pitch for a Global PR brief. I am currently in my second year of participating in the project and definitely have mixed feelings about it, however it does demonstrate the trials and tribulations of working in a team and more specifically a Global and virtual team very clearly.

Working within a team is standard for PR practitioners and there are very clear roles that people assume. There’s the natural born leaders, the people happy to do the donkey work and the coasters who basically do nothing. Belbin has his own rather more scientific descriptions  of the types of people in a team, from Implementers the people who turn ideas in to reality to the Plants who come up with the creative ideas. Of course there are several types in between and Belbin bases these roles on the personalities of certain people and the types roles they lend themselves to, there are the 3 types: Action, People and Thought orientated roles. These different types of people and roles provide a balanced working team, although sometimes an imbalance will occur and this is often the time that trouble will arise.

Working in a face to face team is considerably easier than a virtual one, but in this digital age virtual teams are becoming common practice especially within Global PR agencies and international organisations. This means that we need to get used to the workings of virtual and Global teams, the technology that is used and possibly most importantly the different cultures of our team mates. For English speaking countries such as the UK, America, Australia etc it is easier to overcome any hurdles as they have the benefit of a shared first language, but where English is a second language it can be harder. Patience is an essential for these situations, this is also a must when dealing with cultural differences that may arise and the minefield that is time zones.

Working in a virtual team will have all of the same traits of working in face to face team, however the problems that may occur will be heightened and often harder to rectify. In a survey created by RW3 Culture Wizard in 2010 some key points were uncovered including:

“The top five challenges faced during virtual team meetings were insufficient time to build relationships (90%), speed of decision making (80%), different leadership styles (77%), method of decision making (76%), and colleagues who do not participate (75%).”

These 5 points are all things that I have encountered in my experience participating in GlobCom. The first time I took part I was the Global Team Leader which meant being right in the thick of all of the problems and work load, it was difficult but a good and valuable experience. This year I have taken a step back and I’m enjoying working within the team and watching how it evolves and works. The use of social media has made building relationships quicker and easier but the speed of decision making, different leadership styles and methods of decision making are all issues that are beginning to emerge. These are things that aren’t going to go away, but with the right leadership, and patience from the team, they are issues that can be worked through.

Working in teams is something that everybody within the communications field needs to be able to do, whether you’re a worker or a leader. As virtual teams become more and more important to organisations, practitioners need to learn some key skills to aid their ability to work in these virtual Global teams. Practices like strong leadership and structure, clear rules and conduct for team members and importantly to be actively considerate and sensitive to cultural work practices are all essential. One of my favourite demonstrations of the latter are the HSBC adverts, they show the importance of being culturally sensitive when working in a Global context. There are texts on both working in within a Global teams and a virtual ones, but personally I believe the best way to learn how to work in these types of teams is to role up your sleeves and do it yourself.



Google+ vs Pinterest

The two social media new kids on the block of the last few months have undoubtedly been Google’s offering Google+ and the visual network that is Pinterest. Both of these social media channels have their own pros and cons, but in this virtual dog eat dog world which one will prove its worth to businesses and consumers alike?

Having both Google+ and Pinterest accounts I have my own opinion of which I believe is better for personal and business use but before I divulge that information, what exactly are Google+ and Pinterest?

Google+ is the much anticipated social media network from search engine giants Google. Set to be the first real rival to Facebook, there are similarities between the two. The constant stream of your ‘friends’ statuses, the chat facility and the ability set up pages for businesses. The are some more unique features of Google+, the ‘hangout’ allows a Skype type conference call where you can have a multi user conversation using video and audio. Google+ also allows users to create ‘circles’ so that statuses can be targeted to specific groups of people in ‘circles’ that you create. The social network has been adopted by some influential people like Richard Branson and President Obama as well as business. Its slow up take of users haven’t dampened Google’s spirits for the site’s future, but is it a real contender to Facebook especially for business use?

Pinterest is an image base social networking site where users can ‘pin’ images they find on the internet onto ‘boards’ like a digital pin board. A simple toolbar add on is installed so that whenever you are browsing the internet you are able to pin images to your boards. These boards can be themed around anything you like from the latest fashions to your favourite typography. Being a purely visual site lends itself extremely well as a business tool and early adopters of the site for business functions have be online fashion website ASOS and Hugh Hefner’s empire Playboy. Pinterest lends itself to fashion, which is why ASOS has had such success with their Pinterest presence. It is also a great platform for food, crafts, home ware and photography.

Both of these social networks have positives and negatives that affect their useability for organisations, some of which are below:

Having profiles with both Google+ and Pinterest I have formed my own opinion of the social networking sites. Although I joined Google+ first I find that it’s just too similar to Facebook. Why would a business with an established Facebook page attempt to transfer this on to Google+ that has less users? A lot of businesses are setting up Google+ pages because it’s the next social media fad, this is a huge bug bear. DON’T set up a social media presence unless you are going to spend time and effort maintaining it and certainly don’t do it just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Pinterest on the other hand I have to admit is becoming a firm favourite for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, but I find the uniqueness of the site (even though its not the first of its kind –  Wists) refreshing. For business Pinterest can be hugely beneficial. On one level it can become a virtual store with the ability to create boards based on the latest seasons or stories and on the other hand it is a place where consumers share their favourite things opening up free influential promotion. Of course as any new social media channel does, Pinterest has some issues it needs to iron out, not least its copyright and terms of use. I do however think that Pinterest offers more to organisations and consumers than Google+ does. That’s not to say that Google+ won’t prosper, Facebook is quickly loosing its appeal especially with its constant interface changes and the extremely unpopular Timeline, so there is room for Google+ to poach some of Facebook’s users. However I think Google+ has a good while longer before they reach the sort of numbers that will make it a truly useful tool. Pinterest on the other hand is the social media site of the moment and a tool that I think organisations would do well to adopt.

Direct Marketing for the Digital Age

We are all familiar with the pizza menus posted through our doors or the leaflets showcasing offers for new windows and doors tangled up with our post, but like with many other marketing and promotional methods, direct marketing has gone digital!

The best definition of direct marketing comes from Stone and Jacobs book ‘ Successful Direct Marketing Methods’ and cites direct marketing as:

“the interactive use of advertising media to stimulate an (immediate) behavior modification in such a way that this behavior can be tracked, recorded, analyzed for future retrieval and use.”

Although this is a very ‘marketing’ definition, the method of direct marketing can also be successfully implemented in a public relations strategy.

Direct marketing in the physical form isn’t all junk mail, and can be an extremely effective way to get your message out there. Ad Age estimated that in the US 25% of a marketers budget is spent of direct marketing. With studies, entire texts written on the marketing method and its own association, done correctly direct marketing is not something to be sniffed at and can be very powerful. Physical forms of direct mail are still used today and although in some cases it is junk mail, in other cases it is specifically targeted mail outs to an organisation’s target audience. These mail outs can contain special offers, vouchers or even just reminders of the organisation’s products or services. For example Nectar the loyalty scheme, sends out coupons for ways that their consumers can earn extra Nectar points. The more innovative the direct mail the more effective it usually, an Israeli charity wanted to raise awareness of babies being abandoned and so created this directing marketing campaign, leaving a picture of a baby on people’s doorsteps:

As today we spend more and more time on the internet, one of the best ways to target audiences is online. Direct marketing has followed the trend and gone digital. Cheaper and possibly more effective than the traditional method, digital direct marketing is gaining in popularity. Just like the traditional form, digital direct marketing can be used to target audiences with anything from vouchers, special offers and company news. You’ll more often than not see a link on a website to join a mailing list this is just one of the ways that companies can discover potential consumers online.

There are few tips that I would advise using when creating a digital direct marketing campaign and most of them are also transferable to traditional approaches as well:

1. Be Relevant or be deleted

With junk mail and spam filters becoming increasingly effective, make sure that your message is relevant to the target audience, or your message will be deleted before they even get to open it let alone read it.

2. Innovation

We see thousands of advertising messages every day, so to avoid your message being swallowed up in the mass, make it interesting. Some of the best direct marketing campaigns are innovative and make the recipient sit up and take notice of the message and in turn the organisation behind it.

3. Less is more

One of my own personal bug bears is a company that bombards you with emails. Make your newsletters monthly and do the same with your mail shots. If you’ve followed step 2’s advice then you don’t need to be sending out more than 2 or 3 of emails a month.

4. Have a plan and stick to it

Direct marketing isn’t something you should be throwing together in a day and sending out the next. Take time to plan the campaign, invest in a creative to design the graphic elements and a press officer to write the content. A well thought out message is going to be entirely more effective than an ad hoc one.

Although these tips aren’t extensive and don’t cover every aspect of digital direct marketing they do form a basis for a successful campaign. The one of the most important aspects of all forms of direct marketing is the call for action. However consumers won’t follow this call for action unless they relate to the brand and its message. This needs to be done with accurate audience targeting and innovative communication.

Digital direct marketing has the scope to be so much more innovative and effective than the traditional form. With new technology being invented daily (this may be a slight over exaggeration) incorporating things like augmented reality into direct marketing could be closer than you think. Laziness in digital directing marketing won’t cut the mustard, so to make sure your messages are communicated effectively pull your socks up and get creative!

Tracking…not always used for bears and parcels

Organisations seem to be getting obsessed with how many Twitter followers they have or how many people like them on Facebook, what they are failing to notice is whether these people are even interacting with their brand?

I noticed the other day, at the top of a local high end lifestyle magazine that they printed how many Twitter followers they have and how many likes they have on Facebook and it got me thinking. Why do companies get sucked into this false pretense that if 1 million people are following them on Twitter it means that these 1 million people are also buying their product? I’m sure there is a percentage of these people and in some case it could be as high as 90% that actually interact and purchase from an organisation they ‘like’ on Facebook, but in most cases the overwhelming majority don’t.

We are all guilty ourselves of seeing a brand’s Facebook page that we like, or we like to be seen to like and hitting the ‘like’ button (I am genuinely sorry for the amount of times I used the word ‘like’ in that sentence). But the likelihood of you ever returning to that page is pretty low. Organisations don’t seem to be using their personal experience of social media and transferring it into their professional usage. Maybe this is highlighting a need for younger members of the organisation to be taking a lead on social media communications or maybe it is showing how quick organisations are to take up social media but how slow they are to actually understand the inner social workings of them.

Instead of the ‘local high end lifestyle magazine’ stating how many people ‘like’ them on Facebook why don’t they print how many unique page views they get a month or how many returning visits they get? Both of these statistics would say far more about them than their Facebook likes do. What I’m trying to get at is there are ways for organisations to track customer interaction with their website and social media that are far more valuable than the amount of followers they have on Twitter.

Trackers (not the types used for bears or parcels!) can range from free programs like StatCounter that do basic monitoring including how many unique views, return visits and page loads your site receives. StatCounter then complies these into a weekly report and email them straight to you. The best thing about StatCounter is that it’s easy to install by simply pasting an html code onto your blog or website. As well as free services you can also find plenty of paid for tracking programs ranging in prices and the amount of monitoring they do. Trackur is a popular program offering services from influencer analysis, allowing you to find out who is talking about your product the most to an archive of every conversation had about your brand online. Depending on what exactly you want tracking will determine whether you really need to spend a lot of money on a program like Trackur or whether using a free service like StatCounter will be enough for you.

Although saying you have 1 million followers on Twitter and 2 million likes on Facebook might be impressive figures, being able to tell how many of these people are frequent visitors or influential bloggers is actually more useful for an organisation. This is another example of organisations taking up social media to follow a trend, without really knowing how the tools work and how they can be effectively used. Instead of obsessing over how may likes you have I urge organisations to look closer at traffic statistics to see whether their social media presence is really working for them.

How compatible are PR and ethics?

Ethics. Yes I am going to tackle the topic that sends shivers down the spine of any PR professional that still has a conscience in 600 words.

Obviously 600 words won’t touch the sides of an in depth discussion on ethics, but working within the public relations industry you are surrounded by the subject. Your own ethics, your agencies ethics, the client’s ethics, their public’s ethic and the list goes on. With so many people’s ethics and so many types of ethics needing to be considered this really can turn into a mind field for the PR practitioner.

Ethics have been debated and theorised for centuries and it’s not always as simple as good and bad, but you can breakdown ethics in their simplest form to the following 3 theories:

  1. Ethical Relativism – this theory believes that ethics will depend on the person, their personal views, culture and traditions.
  2. Utilitarianism – this is Aristotle’s view of you must behave in a way that does the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.
  3. Deontological theory – is essentially the opposite to Utilitarianism and is from Immanuel Kant’s school of thought that you should always do the ‘right thing’ even if this could cause harm.

Public Relations has the duty of communicating with the global public on a daily basis. This duty comes with great responsibility for the messages that they are sending out to be moral and ethical. The PRSA has its own Code of Ethics for American PR practices while both the CIPR and the PRCA have Code of Conduct’s that include ethical practice guidelines. These codes mostly contain guidelines that are essentially common sense, Adrian Wheeler states in his article on the CIPR website ‘A question of ethics’ of PR professionals: ‘we must restrict ourselves to behaviours which are fair, honourable and above board.’ This statement simply but effectively sets a foundation for public relations that if kept would mean that the industry would no longer be tarred with the brush of it being a ‘black art’. But as soon as PR moves into the light of transparency, someone within the industry is exposed and casts the shadow back over.

In recent months this shadow has been cast by one of Britain’s biggest lobbying PR agencies. Bell Pottinger and their scandal where they were exposed for editing client’s Wikipedia pages has sent waves through the media and PR industry. Although what Bell Pottinger have done is not illegal, the ethics of their actions have been seriously called into question. Wikipedia is based on the website being an openly editable and free encyclopedia. Although people use Wikipedia knowing that some of the information may not be entirely accurate, it is in no way perceived as a promotional tool and as its guidelines suggest users shouldn’t edit articles that they have personal or business interests in. Some people believe that Bell Pottinger’s actions are not unethical and that editing incorrect information on a client on Wikipedia is fulfilling a duty to the client. But it is this thin line of what is ethical that PR finds itself treading, on a daily basis. With new forms of media like blogs and social networking sites becoming tools for PR practitioners, the ethical use of these media by the industry is continually being revised.

With so many different views on what ethics are, it makes it impossible for a PR campaign to be completely ethical to everyone all the time, but by using your common sense you can often judge whether a campaign is ethical in its widest possible way. With new media like Facebook and Twitter being used as tools for public relations, to ensure that this use is ethical the rule of transparency is key. Although you have a responsibility towards your client you also have a responsibility to the public and communicating ethically and transparently towards them is essential. Public Relations is more than capable of being ethical, it just depends what ethics they are using!