Interview with Catriona Pollard, Director of CP Communications

This week for my Interview Series, we have Catriona Pollard, Founder / Director of CP Communications, talking about the different sectors of PR, starting up a company and teaching writing skills.

Q1. Before CP Communications, you worked in PR agencies, set up a marketing communications department for a software company and managed marketing and public affairs for federal and state government. Can you tell us a little about these 3 areas? What did you like / dislike about them?

In house roles in corporate and government are very different. The start in Government gave me a great foundation to my career but now I realise I have much more of an entrepreneurial bent (which I wish I realised much earlier on in my career).

Working in PR Agencies was fantastic for me to learn how an agency was run and how to manage multiple accounts.

Q2. What do you think was the main reason you wanted to start up your own company?

To accomplish something I had no idea if I could accomplish – so the challenge. I love a challenge! I also wanted to create something from scratch that was infused with my ideals, vision and approach to PR.

Q3. You also hold seminars at the Sydney Writers’ Centre covering PR and media releases. What sort of things do you teach?

After going to so many workshops that only talked about the theory of PR, I wanted to develop a really practical workshop where people could walk away with enough knowledge and confidence to do PR either in their role or for their business.

I teach how to develop a PR strategy, so at the end of the day the participants have at least an outline of their strategy. We talk through how to determine target audiences, how to structure media releases, how to deal with journalists, how to write articles, how to approach bloggers as part and much more.

I love teaching the course, and all of the emails I get from people telling me how much media coverage they are getting!

Q4. As someone who is a prolific blogger and writer on the PR industry, would you say setting up a blog is beneficial for PR professionals?

Absolutely! Blogging is a great way of building your profile within your industry. PR people need to be proficient in social media so taking the time to write a blog is a great way of experiencing social media first hand. I certainly like to employ people that have a clear personal social media strategy such as a blog or Twitter.

Q5. You’ve previously written about the impact of social media on the PR industry, what sort of online / digital skills do you think are becoming essential for PR professionals?

PR professionals need to be just as proficient in social media as they are in PR. To me, social media is another tactic to share your client’s stories just as journalists are. So PR people need to understand the strategy behind social media campaigns as well as being really proficient in the key mediums ie Twitter, Facebook and blogging. They also need to know when to say no to clients – not all social media suits all businesses.

Q6. And lastly, what would be your number one tip for a PR student on a job hunt?

Do an internship. I would suggest that you should get as much ‘on the job’ experience as humanly possible before you start looking for a paid role. I always employ graduates that have taken the time to do more than just their required internship.

***You can check out Catriona’s writing course here or get in touch via Twitter @catrionapollard****

Interview with Caroline La Rose, Consultant at Max Australia

This week for my Interview Series, we have Caroline La Rose talking about her role at Max Australia, the gap between public relations in university and the real world, the importance of social media and improving her PR skills.

1. First off, tell us a little about your career path. What made you choose public relations as a profession?

As an undergraduate uni student, I did my bachelor’s degree in communication science which is very broad and touches upon a little bit of everything – public relations, advertising, marketing, mass communications, journalism, etc.

During my undergraduate course back in Mauritius, I did a few PR internships for not-for-profit organisations as part of my program. And as a result of some fulfilling hands on experience and all the high grades in my PR subjects, I decided to pursue my uni studies and do a Master’s degree in Communication Management majoring in PR at UTS.

Being an international student at the time, I unfortunately couldn’t afford to undertake any PR internships here as I needed a job that would pay my bills. Moreover the legal 20 working hours a week for international students is barely enough to cover all your expenses as a student. As soon as I completed my MA, I got my first real job in the PR industry where I first started off as an intern.

2. You’ve completed a BA in Communication Science as well as a MA in Communications Management. Did you find that your MA gave you any particular advantage while looking for jobs?

To be honest, no it didn’t. Let me explain.

I think experience trumps qualifications in the PR industry. I not only lacked experience but I didn’t have any local experience in Australia. This made my job hunt very difficult and I don’t think my MA gave me an advantage. Qualifications help if you have the necessary experience to back it up. My uni qualifications would have been a plus if I already had 2-5 years experience up my sleeve.

3. Did you find that what you learnt at university differed greatly with what you were doing on the job, or would you say university adequately prepared you for the real world?

I really enjoyed my uni years and I developed a lot of fundamental skills such as writing, research, multi-tasking and problem solving. But while learning the basics of communications and the relevant theories are important in getting a good grasp of what public relations is all about, nothing compares to real hands-on experience. You have to be on the mine field to gradually develop and grow as a PR professional and learn stuff that are not found in books such as learning how to think on your feet, or the realities of media and client relations.

4. Did social networking services like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. play a big part in securing your first job at Bite Communications?

I got my first job in Australia in March 2009 and at the time the only social networking site I was on was Facebook. I had no idea what Twitter was and I had a profile on LinkedIn but I was not using it very often. As I started out in a tech PR agency, I was thrown into it and that’s when I started to become ‘active’ on Twitter.

The PR industry is fast evolving towards everything digital and especially when working in tech PR, I had no choice but to delve straight into it. Many businesses nowadays want to establish a social media/digital presence and as PRs, it is our job to recommend which social networking sites will be best suited for them and very often it is also our job to disseminate messages, maintain ongoing conversations and engage with our clients’ audiences through the various social media websites.

The importance of social media in PR has grown significantly over the past two years or so. When I secured my first job in Australia, social media definitely didn’t have the same importance as it does nowadays. While it didn’t play a big part in securing my first job, it certainly weighted a lot in securing my second job at Max and I believe it is now a compulsory criteria in the PR industry.

5. What’s your role at Max Australia like?

My role as a Consultant at Max involves a lot of proactive pitching, media relations and client liaison. It is a very dynamic role and I have to make sure I’m across everything happening on the accounts I’m working on.

In any PR agency, team work is imperative and in my current role at Max, I am lucky to work with strong teams and that makes my day to day job so much more enjoyable. As a consultant, I am constantly working with everyone at all levels across the team. This not only helps me to improve my delegation skills but it also helps to work on my upper management skills which are just as important, if not more so. Letting your managers know where you’re at with a job, asking for advice, having them review your work and speaking up your ideas are fundamental to my role at Max.

As a consultant I also get to manage small projects of which I take total ownership. I see every project as a great opportunity for me to develop strong managerial skills in a safe environment. I know that I have the team as my safety net and that I can turn to them if I need any help, guidance or advice. Every project that gets assigned to me is a real challenge and getting strong results provide a great sense of achievement.

6. Where do you see yourself in the future? Any particular sector of the PR field you’d really like to experience?

One of my mentors when I first started out in PR once told me that if you have significant experience in tech PR, you can do any other type of PR you want. At the moment I’m living my newly started career by those wise words. My focus for now is to build on my experience in the tech PR industry and work my way up.

If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that I never thought I’d do tech PR but I’m happy I’ve fallen into it. Working in tech is like a never ending steep learning curve because of the dynamic nature of technology. The fact that I’m constantly learning new things everyday keeps me challenged and stimulated in my job. So to answer your question, I think I will remain in tech PR for a while and after that who knows, according to a very wise man, the PR world will be my oyster by then!

7. And lastly, with PR evolving at such a dynamic pace, how do you stay up-to-date with industry news and trends while at the same time improving your skills as a PR practitioner?

To finesse one’s skills as a PR practitioner, it is mandatory to stay on top of industry news and trends. So, in my opinion both work hand in hand. Although agency life is very fast paced, I always make the time to read the news every morning for various different reasons:

  • To be on top of industry news and trends
  • To seek new opportunities for my clients via rapid response pitches
  • To monitor coverage for my clients
  • To stay on top of what topics will catch the interest of journalists
  • To find new angles to pitch my clients to media
  • To flag any articles that might be of interest to my clients –competitor news, industry news, upcoming events etc.

***To get in touch with Caroline say hi on Twitter @carolinelarose or check out her LinkedIn profile***