Interview with Roger Christie, Head of Digital at Sefiani Communications

For this week’s addition to the Interview Series, we have PR professional Roger Christie discussing his transition from journalism to public relations, his role as Head of Digital at Sefiani Communications, internships, job hunting via social networks and his collaborative venture PRINKS.

Q1. First thing’s first, tell us a bit about yourself. What was your career path like?

I left school wanting to become a journalist as I had a real passion for writing.  After two-and-a-half years of my course, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t so sure and decided to give PR a go instead.  The appeal of working alongside businesses to advise on their communications needs appealed to me and gave me that corporate edge that I was after.

I did my first internship at Edelman working with their Health team, before moving to Five Star PR in Manly – a two-person team.  Having exposure at both ends of the spectrum gave me an early look at agency life and where I saw myself working best in the future.  As I finished my degree, an opportunity came through at Sefiani and I jumped at the chance, as a friend had recommended the firm.  Almost five years on, I’m still here.

Q2. You’re the Head of Digital at Sefiani Communications, which sounds like a pretty cool role. What’s a typical day like?

The PR digital space is fascinating.  We’re at a point where our profession is rapidly coming to grips with a changing dynamic from proactively seeking to build client profiles to actively and reactively managing their reputation in a vocal online environment.

As such, my day can change in an instant should a conversation suddenly flare up online and we need to advise a client on managing that issue.  That’s the great thing about working in the digital environment though – you enjoy a much more fluid, real-time relationship with stakeholders and can see immediately whether people are responding to your ideas and approach.  And, if you’re wrong, they’ll tell you!

Q3. Aside from working at Sefiani Communications, you also co-founded an organisation – PRINKS – which is described as a “social group for communications professionals and students that provides an opportunity to meet with fellow industry and colleagues and share ideas each month.”

How did this come about and where do you see the group headed in the future?

Just on two years ago I met a fellow young PR practitioner (Gemma Crowley) for a drink with a former colleague of mine who was a mutual friend.  It was very informal and we talked about various things – work and leisure – but what we realised after our chat was that it was great talking to someone who understood the industry and the challenges of working in comms.

Then and there the PRINKS idea was born as we wanted to give all people working or looking for an opportunity in communications to learn from one another and understand how each individual discipline operates.  Not in a networking environment, but one that is relaxed and informal – that’s where you make your best connections.  I’m extremely grateful we took the plunge and gave it a go as I’ve met some wonderful folk and made some good friends over those two years.

We’ve since also established the PRINKS Facebook Page and Blog as two useful resources to discuss interesting ideas, campaigns or concepts relevant to those in the industry.  This includes our job board which provides us with a way to give back to the community – each job post requires a donation to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation – which is an area we’d like to explore further.

Our ultimate aim is to hopefully provide better working relationships between PR folk, journalists, marketers and the like – by understanding what the other goes through in their jobs, we can work together more effectively to help everyone be the best in their profession.  What exactly that looks like I’m not quite sure, but we’re always open to ideas.

Q4. What were your internships like?

I didn’t really know what to expect when I first started at Edelman.  I’d been set on journalism, so the idea of PR hadn’t quite developed for me at that stage.  I quickly discovered that internships are a fantastic opportunity to learn what the ‘real world’ will be like, and even the mundane tasks have real benefits for your future career.

Sitting in meetings and just absorbing the discussion, or seeing a campaign through in its entirety – even though I wasn’t always actively involved, understanding the process helped me see how the job worked.  I’m also extremely grateful that I tried very different roles as it’s amazing the differences, good and bad, you experience when spending time in a global agency and a two-person agency.

Q5. How important were social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn in your job hunt?

Funnily enough, social networks didn’t really ‘exist’ when I was finishing uni.  I was on Facebook but more from a personal perspective than professional.  When I was starting out, I used to email and cold call agencies, or see what opportunities came up on the uni noticeboard.  It’s also important to lean on your personal networks and don’t be afraid to ask for help or an introduction which is how I ended up at both Edelman and, ultimately, Sefiani.

What social networks have done today is simply provide new tools to do the same things for job seekers.  Your networks are now enhanced online, and cold calls are now ‘cold tweets’ – finding the right people is so much easier and faster.  LinkedIn is a little trickier for students as you don’t have a professional profile behind you, but make contact on Twitter and then give LinkedIn a go.  It’s almost becoming the norm now, and students these days should be harnessing those avenues available as it only takes a quick search on Twitter to find agencies in your city to start a dialogue – tools I wish I had when I was graduating!

Q6. And lastly, what’s your top advice for PR students on a job hunt?

Be proactive.  Hearing from someone who’s read a blog post of yours or is following you on Twitter immediately puts them above anyone replying to a job ad.  I subscribe to the theory that if you want something enough, go out and make it happen, and this certainly applies to finding a job.  Why compete with the other 35 CVs that come through to the grad manager’s inbox about an ad they’ve just posted when you can contact them out of the blue for a coffee?  They may not be hiring just yet, but by putting yourself under their nose and forging that connection, when a role does come up, you’re in a much stronger position.

***To contact Roger, get in touch via Twitter @rogerchristie or check out his thoughts on the communications industry at PRINKS***

Getting Started With Your PR Job Hunt

A PR job hunt guide written by a PR student on a job hunt … sounds logical enough right?

I’ve been lucky enough to talk to quite a few PR professionals over the past few months and they’ve all provided me with some great advice.

So for all the PR students out there who may be feeling a little overwhelmed with their studies, job hunting, managing their social networks and having a life; let me break it down step-by-step.

Step 1. Set up a blog

WordPress, Blogger, whatever.  Setting up your own blog is the most important thing in my opinion. And I don’t mean one where you talk about what you ate for dinner last night, that awesome bar you hit up the other night or the latest Harry Potter film. Sure, you could write about all that, but if you want a blog that’ll help you find that PR job: keep it focused.

Not only does a blog let you hone vital online writing skills, but it also allows you to share your views and opinions on the industry, put you into contact with other bloggers and teaches you things like blog promotion, social media marketing, reader feedback, website traffic, which are all important aspects of this digital era.

Step 2. Subscribe to other blogs

While it’s extremely important to keep updated when it comes to the fast-moving world of PR, I also find it motivating when I read other PR student blogs. Doesn’t matter if they’re in North Carolina, Toronto, New York,  Melbourne or Sydney, everybody’s got tremendous insight and experience to provide. I’ve learnt a ton about job hunting, internships and social media just by reading other people’s blogs.

However, I’d advise that you don’t limit yourself to just the communications industry. PR professionals have to be deal with a wide range of things, so keeping up-to-date with issues in politics, technology and business is also essential.

Some of the blogs that I read on the regular.

  • Brian Solis – Defining the Convergence of Media and Influence – Brian Solis is one of the leading thinkers and writers when it comes to public relations and social media.
  • Craig Pearce Strategic Communication – Australian communications veteran explores his thoughts on the PR, marketing and social media industries.
  • PRINKS – A collaborative blog run by Roger Christie and Gemma Crowley that aims to create a community of communications professionals and students.
  • Social PR Lifestyle! – One of the first blogs I ever read as a communications students  and definitely one of the most helpful when it comes to PR internships, portfolios and social media.
  • synapses – Dan Fonseca’s blog isn’t your average PR blog but he’s written some of the most interesting and thoughtful posts I’ve ever read. Well worth checking out.

Also, you should subscribe to For Immediate Release: The Hobson & Holtz Report – a fantastic weekly podcast hosted by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson covering communication and technology around the world.

Step 3. Participate in conversations

I think it’s pretty crucial in your job hunt that you demonstrate an ability to participate and discuss. There are some great conversations going on over at #prstudchat on Twitter as well as on various LinkedIn groups. I’m part of groups like:

  • Public Relations and Communications Jobs Community
  • Public Relations Institute of Australia
  • Social Media Australia & New Zealand
  • Students and Recent Grads
  • YoungPRPros

Starting conversations by commenting on a blog is another really effective way to get discussions going with fellow PR students / professionals. I don’t there’s a better way to learn and keep up-to-date with the PR industry than to just share your ideas and opinions with others.

Step 4. Internship(s)

 If you read some of the Q&As in my Interview Series, you’ll find that the importance of work experience is a recurring theme.

Gregory Tan, digital analyst at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, likes to think of them as “a form of self-discovery, of knowing whether you’ll actually like what you’re studying,” while Kelly Ahern, a blog and content manager says “interning also allows you to network and build up a professional database of credible professionals who may be able to either write you a recommendation or keep you in the loop about potential job openings – a total win-win.”

And Lauren Gray, a PR student whose had countless experience with internships, said “My classes have been beneficial, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve definitely learned the most when I was pushed into real-world experiences.”

But even getting that internship is one of the first of many steps to getting a job. So continue to develop relationships, network around, introduce yourself and talk to companies, keep reaching out, keep learning and never stop writing!

Good luck!

Interview with Stephen Waddington, Managing Director at Speed Communications

This week for my Interview Series, we’ve got Stephen Waddington, the Managing Director of Speed Communications, a UK-based PR agency.

This actually isn’t the first time Stephen’s appeared on my blog. He was one of the first PR professionals I interviewed for my post – Top 6 Career Tips from PR Professionals – and he provided some incredibly helpful advice:

Use your time at university to get ahead by immersing yourself in publishing tools and social networks. Build an online portfolio on LinkedIn, create a Twitter network and engage with PR practitioners and journalists, and create and publish your own content via a blog, Flickr, YouTube. You’ll stand out from the crowd and will create all sorts of connections that will put you in a strong position when you graduate and look for work.”

This time, Stephen discusses what he looks for when hiring new team members, using social networks to build professional relationships and PR blogging.

Q1. You’re the Managing Director of Speed, what are you looking for when hiring a new team member?

We’re looking for enthusiasm above all else and that is almost always best demonstrated through action.

Q2. How important do you think social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn are for building professional relationships and creating opportunities?

Twitter is particularly valuable as it completely democratises relationships. You can connect to anyone, monitor their feed and over time engage. But if you’re dull or you spam you won’t be followed back and ultimately you’ll be blocked.

Both LinkedIn and Twitter enable you to build relationships while you are studying. Graduates are able to enter the workplace with a ready built network.

Q3. Would you say that having a blog is absolutely essential for a PR student?

It’s not essential but it’s a good way to showcase your work and your opinions. But make sure that you do it well; a good blog will almost certainly get you hired. Yet the internet is littered lousy PR blogs that have been abandoned or aren’t managed properly.

Q4. In your opinion, what are the top 3 characteristics of a great PR professional?

  • Enthusiasm, 
  • Drive 
  • An understanding and engagement with the changing media landscape.

Q5. You’ve already provided us with some fantastic advice on how to get ahead with job hunting, but what would be your number one advice when it comes to developing a long and successful career in what seems to be a rather volatile industry?

Apply to join Speed.

***For more information visit Speed Communications or say hello to Stephen on Twitter @wadds***

Interview with Jessica Ben-Ari, Account Manager at Bite Communications

For the latest addition to the Interview Series, we have Jessica Ben-Ari, an Account Manager from Bite Communications, joining us to talk about her career path, making the transition from journalism to PR, what it’s like working for an agency and the top 3 most important traits all PR pros should have.

Q1. As someone who’s originally from New York, how do you think the PR industry there differs from the one in Sydney? I’d imagine things move a lot quicker?

PR is fast paced no matter what corner of the globe you’re on.  I’d say the major difference is the fact that the US tends to be pretty US-centric – when I was working in New York, I only worked with brands and teams based in the US.  Being in Australia is exciting because of the diverse cultural exposure the proximity to Asia affords us.  I have clients based in Singapore and New Zealand, for example. The opportunity has certainly improved my time zone juggling skills!

Q2. What was your career path like?

I’ve been on the agency side my entire full time career.  It suits me – I love the fast pace, the client diversity and the unpredictability of what’s coming up next.  Though I mainly work with a tech clientele at Bite Communications, my background is rooted in the consumer sector.  I’ve worked with clients from a range of industries including fashion, beauty, food, spirits, travel, personal finance, pet food, housewares, health and more. Told you I thrive on diversity!

Q2. You studied journalism back when you were in college but made the transition to public relations. Any particular reason for that?

Writing is a must-have core skill for every PR professional, and it’s always been one of my favourite parts of the job, which is one of the reasons I wanted to study journalism in college. Journalism demands certain disciplines that serve you well in PR, too – timeliness, the ability to craft a story, attention to detail are chief among them.

I actually never intended to go into PR. I graduated at 21 with a CV full of journalism internships, and while I was primed for an editorial career, it was more important to me at that young age to graduate school and find an office I liked to be in everyday.  When you’re used to being a student, the biggest job within your first job is making the transition to a 9-5 mentality, and my priority was finding a company that I liked spending so much time with, and a team which would help me transition from student to professional.  For me, that first full time job happened to be with a boutique PR agency, and the rest is history!

Q3.What sort of journalistic skills do you think would greatly benefit PR professionals?

As I said, writing is key.  These days, it’s common for the first contact with a client, international colleague or journalist to be through email.  Nothing makes me cringe like a poorly written email!  Aside from writing ability, tact and diplomacy are key.  Whether having a tough conversation with a client or negotiating costs with a vendor, you’ve got to know how to walk the fine line between assertive and stubborn or rude.  Finally, sense of humour.  PR is a fun profession, so let’s not forget it, even during the high stress times.  I once had a boss who had to remind me, “it’s PR, not ER.” Even when things get super stressful, I try to remember that!

Q4. Craig Pearce, an Australian communications professional, wrote two great blog posts comparing agency roles versus in-house roles. As someone whose worked in PR agencies their whole career, what would you describe as the pros and cons of agency life?

For me, the opportunity to work with a variety of brands on any given day makes coming to work exciting.  There’s not much of a chance of getting bored at a busy PR agency, which is a major pro for me.

Agency life makes you a well rounded professional and keeps you on your toes.  I’ve also made many personal friendships dealing with the media so frequently, so I appreciate the social aspect of agency life.  And another thing – agencies tend to be hot beds of expertise.  On any given day, I’ve got exposure to digital experts, video gurus, extraordinary event planners and creative geniuses, all sitting within a few meters of my desk.  How lucky am I?

Cons…hmm.  Finding and maintaining balance in your day can certainly be a challenge.  You might be out all day with one client only to find that another has a sudden deadline and needs your input.  One day we’ll find a way to clone PR people, I’m sure of it!

Q5. What would you say are the top 3 most important traits of a great PR pro?

  1. Attentiveness to news and events: always be on the lookout for opportunities to tell your clients’ stories.
  2. Think and act quickly: whether it’s a journalist on a deadline or a client request, PR people need to be able to grab the ball and run with it to maximise results.
  3. Master the basics: it might seem obvious, but deserves to be said again and again. Written and verbal skills are still the cornerstones of success in PR, whether you’re writing a proposal or a 140 character Tweet.

Q6. And lastly, any advice for the PR students out there looking for their first internship / job?

You’ve got a long career ahead, so follow your heart and focus on finding a company that you love, where you feel you’ll be able to develop as a professional.  You may think you know exactly what you want to do (I certainly thought I had it all figured out at 21!) but give yourself the permission to dabble in all sorts of industries.  Ah, and another thing – don’t Tweet or Facebook anything you wouldn’t want your mother to read – chances are you wouldn’t want your first boss to read it, either!

***To contact Jessica, get in touch via Jessica.ben-ari@bitecommunications.com***