My colleague suggested recently that I should turn the interview questions on myself “for the craic.”
I replied that there was no need, my “About Lee” page on the blog tells people what they need to know doesn’t it? Apparently not. It may run down my brief CV but it doesn’t outline my own opinions on the industry or any of the other topics I quiz my fellow PR/Comms people on.
So, seeing as 2014’s theme is in-house PRo’s, here goes…
How did you get where you are today?
I knew I wanted to work in PR since I was 15. At the time there was only one Chartered course - BSc Hons in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at University of Ulster, Jordanstown. It was oversubscribed and I needed 2 As and 1 B at A Level to get in. I worked my butt off and got 3 As. With my omnipresent ambition, I decided with a few friends to skip the year out on industrial placement to graduate early because at the time many jobs were excluding placement as counting towards 1 years’ experience.
This meant working my way up. I started out in call centres and worked in promotions at nights and weekends for brands like WKD, Remington and exhibition/trade shows. It gave me a feel for brand promotions and this, along with sales experience, helped me get a role in media sales for a newspaper. Despite my competitive nature, I hated sales and quickly took a maternity cover opportunity with an Advertising Agency for 6 months. This was my first real experience of watching account management, pitches, art departments and media monitoring. After this I got a Project Admin role in a Skills Council. As a small team in Northern Ireland I was allowed to use my skills to produce regional press releases, update the website, manage the CRM and internal comms system and write our space in the annual report. I was then promoted to Project Manager and bid for funding for a range of projects that had a Communications element, like Careers Service websites and conferences.
It was great experience but at 25, and a new mother, I knew I needed to move into something more specific to the industry. I took a temporary Marketing role with the Children’s Commissioner and worked with a great team from whom I learned a lot. Soon after, a new Communications Manager role was created at a charity I had worked with before and I jumped at the chance to go for it. It was a huge step and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I started everything from scratch, alone, from new websites and social media channels to internal comms strategies and localised PR plans across the country. After 2 years I realised that I couldn’t juggle the demands while supporting my son alone and so I moved to my current role as a Communications Officer with AMH. It was part-time, it was mental health which I was passionate about and they had a team which meant I could leave the budgets and strategies and go back to doing what I loved; writing. I’ve been here for 2 years.
What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in the industry?
Make yourself stand out. The industry is more competitive than it’s ever been and there are less jobs available as budget cuts hit support functions like ours first. Whether you’re volunteering, blogging, attending events, do what you can to make yourself known. It’s a small world here and it’s not hard to become part of it. And never underestimate the experience that comes with basic roles. I’ve seen too many graduates turn their noses up at Administrator jobs and yet any Admin I’ve ever managed has had the opportunity to do pretty much everything I do and then some.
If you want to eventually manage people, you need to appreciate what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
What’s a typical week like in your role?
I work Tuesday-Thursday so I’ll typically come in and pick up work that is waiting to be done for the various projects and services. I concentrate on media relations, content and digital media so I’ll be updating the website, writing press releases, organising interviews, researching campaign ideas, compiling content for leaflets, working with designers for new branding or posters, teaching people to use social media, scanning the news for our own social channels, compiling evaluation stats for reports or ordering promotional items. On top of that I’ll be helping at events, supporting fundraising activities and attending partnership meetings to plan upcoming work with the team.
What has changed for the better and worse since you started in the industry?
For the better, it would have to be the plethora of channels we have to communicate with different audiences and to give people a real understanding of our work. For the worse, in my opinion, it’s the dilution of the industry by people coming in from other roles in order to secure better conditions and salaries. I’m an advocate of the specific skills I learned and work hard to maintain, the ethical code I sign up to as a member of the Chartered Institute of PR, and the work I put into my CPD. I don’t claim to be able to be a Journalist, a Business Development person or a Personal Assistant.
Just because someone can operate a Facebook page doesn’t necessarily mean they should…
If you were hiring for an entry-level position, what would make a candidate stand out?
I used to moan about recruitment exercises like press release writing because it’s an easy enough skill to replicate quickly, but I do believe writing is the key. And not just an article. Can you write an article and then change your voice and cut it into something that will work on Facebook for example? Can you read an article and come up with a catchy headline hook? Can you take a research paper and crop the important points into a one-pager to brief a CEO before an interview? Everything else I can teach you. This is a skill you’ve either got or you don’t.
What is your proudest moment to date?
Apart from my son OBVIOUSLY, it would have to be winning the CIPR Gold Award in 2012 for Best Not-for-Profit Communications. To be judged by peers in the industry as doing well when it was such a baptism of fire, when I pumped my heart and soul into it, when I struggled through it personally and sometimes, professionally, still means so much to me and I don’t think any award or recognition could ever top it because of that.
When you switch off (if you switch off!) what do you do with your own time?
I only work 3 days a week, of course I switch off! Before you hate me, that’s not entirely true. I give some of my time to the CIPR as a Committee Member, attending meetings, creating the local E-newsletters and holding events. I go to the gym at least once, preferably twice a week, plug my earphones in and just de-stress. I attend Ulster Rugby games with my Dad. I enjoy going to local restaurants for some adult time and good food. I blog, clearly, which takes time to research, interview for and write on a weekly basis. And this year, I began writing a novel with an idea I’ve had for a while. I’m 50,000 words in and have planned the end so I just need time to write it. On top of all that I spend time with my 6 year old son.
I’m tired now after writing that!
You can follow moi on Twitter if you feel inclined (@aCupOfLee)