Interview with Lauren Gray [PR Student and Intern]

Last week we had Gregory Tan, a digital analyst from Ogilvy, discussing his career path and the importance of internships.

This week, we’ve got Lauren Gray, a PR student and intern, whose blog Social PR Lifestyle! has taught me a lot about personal branding, PR internships, portfolios and online networking.

Q1. First thing’s first, tell us a little about yourself.

Well I’m Lauren Gray and I’m a senior Communication Major with a concentration in Public Relations and Minors in
Leadership and Marketing at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. Public relations, marketing and social media are my main interests. PRSSA, cooking, traveling and reading are my passions. My friends & my brother are probably the most important to me, but I’m crazy about my dogs as well.

I’m the new PRSSA National Vice President of Public Relations for the 2011-2012 year, an intern with Social Fresh, A&O Public and the WCU PR E-Marketing Department, Director of PR & Marketing for SGA and a News Writer and Social Media Coordinator for The Western Carolinian. I work a lot, but I love what I do!

Q2. You seem to be juggling a lot of roles presently, i.e. Editorial Assistant Intern at Social Fresh LLC, News Writer and Social Media Coordinator at The Western Carolinian. Not to mention your study workload. How do you cram it all in? Do you sleep at all?

Time management! Seriously. It’s a common word, but I really put it into practice every single day. Get Google Calendar and Google Docs – it really saved me. I honestly schedule out everyday, back-to-back hours from about 9 a.m. until at least 9 p.m. Yes, I work longer than that too. I have a different schedule every other day to change things up a little bit, but I like to know when and what I will be doing so I know I can get everything done.

Contrary to popular belief, I do sleep [I really do!] I average about 5-7 hours of sleep a night. Is that the best? Probably not, but it’s working for me now! I also invest in a lot of coffee.

I sometimes live in my office [one of three as well] as my best friend says, but I get a lot accomplished and I get everything done.

I’m really busy a lot, so I have to also schedule in time for my friends and my boyfriend. Some people may think that’s ridiculous, but I really do have to set times for people here and Skype chats with my friends across the country! I do make time for the people in my life. They are very important to me!

Q3. What’s your current internship like?

Which one? Haha!

I really love all three of my internships. They have been extremely valuable to me and provided me with numerous opportunities.

I just started with A&O PR, an arts focused PR agency, this week so I’m pretty excited about that! I will be doing social media and client management for them.

With Social Fresh, it’s something new everyday. I have a lot of responsibility from managing several blog contributors, finding links for Facebook and Twitter, helping with the Social Fresh Facebook and Twitter, helping manage InvestinSocial.com and anything else that needs to be done! I’m taking on more tasks with Social Fresh as well. It’s been a great experience!

For the WCU PR E-marketing internship, I manage the official WCU Facebook and Twitter pages, which has been a HUGE learning experience for me. A lot of people look to these pages for the latest WCU information and updates. I really learned how to deal with negative feedback quickly. Through this internship, I’ve definitely seen how important it is that news is updated 24/7 and that people want information immediately.

Q4. In your opinion, how important is an internship for a PR student as part of their career?

Extremely. More important than your classes, in my opinion. 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.

There’s nothing more eye opening than when you are in a real-world situation making decisions and getting real results. It’s your responsibility and reputation at stake.

You want to be able to have experience through an internship to show that you can put what you’ve learned in the classroom into real practice. You can learn all you want to, but are you obtaining that knowledge and putting into real skills?

Having internships also shows potential employers that you have experience and you have materials to prove you have done something and learned something. I suggest having at least two internships in various organizations, agencies, companies, etc.

Q5. How do you go about networking? Are social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter critical to your relationship building?

I do most of my networking online through various social media sites.

Twitter and LinkedIn have been the most critical to building up my network of connections. My blog has been a great resource for networking as well!

The Twitter chats have been the most beneficial to me. I learn so much on a weekly basis from my favourite chats like #PRstudchat, #u30pro, #pr20chat, #brandchat, #careerchat, #PRSSA and more! It’s a lot to keep up with, but there is so much information and dialogue in each chat.

I love LinkedIn because the discussions are also a great place for learning. It’s more than 140 characters and real conversation happens through these discussions. It’s also a great place to recommend people and find other connections through mutual friends. I’m really getting more into LinkedIn.

Facebook has been getting better for networking through the new group format. You can catch my conversation on a daily basis through the #PRstudchat, PRSSA and #u30pro groups on Facebook. A lot of conversations, questions, discussions and more go down in those groups.

I also attend quite a few conferences a year. Last year, I went to PRSSA National Conference in D.C., the ECU PRSSA Regional Conference, PRSSA National Assembly, Social Fresh Tampa, and a few more. Conferences are a great place to connect with people who really feel your passion for the industry!

Q6. And lastly, what’s the most important advice you can offer to a PR student looking to move into an intern position?

If you are looking for an internship position, start building your online reputation or “personal brand” and start making connections.

Don’t just talk to people just to talk to them or build followers, really connect with people, remember people and talk to people. Stay in touch with them!

Start putting your materials online in an online portfolio ASAP. Start a professional blog about topics, trends, questions, etc. in your industry or about your interests.

Get involved! Start talking to other students, interns and professionals online. They are there to talk to and connect with people as well. Get involved in the conversation through hash tag (#) chats and different discussions on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other sites.

Get involved with your industry and what’s going on. Stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends so you can discuss them in an interview or online through social media platforms.

Don’t be afraid to apply for positions across the country! Be open to the possibility of a virtual internship. I really think you can learn as much from a virtual internship as an office internship.

***To contact Lauren, get in touch via Twitter @laurenkgray or visit her blog laurenkgray.com***

Interview with Gregory Tan [Digital Analyst at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence]

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Gregory Tan a Digital Analyst at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence. In the interview, Gregory talks about his career path, current role, internships and provides advice for PR students.

Q1. First thing’s first, tell us a little about yourself. What type of path led you to your current position at Ogilvy Public Relations  Worldwide?

To be honest, I started out by falling into Public Relations. My first internship during my first year of   University was at a small PR and events agency, and – as   any PR intern would know – I spent much of my time coordinating press clippings and calculating the value of the PR coverage for clients. In my 2nd year of Uni, I interned at the Reputation Group, which had an affiliated internship program with the University of Melbourne, which I attended, so I continued with my exposure and experience with PR.

In my 3rd and final year I completed a 3rd internship with Ogilvy Public Relations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I’m originally from – and I can quite safely say that that’s where I fell in love with PR and agency life, even if I didn’t realise it then. To be honest, it took some time to become clear and firm about the path I wanted my career to take, and I started work at an online start-up in Melbourne. It was an extraordinary opportunity with an extraordinary team, but I slowly came to the realisation that I wanted my career to move in another direction, and at that juncture there was a position in Sydney that was open – and I applied for it. The rest just fell into place.

Q2. I’ve noticed on your LinkedIn profile that besides working at Ogilvy, you’re also co-founder and social media strategist at Meld Magazine? Is that an organisation you’ve built up on the side?

I suppose you could say that! I worked with Karen Poh (the current editor of Meld Magazine) in a cafe during my student years. She was a journalist at the time, and she approached me with the idea for Meld Magazine – an online magazine dedicated to supporting media students and integrating international students in Melbourne with the local culture. I said yes to partnering with her, and it all went on from there – it’s a fantastic stepping stone for all sorts of media students. It aims to provide experience for students in fields ranging from journalism, to photography, to marketing.

Q3. Give us a brief overview of your role as Digital Analyst

The Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence practice is Ogilvy’s social media arm. As a digital analyst, I compile and coordinate listening reports, analyse competitor and client campaign data to make informed and insightful recommendations that contribute to our digital strategy.

Q4. In your opinion, how important is an internship for a PR / Communication student as part of their career?

Incredibly so – I can’t stress this enough. I understand the allure of spending holidays kicking back after a long, stressful semester, but I’m a firm believer in internships. I think that as students, it’s often difficult to know what and how you want your future career to be positioned, and that’s where internships come in – they’re partly a form of self-discovery, of knowing whether you’ll actually like what you’re studying, and which parts of it you want to concentrate on, to build your career towards.

It’s also a great way to build your professional networks – I, for one, am quite sure that a large part of the reason I was hired at Ogilvy 360 DI was my experience with OPR in Malaysia, and with The Reputation Group (now OPR Melbourne). Besides being a great way to get a foot in the door (in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to enter), its great experience for your resume. It shows initiative and graduate experience (which is now critical in getting employed after leaving university).

Q6: How did you go about networking? Were social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter critical to your relationship building?

I’d say they’re definitely fantastic tools, and they definitely help. I’ve used them to find out about many, many positions with many large organisations – so many agencies these days hire solely through social media platforms, based on the belief that if you’re not on them, you don’t deserve the position! These days, it’s more important than ever to have a solid social media presence as well. It’s not uncommon for employers to run a thorough search about you during the interview process, so make sure that all the necessary privacy settings are in place, and that you’ve also contributed meaningfully towards the industry.

Whether it’s via Twitter or a blog, proof that you’re legitimately passionate about the industry will take you far. PR students are expected to understand the space, because we’re meant to be “digital citizens” – but responsible maintenance of your footprint is critical. Being aware of how you come across to others – especially when asking for advice or information – is quite important. Be friendly, but professional.

Q7. And lastly, what’s the most important advice you can offer to a PR student looking to graduate in the near future?

Do as many internships as you can. Build your professional networks. Don’t be shy (it’s never worth it). Read about industry news. Know the key players. Have initiative. And lastly, love what you do! It makes it all worth it in the end.

***To contact Gregory get in touch via Twitter @thebreg or visit his about.me page***

Top 6 Career Tips from PR Professionals

For all those out there who were inspired by these illustrious career paths, here’s a few tips on how to develop a long and successful career in the PR industry.

6. Get creative with job applications

“Approach agencies you’re interested in working for, directly – and in a way that reflects the agency’s personality. In today’s competitive landscape your CV and approach needs to stand out. Speed is always impressed by proactive, creative people – and these graduates always win points over grads that are relying on a recruitment agent to work on their behalf” – Clare English | Business Development Director | Speed Communications

5. Well-roundedness trumps all

“Learn to write well; learn to speak well; learn to understand what makes people and organisations work well. PRs require a good general knowledge and a good feel for issues and how events and experiences are perceived by different people from different perspectives. Last, but not least, keep things simple and clear” – Paul Seaman | Founder | 21st Century PR Issues

4. Make sure employers know you

“Be visible before you need to be visible, e.g., make sure PR agency leaders “know” you via Twitter (and other social networks) before they even see your resume.  Share relevant content – including as much of the agency-related content you can find and make your prospective employers feel as if they are important to you; that you value their content and insights” – Todd Defren | Principal | Shift Communications

3. Hustle and participate

“You have to get creative about generating experience. Volunteer to help out a not-for-profit — they always need help. Get internships and work your butt off. Assemble a portfolio that shows your work. Blog and use multimedia…ask and answer questions on LinkedIn, Ragan and Melcrum. Network like crazy! Look up #prstudchat on Twitter — you’ll meet fellow students and educators, as well as professionals — they do a twitter chat monthly that’s worth participating in” – Sean Williams | Founder | Communication Ammo

2. Produce and curate content

“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” – Stephen Waddington | Managing Director | Speed Communications

1. Read, learn, write, read, learn, write, read, learn and WRITE!

“Write as much as you can. It is very difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear when it comes to writing. You generally either have it or you really have to work extra hard. And even if your writing skills are silky like Cesc Fabregas’ dribbling, you still need to work at it. What helps with this is reading. No, not reading frigging tweets and FB posts, but literature. You know, books. And real writers, not Dan Brown. For example, Faulkner, Dickens, De Lillo, White. Etcetera. The other thing you need is work experience. That gets you work. That = experience. That gets you your first job. Then it’s up to you. But never stop learning. Never switch off. A dead switch is a dead life. Your call” – Craig Pearce | Founder | Strategic Communication

8 Career Paths from PR & Marketing Professionals

A few weeks back I reached out to a few dozen PR / marketing / communication professionals; asking them about their first step into the industry, their career paths and what type of advice they’d give to aspiring students or people wanting to make a transition. Fortunately, my emails weren’t totally ignored – quite the contrary actually – and I received overwhelming responses from the professionals in UK, United States and of course, Australia.

So before I start, I’d first like to thank Clare English, Mohnish Prasad, Paul Seaman, Todd Defren, Sean Williams, Stephen Waddington, Theresa Bui, Mark Pinsent, Craig Pearce, Andrew Smith, Paul Roberts and Mandi Bateson. Everybody contributed more than enough for this blog post and I believe their advice will be invaluable for anyone interested in the PR / marketing / communications industry.

I’m currently studying for my PR degree and I think as a student, the most daunting task is taking your first step into the industry, especially these days when the communications industry is moving so fast and the simple process of applying for a vacant position is no longer enough.

Reading the responses from the people I interviewed, it’s clear that getting into the PR industry is increasingly getting more and more difficult, you’ve got to learn how to reach out and network like crazy, adapt your writing skills to the online environment, learn how to use a range of media platforms, not to mention keeping abreast with relevant social media, current affairs and technological updates. But hey, if it was easy, everybody would be trying to get into this super cool profession right?

1. MOHNISH PRASAD | Business Development Manager | Jump On It

As a Business Development Manager at Jump On It, Mohnish is a prime example of an unpredictable career trajectory. Initially interested in television production, he worked on short films and advertising campaigns as a production assistant. However, Mohnish started developing an interest for sales and marketing and after completing his Advanced Diploma in Advertising and Media Studies, he landed a role at Sensis Pty Ltd working in the White Pages sales department.

During his first year Mohnish was made Senior Account Manager in charge of retaining and upselling clients with a portfolio of over $2.4 million in annual revenue and after 2 years, was promoted to a Sales Management role where he was “responsible for looking after a multi-state sales territory and delivering the targets in each of our market areas.” Currently, Mohnish is working for Jump On It, one of the largest group buying organisations in Australia, connecting “social marketing with businesses and helping them utilise our massive Facebook community to deliver them booming sales results from new markets they have never tapped before.”

2. CLARE ENGLISH | Business Development Director | Speed Communications

Clare is currently the Business Development Director at Speed Communications (UK). She initially chose a career in public relations because she fancied working publishing or journalism and she was lucky enough to develop a work placement opportunity into a full-time position at PR agency in London. She spent 4 years there before hopping over to healthcare division at a mid-size agency then settling down at BMA Communications as an account executive.

In 2009, after BMA Communications merged with 2 other agencies to form Speed Communications, Clare was made business development director and put in charge of promoting the company to potential clients. Her present role is a combination of sales, marketing, PR and she’s responsible for “managing new business pitches, advising on programme strategy, and helping to ensure that our business is developing both financially and from a culture and service perspective.”

3. TODD DEFREN | Principal | SHIFT Communications

As the Principal at SHIFT Communications, Todd Defren has undergone major transitions throughout his career. He started out with a part-time job at a local newspaper, creating events calendar, before scoring the gig-of-a-lifetime “writing press releases at a multi-billion dollar company in New York.” Todd rose through the business and within 2 years, he was managing a lot of the PR activities. After moving to another organisation in Boston, he was made VP within 5 years, and eventually, along with a few colleagues bought out the company and re-named it SHIFT Communications.

4. SEAN WILLIAMS | CEO | Communication AMMO, Inc.

Sean Williams admits that he got into the “PR / communications profession a little by accident.” Sean was in KeyCorp’s management associate training program when he spent about a year working in a corporate relations office. After finishing the training program and becoming a bank branch manager, Sean discovered that he missed the communications side and became a communications manager at KeyBank.

From there, he was made executive communications manager at the corporate HQ, got promoted to VP and then senior communications manager, but then decided to leave KeyBank for a small communications consultancy where he “trained literally thousands of managers and conducted strategic planning sessions, sparking my interest in being an educator.” After a couple of jobs at Goodyear – manager of internal communications and editorial services – Sean founded his own consultancy in 2009 and began teaching at Kent State University, where he still there to this day.

5. MARK PINSENT | Head of Digital | Shine Communications

Mark Pinsent has been involved with PR agencies for about 18 years now – not bad for a guy who started out studying Computer Science at university right? After completing his studies, Mark travelled for a few months before realising marketing was something he was interested in. On the advice of his father’s friend, he wrote to over 100 companies in search of a job and managed to land some work experience at a small PR agency. It was from there where Mark developed invaluable experience and gave him the confidence to approach bigger and more established agencies. It turns out that his “practical experience in PR allied to my degree in computer science was irresistible” to employers and he found himself as an Account Executive at Text 100 – UK’s leading tech PR agency at the time. After spending the next 8 years “working with some great clients” and beginning a freelance career, Mark is now the head of digital at Shine Communications.

6. ANDREW SMITH | Director | escherman

Like a lot of PR professionals, Andrew Smith began his career working as a journalist. Back in the day, Andrew thought PR stood for “proportional representation,” and he had no idea “entire industry existed to provide me with information to help me write my stories.” Not to mention his boss at the time distrusted the PR profession, advising Andrew to “avoid having to deal with a PR person as much as possible.” Funny how things turned out huh? Andrew went to work for a small PR firm “interviewing major international publishing figures as a journalist to sourcing plastic cool boxes for a client promotion in my first week in PR.”

Following his passion for technology, Andrew then moved to another PR agency as a tech specialist, managing clients like Borland International. The next few years after that, he went through a range of PR tech and management roles; started up his own marketing communications agency and for his latest venture “founded escherman as a specialist online PR, social media, search and analytics consultancy.”

7. PAUL ROBERTS | Communications Professional | Davies Murphy Group

Paul Roberts is another PR professional who got his start as a journalist. After completing an associate degree in journalism, Paul was “offered a number of positions with local newspapers – making an hourly wage that wouldn’t pay for my gas money.” His dreams of making a decent living writing for a newspaper evaporated in that moment. Paul went back to school, graduated with a degree in communications and found a couple of jobs in the Boston area working with B2B high technology PR agencies. Skip to present day, 15 years later, Paul’s worked at countless agencies, a couple of side corporate gigs, has his own blog http://paulrobertspr.com/ and found himself “with a ton of good experience and a career path I never expected.”

8. MANDI BATESON | Digital Director | Hill & Knowlton

After high school Mandi enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Arts) where she majored in writing and theatre. Despite her passion for her majors, she found herself disillusioned with uni life and ended up deferring her degree. From there, she moved into retail and hospitality which took her all over the world –Snowy Mountains, London and Stratford-upon-Avon – and discovered her love for promotions at a restaurant she worked at.

Soon after, Mandi went through a couple of marketing / events coordinator roles and learnt everything she could about “CRM/database management; trade media relations; web design, maintenance and copy; DM and eDM campaign management; advertising creative, planning and buying; event management; sales lead generation – you name it, I did it.” Mandi is now the digital director at Hill & Knowlton (Sydney) and gets to combine her passion with her career and sums up the role as “creating engaging campaigns where the audience is active and receptive.”