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.
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.