This blog has now been moved to www.stimsonsarah.com
This blog has now been moved to www.stimsonsarah.com
If you work in PR and you’re on Twitter, there’s a good chance that the people you follow are a mixture of colleagues, acquaintances and recommendations. How do you go about finding the really influential players in the industry, and which are the accounts with the most interesting tweets? Here’s our short guide to who’s who.
PR People: This Peer Index list compiled by Andrew Bruce Smith is a good place to start. Based on the PR Week Social Media Power Players list, originally published in February 2011, it is a comprehensive guide to those PR folk with a strong social media presence. Another list from Andrew is those listed in the PR Week Power Book.
Journalists: Stephen Davies has a great list of over 300 journalists which is worth checking out.
And of course, you should all follow me.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Oooof. I really dislike this question. I think it’s a bit lazy, but a lot of interviewers ask it. They are looking to see how self critical you can be and whether you can give a balanced view. The strength side of things tends not to be too difficult, particularly if you have a job description or advert to work from. If they have asked for someone with a good eye for detail in the advert, it is a good idea to pick that out as a strength and give an example. So you could say something like “I am a stickler for detail. In my current role my colleagues always ask me to proof read their work as I am anal about typos and grammar.” The weaknesses element of this question is more difficult. The most common answer I have heard is “It can take me a while to get things done, because I’m such a perfectionist.” Yawn. I guarantee every recruiter has heard interviewees say that a million times. The basis of the answer is sound – pick something negative and turn it into a positive – but the answer itself is rather dull. So instead, pick something you know you are weaker on but that you are aware of and do something about. For example, you could say “I am terribly impatient and get annoyed when other members of the team don’t deliver in time, but I have learned over the years that everyone’s working style is different so I try to be more laid back about it now and offer to help the others so that we meet the deadlines.”
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Here, the recruiter is looking to see if you are flighty and if you are really committed to staying in this industry. Recently I interviewed some graduates for an entry level PR position. When asked this question one of the interviewees replied “Oh, I’d love to be teaching in a primary school.” They didn’t get the job. Declaring that your real passions lie elsewhere is not the best technique for interviews. Instead, you should make it clear that you would like to be in the industry you are interviewing for, and that hopefully you will have progressed into a more senior position. You are then reinforcing your commitment to the job and making it clear that you have ambitions to build on your skills and experience.
Why should we hire you?
How good are you at selling yourself? That’s what this question really means. This is your opportunity to give a comprehensive picture of why you are better than the other ten candidates they are interviewing. You need to find a balance between confidence and arrogance. Saying “I’m the best” is arrogant. Saying “I’m the best at my current firm and have handled some really difficult and demanding clients in the last twelve months so I think I could bring some useful skills and experience to your team” is confidence. Justify your reasons with examples of your past experience.
Why are there gaps on your CV?
If you have been out of the job market at some point, it is likely it will be picked up on in interview. The rule of thumb here is, be honest. You may have taken time out to have children, for example. Tell the interviewer that and that you now have excellent childcare arrangements and are committed to going back to work. In the last year, many people have suffered job losses and redundancies due to poor economic conditions. Redundancy doesn’t have the stigma it had ten years ago, so tell the interviewer you were one of several job losses in your firm and that although you were upset to lose your job, you realise your bosses had difficult decisions to make. If at all possible, tell the recruiter how you have kept your hand in, even when you’ve not been working. You may have continued to write a relevant blog, or kept abreast of your sector’s media coverage. Make sure you make it very clear that you are committed to a long-term relationship with your next firm and that your break from employment was for genuinely good reasons.
Do you have any questions?
I have lost count of the amount of people who nothing to say at this point in an interview. Make sure you do your research before you go. Investigate the company website, check out their media coverage, ask people who have worked there before what the firm is like. Compile a list of questions to ask – and take it with you to the interview. At the end, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions you can pull out your list and refer to it. If all your questions have been answered in the course of the interview you can say “well, as you can see I did come with a big list of questions for you, but you have answered them all already, thank you!” It demonstrates that you have done your homework.
The world of recruitment is changing. More employers and recruitment agencies are turning to social media to find PR talent. If you are looking for a job in PR how should you be using social media tools to find your next role?
I wouldn’t recommend having an open profile on Facebook. Most people use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends, family and the occasional colleague and are more inclined to write things on their status updates that potential employers would not be impressed with. If you are going to make your profile completely open stay away from status updates that say “I hate my boss”, “God, work is boooooring” or “completely hungover, cannot be arsed to go to work so am pulling a sickie”.
If your profile is secure employers can’t search for you, but that’s okay. There are other ways to use Facebook to network. There are a couple of groups you should join; PR Job Watch and The PR and Communications Network. If you are not currently employed put a note up on the wall saying what your areas of experience are and what you’re looking for. You can also have a look at the posts from employers who are looking to hire their next PR.
First of all, sign up! I am constantly amazed by how many PRs are still not on Twitter. It’s an amazing source of breaking news and a brilliant way for you to network with your peers without having to step out of your front door. Follow the right people. If you haven’t a clue who they are then this list of social media power players should help. You should also follow some PR recruitment agencies who will regularly tweet their jobs (Unicorn Jobs is @UnicornJobs) Then get yourself known. Tweet regularly and retweet other people’s comments when you think they may be useful. Once you are part of the PR tweeting community you are much more likely to be approached by a recruiter about a new role. You could also follow the hashtags #PR and #PRjobs which will throw up a surprising amount of jobs that you won’t see advertised elsewhere.
This seems to be the tool that most people are confused about. LinkedIn is probably the most formal of all the networking sites and as such can be really useful when looking for new jobs. Set up a profile making sure that you give details of all your past employment – it acts like an online CV and gives potential employers a chance to check out your skills and experience. Unlike Facebook you should make your profile public, making it easier for recruiters and head hunters to find you. Then connect like crazy. Add everyone you have ever worked with, friends, family and acquaintances. The more connections you have the more likely it is that a recruiter will be able to find you. LinkedIn’s job search engine is worth a go too. When you view the results concentrate on the ones that you are no more than two degrees away from – which means you know someone who knows the person who is hiring and will therefore have a better chance of being able to get in touch directly with the hiring manager. You can also search for a specific company and see what jobs they currently have posted. You will also be able to see their recent hires so if you are feeling brave you could get in touch with them and ask how they got their jobs there – if nothing else it might lead to a new connection.
Three times a year I go through dozens of graduate applications for the Taylor Bennett Foundation PR programme. Each time, I am dazzled by the research and care that have gone into filling in some of these forms. However, I am also dreadfully disappointed and frustrated with others.
So, to help others not to make the same mistakes, here are my ten tips on what do when applying for a PR role.
1) Don’t address your application to the wrong company. Attention to detail is important to PR. Addressing it to “Taylor Herring” instead of “Taylor Bennett” cost one graduate a place this time.
2) Be polite. If the company you have applied to bother to reply (and believe me, lots don’t) then take it on the chin and thank them for considering you. Manners cost nothing. Writing to tell them that they are WRONG and are making a HUGE mistake by not taking you on will make sure they remember you for all the wrong reasons.
3) Avoid clichés. If I had a pound for every time I have read an application with “I like to think out of the box” written on it, I’d be a very rich woman.
4) If a form asks you to list your skills then saying “I’m punctual, honest and reliable” is both dull, and not particularly informative. Surely no one would admit to be habitually late, dishonest and unreliable?
5) If you are asked “Why does a career in PR appeal to you?” do not reply with;
6) Don’t ignore the “name” box on an application form, seriously.
7) Read the application instructions carefully. If they ask for a CV and covering letter, then send a CV and covering letter. If they ask for a completed application form, then send a completed application form. If they ask for 400 words on why you’d be a great PR, then send 400 words on why you’d be a great PR. Instructions are there for a reason so follow them.
8) Ignore word counts at your peril. If an application for asks for 100 – 200 words on a particular subject then make sure you write a minimum of 100 words and a maximum of 200. Being able to follow such basic instructions is a good indication of whether you’ll be able to follow instructions once you have the job.
9) Don’t submit your application after the deadline. And if your application is rejected because it’s late, don’t send a begging email asking them to consider it anyway. If you want it to be considered, get it in on time. There is no excuse.
10) Avoid saying “I work well in a team, but also on my own”. Yawn.
Since 2008, Taylor Bennett has set out to address the lack of ethnic diversity in the PR industry with an innovative PR training and internship programme. For ten weeks, six black and minority ethnic graduates are given intensive PR training, work-based experience and career guidance. They also get to meet industry professionals from a range of in-house, agency and media organisations. It is a fabulous scheme and in 2010 it won the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award for Social Inclusion , which we are very proud of. Previous participants have already started successful careers in communications in firms which include Edelman, Brunswick, Cantos, Racepoint Group, MS&L, Freud, Talk PR, London Thames Gateway, Macbeth Media Relations and the Olympic Legacy Company. The success of the scheme means that by the end of 2011, nearly 50 graduates will have passed through the programme and that leaves us with a dilemma.
Until now, we have offered each of the interns personal career guidance, not only while they’re on the programme, but as they enter their careers and beyond. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this. We are a small organisation and while I adore all our interns, there are not enough hours in the day for me to run the programme, and to continue to support them regularly once they leave us. So, we are appealing to the PR community to step forward and act as mentors to these graduates – not only as they embark on their first PR roles, but throughout the lifetime of their careers.
Several PR practitioners have already put their hands up for this opportunity. We try to partner the mentors with grads we think will get the most out of their advice, and then ask that they try to meet up once a month for coffee to discuss their career aspirations. The rest of the time they are available by phone and email to answer questions and offer advice. We hope therefore that it is not too time-intensive, but that it gives the grads someone to turn to when they have a career question or issue.
Mentoring can be very rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to see a mentee progress and grow as a person. It also allows you to develop your management and training skills. Which gives you the chance to self-reflect - making sure that you regularly audit your own skills and professional development. It should also enrich your working experience. By keeping tabs on what junior people in the industry are up to, it enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new and should enhance your professional image.
For the mentees, it helps them to develop those all important networking skills and to gain a different perspective on how the profession works. It should give them confidence to speak to people more senior than them, teach them how to work towards goals, and give them experience of handling constructive criticism. In turn we hope that this will fire up their enthusiasm for the industry and inspire them to apply for jobs, and then develop their communications careers.
Our current mentors are:
Lisa Quinn, Taylor Bennett
Lily Lazarevski, Cut Communications
Nicky Rudd, Padua Communications
Nina Arnott, McDonalds
Sharon Chan, Consolidated PR
Magda Bulska, CHA
Howard Jones, CC Group
Chris McCafferty, Kaper PR
We are currently on the hunt for seven more mentors. Ideally you will have experience in the following sectors, but we are very open to anyone who has an interest in volunteering.
Professional services (particularly law)
You don’t need to be particularly senior, although you’re very welcome if you are, but ideally should have some experience of managing junior members of staff.
If you would like to volunteer as a mentor, please email email@example.com
This isn’t the first time I’ve come across less conventional job applications. In the past I’ve had a graduate send me a tea bag with their CV “so that you can have a nice cuppa while you read about my experience”. More recently, one of our Taylor Bennett Foundation alumni, Nahidur Rahman, wrote a blog post on why a PR firm should hire him, and Racepoint Group snapped him up.
Last September we featured Graeme Anthony in esPResso with his CVIV. It did the rounds on Twitter and came up trumps as he’s now working at Frank. Similarly, Stephen Waddington has written a post featuring Laura Tosney at 33 Digital and her (frankly, amazing) animation that clinched the job for her there.
A few of our ex-interns took part in an online chat on the Guardian website about social media careers. This led on to a discussion about how to make themselves stand out. Alan Parker of Golin Harris suggested something quirky might work. “I once had a candidate send me a shoe in a shoebox with his CV” he told me, “so that they can get a foot in the door”.
On Twitter, I floated the idea of a CV printed on a tea-towel (inspired by all the Royal Wedding merchandise I can see creeping up on us). Responses ranged from “It’s novel, it deserves an interview at least” from the MD of Rise PR, Paul Alan to “that’s just weird” from communications officer, Emma Jackson Stuart and “creativity in an application isn't generally welcome in the public sector! It’s better to sell yourself based on examples.” From Adam Fairclough.
Which just goes to show, sending a more unusual job application can work, but you have to be careful who you target with your creative approaches.
As more and more firms extend their Christmas closing hours, it can feel like you’ve been out of the office forever. Lots of people feel a bit blue in January. Summer holidays are a while away, the excitement of Christmas and new year are over, it’s cold and dreary and you have a nasty cough – although maybe that last bit is just me.
Don’t be downhearted though. January needn’t be all doom and gloom. See it as a fresh start – a time to set yourself new challenges and deal with things that you have been putting off for ages. 2011 could be the year that you stop procrastinating and get on with things. Make it the year that you make things happen.
Firstly, catch up with your emails from over the festive period and make a concerted effort to file away those you need to keep and delete any unwanted messages. Then make a to-do list and actually DO the things on it. That means calling that really annoying girl in accounts who has been asking you for invoicing details for months. Suck it up, it won’t be as bad as you think.
Dig out last year’s appraisal form and check what was set as your goals for the year. Have you achieved them? Have you even *started* to achieve them? Now’s the time for a plan of action. Set the wheels in motion – book relevant training courses, speak to your manager about taking on extra responsibilities, brainstorm with colleagues to come up with new and inventive ways of keeping costs down. Make sure you there will be no reason not to promote you or give you a pay rise this year.
Most people spend a fair few hours at work so it’s important that you want to be there. One of the easiest ways to enjoy your work is to be friends with the people you work with. If you’re not a naturally social person try and push your boundaries a little by arranging to go for a drink with some colleagues, and offering to help them out if they have a heavy work load. Having friendly, encouraging colleagues can do wonders to lift your mood.
If you have been bumbling along in your job for ages and are bored, do something about it. You shouldn’t be dreading going back to work after the Christmas break so if you found yourself having to drag yourself into the office, now’s the time to look for a new role. After the austerity measures of last year many companies are loosening their purse strings and are hiring again, so polish up your CV, brush up your interviewing techniques and start reading the job ads.
Q. I like to keep my work and home life quite separate but my firm is throwing a Christmas party and I am feeling under pressure to attend. How can I avoid it?
A. Some people are not natural party animals and can think of nothing worse than spending extra time with their colleagues, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to deal with it for one night as not attending may mark you out as being reluctant to be a team player and damage your career. A staff party is one way for a company to show appreciation for their employees’ hard work over the year and to give them an opportunity to mingle outside of work and therefore build rapport. If you’re a manager, not going along can also send a bad message to your team – i.e. ‘I don’t like you enough to spend time with you’. Even if your company expects you to contribute financially to the event, and in this age of austerity, some will, it may be frowned upon if you chose not to attend.
So, once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you should go along, here’s my guide to surviving your work’s Christmas do.
- Don’t get drunk. Even the quietest among us can say dreadful things with a tongue loosened by alcohol so keep the drinking to a minimum.
- If you have to buy a secret Santa gift play it reasonably safe – edible undies may *seem* like a good idea, but the recipient may not see the funny side.
- Try not to only talk about work. This is not the occasion to suggest to your boss that you’re due for a pay rise, or tell your team about a piece of work you want completed by Monday. It is meant to be fun.
- Dress appropriately. This is easy if your party is at lunch time as you are likely to be in work clothes but if your firm throws a lavish evening do try to remember that you are going to have to look the other guests in the eye in the office the next day.
- Use it as an opportunity to network. You may not get many opportunities to meet some people at your company – particularly if it’s a big firm – so make yourself known to the movers and shakers, without chewing their ear off about your job.
- If you snog someone in the stationery cupboard, someone WILL find out and it’ll be the talk of the office until the next shin-dig.
- Ditto photocopying your bottom.
- If your partner is invited to attend, try to make them feel at ease by introducing them to people instead of leaving them to fend for themselves while you have a laugh with your office mates.
- Do your best to actually enjoy it – you might surprise yourself.
Last Thursday I went to a really fantastic conference, Bright One’s Impress London. And I’m not just saying that because I was a speaker. Aimed at students and graduates looking to get into a career in PR. There was a fabulous line up of speakers.
The strongest message of the day, repeated by every single speaker was “when we recruit grads, we expect them to be savvy in social media.”
A few people got the hang of it, and very quickly I could form a view of who they were by viewing their Twitter profiles. By the afternoon session on social media with Stephen Davies, Chris Reed and Rob Dyson I had give up tweeting on my BlackBerry and was brazenly tweeting on my netbook – in the front row.
On Friday, I mentioned on Twitter that I felt quite rude tapping away when others were speaking – which sparked a bit of debate.
When asked if they were bothered by people tweeting when they spoke the response from the speakers was unanimous – no one minded.
Nicola Jones: “if anything I advocate it, it’s cool to hear what people agree with /don't agree with about what you are saying”.
Stefan Stern: “You can't beat feedback in real time.”
Jaz Cummins: “Agreed, instant feedback is fab. I think tweeters will like it more than non-tweeters though.”
Rob Hinchcliffe: “not at all, enhances things I think.”
RobmDyson: Good to tweet for others not present. I'm an advocate as I know how useful & transparent it can be to follow remotely. & spreads awareness / PR of speakers ;) I'm v used to tweeting at confs. & it means I can 'virtually attend' confs outside England like #begoodbesocial ;)
And Stephen Davies raised an interesting point, he encourages tweeting at conferences but added that he “Can understand why [people may be uncomfortable tweeting]. In non geek circles people are told to switch of their phones before a conference starts.”
But despite the acceptance of the practice among the speakers, some of the attendees had obviously felt uncomfortable about it.
Carly Ann Smith, a student at Lincoln, said she felt slightly rude if she went on her phone and Rhian Burrell-Joseph commented she thought it was rude to tweet when someone’s talking to you and it would be helpful if the etiquette of what to do in that situation was more established. And that seems to be at the crux of the issue, some students are not encouraged to tweet at University, so aren’t comfortable doing it outside of lectures. Amy Brunsdon, a student at the University of Gloucestershire, commented that it was nice to be able to tweet throughout as it’s frowned upon in her lectures and J’ara Ami agreed “I think it was so cool that we were encouraged to tweet at #impress! It’s all well learning social media but it’s another to engage.
Given that graduates are so strongly encouraged by industry professionals to be active on social networks in order to be employable, surely banning Twitter in lectures is short-sighted? David Phillips agrees. He encourages students to tweet both in lectures and beyond.
Richard Bailey takes a different approach. Email and Facebook are banned in lectures and so it’s easiest to ban social media tools across the board, including Twitter.
Phillip Young, lecturer at Sunderland University says tweeting has its place and it is important for academics to encourage social media engagement, “Sunderland was one of the first universities in the UK to incorporate teaching social media into its PR programme and I know from many practitioners and graduates that this knowledge did and still does help them get jobs and, more importantly, make a real contribution from the day they start work.
I think it is very difficult indeed to separate social media theory from practice! Also, there is quite a difference from being an enthusiastic personal user of Facebook and running a PR campaign with a social media dimension. Understading how you and your friends use social media to find out about the world can give very useful insights but building a strategic campaign that eets specific objective is rather different, and making the linkages is should be part of any PR degree. (If the students could do it thelmselves why bother going to university!)
It is my belief that today all PR is online PR. It is no longer a specialism but an integral part of any lecture, and lecturers and academics who don't appreciate this need to think carefully about their own understanding of the discipline.”
I went on to ask him how he felt about attendees tweeting during conferences, or students during lectures.
“I am reasonably comfortable about tweeting during academic or practitioner conference presentations, which I often do for the benefit of those who cannot attend. Also, as a presenter I find it useful to see feedback and questions.
That said, it is not an easy skill - listening, understanding, then typing something worthwhile at speed in 140 characters is tricky and a lot of presentation tweets (including my own!) aren't of great value.
I can see advantages for students in crowdsourcing comment on lectures - "we are being told xxxxx - what do others think?" but I am not sure how useful general back channel chat is.
One of my students did make an (almost!) plausible claim that being on Facebook during lectures helped her concentrate. Her argument was that if she was just listening her mind might wander but if she was worried about being caught Facebooking she would then have to listen more carefully to what was being said to avoid being caught out.
I am (sort of) coming to believe that younger people genuinely are better than my generation at multi-tasking, but I am not sure they are that good!”
Jane Crofts, lecturer at Lincoln, takes a slightly different view. “I find it irritating/distracting if students use their phones during my sessions and I always ask for them to be turned off in sessions. I think it is quite rude to use a phone and engage 'outside the room' during lectures and seminars. To me it is akin to holding private conversations in class and just plain rude.
It's a bit like if I was in a business meeting I would regard it as rude if other people started using their phones for a purpose other than if we had agreed in advance, say to check a point - such as the concept of 'phone a friend'. Now whether this will change as a younger generation take over the board room/lecture theatre I don't know.
Having said that if it is a debate/large lecture session I don't see why there cannot be an agreement at the start to tweet, but it should be done with prior agreement...bit of a Chatham House rules approach.
Now, as to using social media as a teaching/assessment tool that is different and I set blogs and tweets as assignmenets and have done a session just this week on the use of the hash tag, setting it in the context of #demo2010 which failed to trend. I am of the view that social media are just another channel for PR to use and should be used appropriately and selectively, one size does not fit all.”
As someone who spends a lot of time teaching graduates how they can make themselves more employable, I am always keen that academics in the field keep their fingers on the pulse of what the industry requires of graduate recruits. I believe it is in the academic’s interest for their students to go on into glittering careers in communications. What better advert for their course than successful graduates? As social media becomes a necessity for every graduate recruit, it is a foolish university that ignores those tools completely.
But the question of etiquette is a good one – I would never tweet , text or email during a meeting, but I would tweet at a conference where it was invited and I think that’s the key – established boundaries and encouragement where appropriate.