Interview with Andrew Smith, Director at escherman

This week for my Interview Series, we have Andrew Smith, Director at escherman, talk about his career path, current role, changes he’s seen in the PR industry over the years and his thoughts on the future of PR.

andrew-111. Before working in PR, you spent a couple of years working as a Deputy News Editor at a weekly UK publishing trade title. Can you talk about your experience working there and why you decided to enter the PR industry afterwards?

I started life as an editorial assistant on the Retail Newsagent Tobacconist and Confectioner in September 1985. In spite of appearances, this was an excellent training ground in journalism. One of my former predecessors in this role at the magazine – Mark Haysom – went on to become Chief Executive of Trinity Group Newspapers  and one of the most powerful people in British newspaper publishing.

Even while I was there, the magazine was suddenly at the forefront of mainstream news developments. You have to remember this was when Rupert Murdoch was revolutionising the newspaper industry in Britain – moving distribution from rail to road, taking on the print unions, Wapping, etc – we were reporting on the same things as national print and broadcast media. I was going to press conferences and working alongside top national newspaper journalists. For example, Raymond Snoddy, the then hugely influential Media Correspondent for the Financial Times would ring me to check on particular aspects of news trade distribution (though as a rookie journalist I confess to being in complete awe of such a titan of journalism).

This was also a time which saw the first new UK national newspapers launched in decades. I covered the launch of Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper and interviewed Andreas Whittam-Smith, the founder of the Independent. I also interviewed Robert Maxwell for the launch of the ill fated London Daily News.

So where did PR enter the frame? When I started as a journalist, I had no idea about public relations (as far I knew, PR stood for proportional representation).

Or rather, I had no idea a whole industry existed to try and provide me as a journalist with material to write about. In those days, we’d get a massive mail sack at the office basically full of paper-based press releases. One of the most useful tools I had was a massive metal spike on which 99pc of press releases would be unceremoniously terminated. I’d get calls from breathless PR people asking me if I’d got their client’s press release and would I be writing about them?

I’ll be honest. My early view of PR from a journalist perspective was not good. But over time, I came to realise that there were good PRs. These were the ones that would provide good information and knew how to pitch me a story.  I also realised that PR people seemed to get paid quite a bit more than journalists. Surely I could do that? So in 1988, I decided to give PR a go. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to journalism.

I started life as a PR executive with a small PR agency. Before I started the job, I had the stereotypical journalist view that my day would consist of writing press releases and taking journalists to lunch. How wrong could I be. Suddenly I had to deal with things like client management, budgeting, campaign planning, negotiation and a whole host of other things that journalists never see. I admit that in the early days, I did question whether I had made the right decision. However, I decided that if I was to stay in PR, I should work for a PR firm that specialised in something I really enjoyed. Hence my move in 1989 to join tech PR firm Keene Communications where I ended up running one of the iconic tech PR accounts of the era: Borland – the rest is history.

2. As Director at escherman, can you give us an overview of your role and the sort of projects you work on?

My role is partly to define what services we should offer clients and to then determine how best we can deliver them. The kinds of projects we mostly get involved with today largely revolve around helping clients best understand how to marry to together PR, social media and SEO into a coherent mix, while also using advanced analytics techniques to measure and evaluate programmes. As a by-product of this, we are increasingly asked to provide training in all of these areas – so this is a growing aspect of the business.

3. What’s a typical day for you like?

I guess the cliche answer would be to say there is no such thing as a typical day ;)

But certainly a lot of my time is spent delivering training workshops, attending client meetings, planning campaigns and keeping up to speed with latest developments in all aspects of digital.

And it goes without saying that I spend time every day using a variety of social and SEO tools to keep on top of everything. Personal favourites included Hootsuite, Nimble, Lissted and MajesticSEO.

4. I read that you were the second PR professional in the UK to begin sending press releases via e-mail in 1991, which is amazing. Having seen so many changes to the PR industry over the years, I’m interested to know whether you think there are some things that have stayed the same? 

I’ve dined out for years on the email press release story. I got exposed to email in 1989 through my work at Keene with Borland.  I joined one of the UK’s first online bulletin boards (CIX) around the same time. It was here I discovered that there were journalists using the service to have online conversations and – gasp – email each other. I think the first press release I emailed went to about 5 journalists. One of them was the then Technology Editor of The Guardian newspaper, Jack Schofield. It was Jack that suggested that Frank O’Mahoney (then UK PR Manager at Apple) and myself were the first UK PRs do to this (although the honour of being first went to Frank).

The point of mentioning all of this is that one of the key things that has stayed the same is the importance of relationships. Looking back at my early use of email, the key thing was that it only worked if you had already established a relationship with someone and taken the time to properly understand their needs. PR has always been about relationships. And always will be. In spite of the huge changes in technology and society over the last 30 years, the fundamental need for building and maintaining relationships with people is more important than ever.

5. With the rise of social media and shrinking of traditional newsrooms, what are your thoughts on the future of the PR industry? What sort of skills do you see becoming increasingly valuable?

I am quite optimistic about the future of the PR industry. At least for those PR professionals who accept the reality of the world we are in and can adapt and change quickly enough.

I’ve been banging on for some time about research that Google did last year which showed that 90pc of all media consumption today is done via a screen – TV, PC, laptop, mobile or tablet. Print represents a tiny proportion of media consumption. And yet much of the PR sector is still mainly focussed on print coverage. And yet Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP basically came out last week and confirmed Google’s research – namely, that there is massive disconnect between expenditure on print PR, advertising and marketing and where consumers spend their time.

Traditional PR skills of creating great editorial style content and relationship building should play well in the screen-driven mobile/social world we are living in. The key additional skill that PRs everywhere must develop is in analytics, measurement and evaluation.  The old excuses that PR measurement was too difficult or too expensive won’t wash anymore. There are techniques available to all PRs that can prove a much more robust connection between activity and measurable impact. For example, Google Analytics is a free tool that can show both the direct and indirect impact of PR and social media against defined goals.  For those PR professionals who are prepared to invest time and energy in these areas, then I’d say the future is very bright indeed.

***To get in touch with Andrew or read more from him, check out blog.escherman.com***

Interview with Mandi Bateson, Head of Social at Mindshare

This week we have Mandi Bateson, Head of Social at Mindshare, discussing her career path, her creative process for coming up and executing ideas, technology trends and skills that are becoming increasingly important for marketers.

Mandi 2012

1. To kick things off, can you tell us a little about yourself and provide a quick overview of your career to date?

I started working as a marketing and events coordinator during a 2 year stint in England in the early 00s. After a few years working in a multitude of B2B marketing communications roles, I was adamant that I would a) never specialise and b) never work for an agency. And yet here I am, loving agency life and in one of the more niche marketing areas in the industry.

I love that I started my career in B2B – I’ve set up forums for real estate software beta testers, created communities of interest for Australian businesses exploring international trade opportunities and used content marketing to generate leads for enterprise telecommunications. For 6 years I worked side by side with sales teams which meant a Monday morning without solid marketing results was a Monday morning I didn’t want to face. Our reports always showed that the strongest source for lead generation was word of mouth which is why I started focusing on social media marketing tactics before they were really known as social.

The past 4 years of agency life have been a rollercoaster – from setting up the social team at Daemon Digital (now TWO Social) to setting up the social team at PR agency Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies) to my current role setting up the social team at Mindshare (still known as Mindshare thankfully). It’s been interesting to see how social is perceived within different marketing disciplines and it will be no surprise that I feel a media agency is well placed to see social come to life.

2. As the Head of Social at Mindshare, does that mean you basically throw parties and sip champagne all day? Or is there more to the role than that?

I have been asked at many a function if being Head of Social means that I’m responsible for the party. When I explain my role is about social media marketing I usually get an apology from the person that they’re not on Twitter.

We look at developing participatory ideas, creating content, influencer outreach, social listening, and communications planning. I spend a lot of time with our clients assisting them with their social strategy, whether that’s because they need help educating their internal teams on how it will be executed or that they need to translate a global strategy to have relevance locally or because they want to integrate campaign activity into always-on planning. Champagne is optional.

3. What would be a typical day for you at the office?

Much like anyone else, there’s no real typical day for me.

I have a fab team which I can rely on to execute our campaigns so I can focus on all the other elements that keep our business ticking along including meeting new clients and getting to know their pain points, internal training and education so everyone’s thinking social, catching up with the client teams to make sure we’re all working towards the same goal, meeting with our media partners to stay up-to-date with their solutions, writing strategies and developing campaign ideas, giving advice on how to manage those tricky social issues that always seem to pop up, tinkering with our planning and reporting templates and process documents, talking to our strategy team about upcoming campaigns and the role for social, attending some kind of training session on either our Original Thinking Framework or one of the company’s professional development courses, and talking to the digital team about social advertising updates.

We have offices in Sydney and Melbourne so there’s quite a lot of work to cover and sometimes all of this needs to be put on hold if a campaign requires all hands on deck.

4. Part of your role calls for a lot of ideas generation and creativity. Can you talk to us about your creative process? Do you switch it on and off or is your mind constantly racing with new ideas?

We always ask “why would they care, why would they share” when trying to tap into a killer social idea. Without wanting to black hat ideas as they develop, getting realistic about the likely audience reaction and how much incentive would be required to get a reaction improves creativity as you really need to be able to articulate the motivators and behaviours of your target market. Seems pretty obvious but it can often make a big difference between how an idea lives in traditional advertising and how it is executed socially.

Strangely enough I find that technology inspires my creativity. Most people will tell you that technology is not an idea – of course it isn’t. Unfortunately though my creativity is restricted by known limitations. To explain myself, here’s a campaign I liked: Flair Fashiontag. Say your friend posts a photo of themselves on Facebook in a cute outfit. You can use the app to tag a piece of clothing in the photo with a Fashiontag, which lets them know you like it, helps you get more info about the item of clothing or accessory and gives Flair magazine content they can use in their magazine. What I liked about this is that I didn’t even know it was possible to tag images on Facebook with something other than the name of a friend. The more aware you are of your possibilities, the more creative you can be.

One lesson about brainstorming that I’ve taken with me is that sometimes you have to let ideas go. I may have thought I had a cracking idea in a brainstorm in 2009 but if you cling onto an idea for too long you’ll find yourself trying to retrofit a strategy to suit that idea and what may have been a moment of brilliance will fizzle pretty quickly or even worse you become a one-trick pony selling social scavenger hunts to every client that comes along.

5. What are your thoughts on the digital landscape at the moment? Are there any technology trends that you’re really excited about?

I think we need to be aware of the consequences of this always-on environment that we’re in. Have you ever taken a break from social media? I try to do it twice a year for at least a week at a time because otherwise I find that my attitude towards social changes as I get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of people, platforms and brands telling me to like this, view that, share with friends, get outraged by this, overshare that. I think when we are trying to understand our audience we will need to know more than just how or when or why they access online properties and understanding their attitude will becoming increasingly significant.

It changes how people react to social media mishaps or crises as an issue that may have received little to no attention gleefully becomes branded as the latest #fail. It shapes who and what we trust as those willing to trade a tweet or a share for a sample freebie dilute their own social currency by becoming background noise instead of a possible “influencer”. The savvy social networker is becoming jaded by mainstream platforms and even more so by the promise of bright shiny new things. For many, tech snobbery is cool and “I don’t have Facebook” is the new “I don’t own a TV”.

I think brands that can understand the dynamics of the overall digital landscape and how it changes the attitude of those using the technology will fare much better than those jumping on the latest trend.

6. What sort of skills do you think will become increasingly important within the next 5 – 10 years?

We’re already seeing this but I think those wanting to work in social media will need to have a few seemingly contradictory skills up their sleeve. The assumption that people are good at either numbers or words is being proven wrong by social media marketing professionals who need to be as comfortable diving into line after line of data as they are writing succinct and successful copy.

The perfect marketer would have the ability to optimise social advertising, write copy appropriate for discovery within platforms or search engines, design and produce content, be able to calmly manage a crisis situation, analyse data like a pro, be an ideas man, be able to articulate the tone of every brand they work on, be able to write and deliver training courses, dabble with code, create media plans, manage media/influencer relations, write solid strategies and have an innate understanding of consumer psychology. A good social generalist will own the specialist field.

***If you want to get in touch with Mandi, say hi on Twitter @mab397 or check out her blog mab397.wordpress.com***

Interview with Ishtar Schneider, Senior Account Executive at Palin Communications

This week we have Ishtar Schneider, Senior Account Executive at healthcare PR agency Palin Communications, talking about her career path, working at Palin, her thoughts on company blogs and emerging PR trends and how she keeps up-to-date with all the news out there.

profile1. Prior to Palin Communications, you worked in a range of roles — from interning at Edelman to community management to media relations assistant — can you give us a quick overview of your past positions?

Haha well there is a fair chunk, I’m one of those people who always likes to be busy. I worked three jobs while doing Uni full time. One of those was as a media relations assistant for my own school – University of San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be hired into that job when I was only a sophomore so I was able to learn a lot through my 3 years there. It was basically entry level in-house PR experience and I got a really great base for my career in that job.

I was also an intern and then asked to stay on as community manager, blogger and stylist for a styling consulting firm in San Francisco called Urban Darling LLC. It was great experience since the company was pretty small and I worked closely with the founder who is a fabulous woman and who taught me a lot about the industry and gave me plenty of exposure to high profile people. I still do the occasional guest blog for them, since fashion is one of those things I never get tired of writing about.

My senior year I studied abroad here in Sydney and was lucky enough to intern with Edelman in their corporate team. I learned a lot and it definitely helped me when I made the big move over here, learning the media landscape in Australia. I met some great people, some of whom I’m still friends with! The PR industry is pretty small no matter where you go.

2. During your studies, you also dabbled in advertising and journalism – why did you settle on PR as your career path?

I’ve always known that PR is the route I wanted to take, not everyone does, but I’m lucky that I did. I took some advertising and journalism courses because I wanted a well-rounded view of the industry. All of those – PR, advertising, marketing, journalism – are so frequently intertwined that it helps to know the distinctions and to have a general understanding of each I think.

3. Can you describe your role as Senior Account Executive at Palin Communications?

As a SAE for Palin (a specialised healthcare agency), I am responsible for supporting the Account Managers on a variety of clients, including Non-profits, pharmaceutical brands, medical devices and medical technology etc. Its a pretty exciting range of projects that I get to work on which makes every day equally fun! I also have a few projects that I handle more autonomously which is great. We’ve just launch an introductory online course in healthcare PR based on industry demand that’s pretty nifty. http://www.chpr.com.au

4. In the past, you blogged for fashion website Guilty Star. In light of the growing demand for original, high-quality content, how do you think blogging fits in the PR industry? Do you think all organisations should have a blog?

I don’t think blogging is for everyone. I think you’ve got to really enjoy blogging otherwise it will show in your writing and no one wants to read what you don’t even want to write. I think organisations need to really identify WHAT the purpose of their blog will be, WHO will be the voice (will you have one main voice or many contributors), and put in the time and effort it takes to make the blog a success.

You can’t just have a blog because it’s what you “should” be doing and expect it to be a rousing success. Interesting, topical, engaging content and a clear voice is key. If you go through all of this and decide a blog isn’t the best thing for your brand/service/product that’s OK! It’s the same as asking is Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram right for every company? The answer, in my opinion, is resoundingly, no.

5. What are your thoughts on how the PR industry will shift in the next five to ten years? What sort of trends and changes do you anticipate emerging?

I think the industry is experiencing a lot of change, especially within the health sector. Something that everyone is concerned with at the moment is regulation in the social media arena. People are rethinking their positioning in that space given recent regulations that state you are responsible for EVERYTHING on your page/account including posts by others and (the biggest shocker) suggested posts/videos.

I think this has PR agencies reevaluating the way they approach social media and this will only continue to change in the future. I think online will continue to grow and I definitely think there’s a lot of exciting potential for us as PR professionals in the next 5-10 years. Integration between advertising, pr and marketing efforts will continue to be the way to a winning campaign. Great article on Mumbrella recently on this – http://mumbrella.com.au/does-pr-deserve-a-seat-at-the-boardroom-table-146969

6. As a PR professional, you have to keep up-to-date with all trending news and topics for your clients. I’m curious as to how you stay on top of this while preventing information overload. I know there were some days where I’d absolutely dread looking at my Google Reader!

Haha yeah it can be overwhelming at times, I try to check things out in the morning before I dive into work and periodically throughout the day when I’ve got a spare moment. It helps signing up to relevant newsletters so that when they come through (there are some daily and weekly health ones worth reading)you can just scan them and move along. Twitter is also great if you follow the right people and/or hashtags. That being said, I think it’s definitely worthwhile to take a break (even if it’s over lunch)to tune out otherwise your work life/pressing activities will consume you!

7. And lastly, what would your number one tip for PR students looking to get their foot in the door?

Stay in touch with people you meet. I’ve been really lucky to have worked for people who were extremely encouraging and supportive of my fledgling career. Take advantage of the knowledge around you and keep in contact with those people (and professors!) no matter where you end up after graduation. Also, be ENTHUSIASTIC! It’s contagious I promise. In my experience if you show people you’re excited to be doing something, no matter how mundane, they will remember that and it will get you far.

***You can get in touch with Ishtar via Twitter or LinkedIn***

Interview with Edward M. Bury, Strategic PR & Integrated Marketing Communications Consultant.

This week for my Interview Series, we have Edward M. Bury, a strategic public relations and integrated marketing communications consultant based in Chicago. With extensive experience in the marketing, PR and journalism sector, Edward had a lot to share, especially about his career path, his stint as a journalist and why blogging is important for business.

1. You’ve been in the marketing and communications industry for over 30 years – can you tell us a little about your career path?

Upon graduation at Illinois State University with a degree in English, my goal was to land a position in journalism. It’s all I ever wanted to do. Fortunately, I received a referral from my Scoutmaster to an advertising executive at the Chicago Tribune. He referred me to an editor at the City News Bureau.  I secured an interview and was offered a job starting at $100 per week. This was January of 1977.  I was thrilled.

2. What was your experience like working in editorial positions at the City News Bureau of Chicago and Pioneer Press?

My years at City News really shaped me as a professional communicator.  CNB was a 24-hour local wire service that served daily newspapers, television and radio stations.  We did the grunt work: Police and fire stories, criminal court cases and other hard news.  It was the best job I ever had.  I covered real crime and politics — a big change from the soft features I wrote for the ISU daily paper. Spent 12 months on the overnight shift.

It also compelled me to learn to write fast and effectively. I covered some big stories, including the arrest and pre-trial proceedings of convicted mass murderer John Wayne Gacy.  At Pioneer Press, a community newspaper group, I got a byline and the opportunity to cover news and features in some west Chicago suburbs. The pace was much more relaxed, and I knew I’d never be bumped to overnights.

3. How do you think your experience as a journalist has helped shaped your PR career?

As noted, working in the news business really sharpened by writing and editing skills.  I also learned the value of accuracy and storytelling, and how the other side of the communications industry — the public relations side — worked.

4. With platforms like Twitter and blogs becoming increasingly important for news consumption, what are your thoughts on the media landscape today? Where do you think we’re headed in terms of the dynamic of journalism and PR?

Well, the obvious result from the explosion of online communications is that anyone with a computer and broadband access can theoretically reach anyone else with the same resources.  Traditional media has had to embrace social media, and I think that’s a smart thing to do. Why not encourage and embrace dialogue in real time?  I wonder if we’ve run out of platforms and new ways to share information, images and videos online.  What’s going to follow Pinterest?

As for the second question, I think journalists and public relations professionals will always have a working relationship where one feeds off the other.  Story pitches have to get much more refined because the media landscape has shifted to “narrowcasting” more than broadcasting.

5. What made you want to start up your own blog – PR Dude? Love the name by the way!

I launched the PRDude blog after my position with a national real estate association here was eliminated due to declining revenues. My goals were:

  • Enter the blogging community to enhance my digital footprint
  • Chronicle my search for new full-time employment and encourage others in the same predicament
  • Have a forum to share ideas and encourage dialogue on public relations.

I selected the “Dude” moniker because “Guy” was already taken.  Plus, it makes me sound a generation younger than I really am!

6. In what ways do you think organisations should leverage blogging for communications purposes?

First, I think every organization should immediately augment static, unchanging web content with blogs and new content. Second, virtually any organization should launch a blog for several reasons: Helps build awareness for new programs, products, positions and developments; creates a repository of positive online content that could help mitigate negative perceptions during a crisis; encourages dialogue with key stakeholders; engages team members to have a role in communications.

7. Having been in the industry for so long, I’m sure you’ve worked on quite a number of exciting things. Is there a particular campaign or project that stands out to you?

When I was in the agency business, we represented a fashion design school; there was a McDonald’s franchise next to the school.  I came up with an idea to have a “fashion show” of garments made with McDonald’s paper and plastic items. The show received tremendous TV, print and wire service coverage (this was in the mid 1980s). The resulting media exposure brought greater awareness to the school and led to an increase in enrollment.

8. And lastly, in an era of tweets, 24/7 news cycle, status updates and bite-sized blog posts, how do you stay up to date with the latest industry trends while avoiding information overload?

I subscribe to a daily newsletter from Mashable.

***To get in touch with Edward, you can check out his website at http://edwardmbury.wordpress.com/***

Public Relations: What are the differences between working in-house and at an agency?

If you’re currently not on the Q&A website, Quora, I recommend you create an account and start participating, now! Ever since I joined, the only other website I’ve spent more time on is reddit – it’s a great place to learn about new things and connect with interesting people. A while back I posted up the question – “What are the differences between working in-house and at an agency?” – because I was interested in learning about how the two differed.  

Ian Edwards, a communications consultant with more than 20 years experience, was kind enough to provide a very thorough answer. The below post was originally published on Quora: http://www.quora.com/Public-Relations/Public-Relations-What-are-the-differences-between-working-in-house-and-at-an-agency 

There are many differences between being in PR “client side” (or with an organization) and “agency side”. In no particular order:

Scope of Responsibilities:

  • Agency: While it’s possible that you would be assigned to only one client, if that client was a whopper, more likely you would be responsible for tending to many clients. Agency workers have to juggle different clients, with different priorities, schedules, strategies, needs, urgency, personalities…. at the same time.
  • Corporate: PR teams client-side have, usually, one focus — their employers. It means a very different kind of work flow. For a lot of PR people, they like the more refined focus compared to hectic agencies.

Hierarchy:

  • Agency: You might have many “bosses.”  If you’re junior in a PR department, say corporate reputation, you may have supervisors, a department chief, project leads, CEO, CFO and client-side reps that all need to be happy. Your client might also need you to involve other departments within the agency (graphics, consumer, media relations), which may create a whole other level of people management.
  • Corporate: Again, the chain of command is more refined. VPs communication have to appeal to their solid and dotted line superiors.

New business development/Budgets:

  • Agency: At agencies, new business development (finding and signing new paying clients) is a never-ending task and one that may pull your focus from actual customers, depending on the drive for growth and new revenue. Your career at an agency, and subsequent promotions and compensation, may be very tied to your ability to sign new clients.
  • Corporate: While new-age corporate PR needs to look at ways to ask for, create and secure greater budgets from their CFOs to pay for anticipated PR activities, some are looking at ways that they can create revenue streams. This is and will be novel, since PR departments have traditionally fallen into the “expense” categories. More likely, you will field solicitations from agency folks courting your company.

Compensation/Benefits:

  • Agency: If you’re a junior at an agency, you might not make much at all.  There is greater upside as you rise in the ranks, but (generally!) comp is lower at agencies. A smaller agency might not offer benefits like health insurance and might be stingy with time off.
  • Corporate: Client-side PR people tend to fall into more traditional job categories and can (many times!) make more money. Again, benefits tend to be richer for PR people client side.

Work environments:

  • Agency: This can swing wildly from buttoned down traditional office space and cultures to hipster, open-concept, creative environments. A lot depends on the type of clients the agency is courting and the expectations of those clients.
  • Corporate: This tends to be more traditional and conservative, again, depending on the organization.

Billable hours/Proving effectiveness

  • Agency: Agency people sell time and are expected to tally up “billable hours” of appropriate work toward key clients. Depending on the agency, you might be expected to bill 8 hours a day and still put in “non-billable” hours toward new business and other activities that don’t collect revenue. If you don’t meet your billable quota, that likely means you will need to explain that to your superiors who have to manage profit-and-loss and productivity reports.
  • Corporate: While agency and corporate PR people will both likely have to face job evaluations, the criteria for success might be quite different. Billable hours are not usually a focus client side. Rather, corporate PR people have to showcase their effectiveness to the higher-ups. Office politics, “managing up” and proving value are common issues for  both kinds of PR people but perhaps more considered focuses of client-side professionals.

Teams:

  • Agency: An account might have assistants, account exectives, account supervisiors, senior account supervisors, VPs, SVPs, EVPs, etc. working on fulfilling strategy and maintaining the client relationship.  Smaller budget clients will have far fewer people billing time.
  • Corporate: Because of the higher cost of employing people (vs. hiring consultants), a PR department might be much smaller than the team agency side. Often there is only one person doing PR client side and, often, that person’s job is to manage the relationship with the outside agency. In my experience, some PR people client side have little experience with actual PR activities, but are strong in managing the agency relationship to meet the corporate goals.

Type of work:

  • Agency: Regardless of where you work (agency or corporate), the activities or tasks needed to fulfill a PR assignment are pretty common — strategy, writing, stakeholder development, releases, presentation training, media outreach, etc. Agency side, the work can be very specific to “scopes of work” and expected deliverables that fulfill a PR-supplier contract that can release payment.
  • Corporate: Again, the ways to do PR are pretty much the same wherever you go, but corporate side, they may be less focussed on the ways to prove deliverables and more focussed on what works to meet corporate communication goals. While it seems deliverables and goals should be inter-connected (and likely are), sometimes the priorities of an agency worker to ensure billable hours and revenue are at odds with what is actually working. This last part is what is a major headache for the client-agency relationship — doing the work that actually works.

Interview with Andrew Tran, Social Media Specialist at Vodafone Australia

This week for my Interview Series, we have Andrew Tran, a Social Media Specialist from Vodafone Australia, who has had a ton of experience working with online platforms, managing communities and running social media channels. Andrew also manages his own blog where he writes about social media and how brands can incorporate it into their business objectives. For this interview, Andrew talks about his career path, his current role at Vodafone, blogging for business and the evolution of content creators. Enjoy!

1. You’ve worked in a lot of interesting roles – community producer, sales specialist, social media producer – can you tell us a little about your career path? How sort of steps did you take to end up where you are now?

Starting from sales I got my break working in eCommerce which gave me a good platform to learn a bit of online sales through SEO and some analytical exposure as well.

After 3 Mobile merged with Vodafone, I was given an opportunity to broaden my skill set in digital with, the intention to come back to the social media realm. I’m very fortunate to have been given the time and space to be on some amazing projects/campaigns, make mistakes and then learn from my mistakes – I think that’s very important in any career path you take.

Nothing beats hard work and dedication in any career you want to be in.

2. What’s your role as a social media specialist at Vodafone like? What type of things do you get up during a typical day?

Essentially we support the business in all things social related. From campaigns, brand exercises to customer care and major projects. My typical day envolves a bit of production work on our blog (http://blog.vodafone.com.au), community handling and, working with my other colleagues to find opportunities to either promote, listen and/or engage with our customers.

3. What sort of strategy do you have to ensure that the Vodafone blog always has fresh and interesting content for the readers?

It’s mostly about looking at the numbers, gathering insights from the data you extract and talking to various parts of the business to ensure that your content is up to date and, relevant to your audience.

Time is also important as you need to experiment and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The key is to gather as much experience as you can but, the funny thing is experience is derived from mistakes you make.

4. In addition to your work with Vodafone, you also manage your own blog. What sort of content do you post on there?

My blog (http://andrewtran.asia) was firstly about anything I saw that was cool and interesting online.

However, over the last 8-10 months, I really wanted to focus on a particular subject, in this case it was social media.

So now the majority of my site features posts that I find relevant for either small businesses and/or students studying this field, but from time to time I’ll still post content that’s can be totally irrelevant to social media but I believe my audience will like.

5. How important do you think a blog is to a business these days?

Blogging has come a long way over the past 4 years. Businesses both big and small need to understand what the power blogging can do and, how it connects with the whole social ecosystem.

6. With the growth of social media platforms and accessibility to powerful tools, how do you think the role of content creators and producers will evolve?

Definitely, you’re going to see more and more people create content but have an analytical side as well. Understanding why you produce a particular content relative to your audience and then being able to back this up is very important.

7. You’ve developed a wide range of skills during your career, from copywriting to community management to video blogging. What sort of skills do you think will become increasingly important, especially in the marketing and communication fields?

Analytics and the ability to understand and provide relevant insights to improve the engagement you have with your audience.

In addition, psychology of your industry will also become important as social media evolves from building and audience to identifying which conversations to engage in and, to be effective in those conversations as well.

8. And lastly, any tips for anyone wanting to start their own blog?

Be clear on what you want to write about, understand who would read it, then tailor what your writing to your audience and, constantly try to look at ways to change it up be it your writing style or the types of content.

***To get in touch with Andrew, check out his blog or say hi on Twitter @iamayetee***

PR Word of the Week – Content

Earlier this year I had the pleasure to write a guest blog post for Kristine Simpson, a PR professional based in Canada. The below blog post, which touches on my favourite PR word – ‘content’ – originally appeared on Kristine’s blog – Running a PR life.

My favourite PR word: Content

There used to be a time when PR mainly meant media relations, i.e. you have a story that you push, you send out a press release to your media contacts and hope that you’ll be able to score some coverage. I’m exaggerating a little here, but that was the gist of it.

Nowadays, with so many platforms, channels and publishing tools widely available, PR professionals no longer have to just rely on the media to get their story out; they can also create their own content. Don’t get me wrong, media relations and press releases will always be important to PR, but now with creating your own content being so simple and mostly free, it allows the PR industry to really take hold of a story and run with it.

Shoot and upload a video, snap and share some photos, publish a blog post, create a podcast. All these things can now be done so easily. Then you’ve got channels like TwitterFacebookGoogle+TumblrQuora, etc., where you can just as easily distribute content.

It’s such a cliché isn’t it – “content is king.” But how else can you describe it?

Content

(kənˈtent)
noun

Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts: a poetic form adequate to a poetic content.

Example:

Okay, so long story short – I was a university student, working part-time at a place I hated, looking to jump into my PR career as soon as possible. So to put a little spark in my job search, I decided to start up a blog where I wrote about my thoughts on the communications industry.

Slowly I built up my blog, reaching out and interviewing PR professionals, getting their perspectives on a range of topics until one day, one of the people I interviewed offered me an internship. Three months later I’m working as an Account Coordinator for her agency.

There wasn’t an application form, cover letter or resume – just one little blog with a steady stream of content and it scored me a job.

So for the PR students out there job hunting – don’t sit there and send out resumes while waiting for the phone to miraculously ring. Get out there, set up a YouTube channel, set up a podcast, build a blog, start a portfolio of writing samples – just keep churning out content and show potential employers how proactive you are.

Interview with Arik Hanson, Principal at ACH Communications

For the latest addition to my Interview Series, we have Arik Hanson, Principal at ACH Communications. Arik has working in communications for some time and offers his perspective on topics like the differences between in-house and agency roles, keeping up to speed with relevant information as well as the skill sets that are becoming increasingly important for PR professionals.

1. You’ve been working in the communications industry for over 10 years, what has been the most memorable highlight during your career?

Without a doubt, starting my own business almost three years ago. It’s been the most exciting, rewarding and challenging job of my life (I mean, other than parenting).

2. With experience in both agency and in-house roles, what can you tell us about the similarities and differences between the two?

Agencies definitely seem to attract a certain kind of person. You have to be OK with a lot of ambiguity. You have to love solving problems creatively. And, you have to love juggling about 14,531 things at once. You’ll get that on the corporate side from time to time, but it’s not quite the same.

On the corporate side, things are usually just a bit more buttoned up. Conservative. You usually can’t go around the office singing tunes at the top of your lungs at a corporation–at an agency, that behavior is encouraged And, where creativity and seniority matter a bit more on the agency side, MBAs and titles seem to hold more weight on the corporate side (just my opinion based on my experiences). Both have strengths and weaknesses–just a matter of what you’re looking for from a job/experience.

3. Did you enjoy one more than the other?

I enjoyed both for different reasons, but I think I’m an agency guy at heart. I think that’s why I like running my own business so much. Much of what I do on a daily basis is similar to what I’d be doing if I were a director/VP at an agency right now. It’s not all that different.

4. Currently the communications industry is evolving at such a rapid pace with different social networks and publishing platforms available. How do you keep up with the emerging technologies and figuring out which one will be relevant to your profession?

I don’t really. And, don’t let anyone fool you–no one really does. Not if they’re doing their day jobs well. But, there are ways I try to stay one step ahead of my clients (and competition). Speed to information is so critical, so I have tools and processes to get through a lot of content each day, in a very short amount of time. I also do a lot of research for my clients–so that helps keep me abreast of the latest happenings and trends.

5. In 2009 you started ACH Communications, what made you decide to strike it out on your own?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial edge to me. And I’ve always wanted to start my own business–I just never had the unique skill set. Back in 2009, I was a little ahead of the curve in terms of social media marketing and an understanding of that space. And, I have a fairly expansive network here in the Twin Cities. Coupled with my entrepreneurial drive, I thought now was as good as time as any to give it a shot.

I got lucky with a few early clients and things just snowballed from there. What I’ve learned in my 16-plus years in this business is a lot of your success is about luck and timing. Now, I like to think I had a lot to do with that, but prior to 2009 I had my share of less than optimal work experiences and positions where I felt a bit frustrated at times. So, timing was just on my side this time.

6. You’re also the founder of Help a PR Pro Out (#HAPPO); what was the motivation behind launching the initiative?

Think back a few years ago–the job market was a lot rougher than it is now (and some would argue it’s still not that great). Valerie Simon (my co-founder) and I just wanted to help people–plain and simple. We were tired of saying “I’ll do anything to help” to our friends who were out of work–and then never following through. So, we took a stand. Three years later, HAPPO’s still going strong.

7. What skills do you think will become increasingly more important for PR professionals?

Interesting–I’m presenting on this exact topic to the Puget Sound PRSA chapter in mid-June. A few key skills come to mind: advertising copywriting (social ads), programming skills, video editing/production skills and mobile. Of course, traditional skills like writing, relationship-building and project management aren’t going anywhere–we’re just expected to do more now.

8. And lastly, what advice would you give to a PR student looking to develop a long and successful career?

Nurture and feed your network every day. You don’t understand at a young age how important relationships are to everything you do in your professional career–but I’m here to tell you that they matter. A LOT. Feed that network every day and you will be AMAZED at the results.

***To get in touch with Arik say hi on Twitter @arikhanson***

Interview with Lars Voedisch, Principal Consultant at PRecious Communications

The latest addition to my Interview Series is Lars Voedisch, currently the Principal Consultant at PRecious Communications. Lars has over 15 years experience working in the communications industry, working extensively in both in-house and agency. He talks about the evolution of the PR industry, the difference between agency and in-house and provides some great insight for students looking to develop a long and fulfilling career.

1. Looking back on over 15 years of working in communications and public relations, at what moment did you realise this was the career you wanted?

Having worked for a radio station in the past and with a Masters in Economics, corporate communications seemed to be a natural fit of bringing media and business perspectives together.

Since that start it’s the people, the exciting brands I’m working with and the constant change that keeps me on my toes and constantly wanting to learn more. Imagine: Until social media came to play, PR hardly changed for decades. So being part of and to a certain extent even defining the ‘New PR’ is awesome!

2. With your experience in public relations, marketing and journalism, how do you think these 3 industries overlap in regards to common skills, platforms and tools?

Traditionally these three trades are looking after owned (journalism), earned (PR) and paid (marketing) media –and that’s what defined their respective platforms, but in today’s world. While these three areas have their own distinct heritage, objective and merits, you can see that this clear differentiation fades away especially with regards to platforms or tools used.

Basically, these three areas are about reaching out to defined audiences through communication matters with the attempt to influence them; this could mean to educate, entertain, entice or simply inform. So key skills across these disciplines are empathetic communication skills through different means. Especially for PR, this change requires that on top of writing, experts have to get versed in visual story telling through pictures and video.

3. You’ve worked in-house with DHL for many years as well on the agency side with Fleishman-Hillard or Hill+Knowlton Strategies. How did these roles differ in terms of agency vs. in-house?

The main difference is that in-house communications departments are cost centres and constantly have to justify the scope of their existence to the business funding their activities. Agencies are profit centres – so there’s a natural conflict of defining what’s best for the client versus the agencies profitability ambitions

4. Do you prefer one over the other?

Not really as they are actually more alike than most people think: How can your (PR) efforts contribute to business growth. In both roles you have to deal with multiple clients (internal stakeholders, e.g. different business units or geographies – vs. your external clients).

Obviously, when you work  in-house you develop deeper domain and company insights vs. rather broad industry knowledge on the consulting side. So if you are thinking about moving from agency to in-house, better be very sure it’s the right industry and company! On the other hand – not everybody can handle the constant commercial pressure on the agency side.

5. At the moment, with the PR industry evolving alongside communication platforms and the online world, how do you manage to stay up-to-date with technology and industry trends?

The basics of PR don’t really change: While the latest hypes, platforms or channels do change, it is still about how to convey a message to selected, targeted audiences.

Some of the key sources I look at are Mashable, Wired, HBR, Social Media Today, PR Daily and a couple of PR and business blogs and of course quite a few people on Twitter and selected groups on LinkedIn.

6. What skills do you think will become increasingly more important for PR professionals?

Technical capabilities to leverage the new possibilities are certainly more and more needed. But what’s even more crucial is a sound understanding of the economy, politics and how businesses actually function in a changing environment. Especially as a strategic consultant (this actually includes in-house communicators!) you have to first and foremost understand how you can contribute to your company’s or clients’ business objectives – and how to measure your success beyond counting clips or ‘likes’. Therefore analysis and statistics skills are becoming more important.

However, never underestimate the basics of writing and connecting to people. These are the two main skills that will prevail.

7. And lastly, what advice would you give to a PR student looking to develop a long and successful career in the industry?

Read a lot and on diverse topics. Constantly challenge yourself to diversify and learn new things and expand your network. Stay up-to-date on what news and topics are on people’s minds – both as your potential clients or employers as well as the audiences you are targeting.

Last but not least, the most important thing for me is to enjoy what you are doing: look for and actively build an environment where you have fun, spend time with inspiring people and brands you are excited about. At the end of the day, PR is also a creative trade – and for creativity to flourish, you need passion and energy to thrive.

***To get in touch with Lars, say hello on Twitter @larsv***

Interview with Jessica North, Communications Assistant at BBC Worldwide

This week for my Interview Series we have Jessica North, a Bournemouth University student who just has just completed a placement at BBC Worldwide. Jessica will be talking to us about her diverse range of roles, working at the BBC Worldwide, running a blog and where she sees herself in the future.

1.      Having worked in such a wide range of roles; tell us about your career path so far.

I started in PR by completing some work experience at the local football club. Shadowing a press officer, especially one in the sports industry is certainly a unique experience; it really gives you a good idea for the speed of the industry.

From there I’ve worked in a couple of agencies and with clients on a freelance basis. I worked for six months at an agency that specialised in Healthcare where I worked across PR and Marketing, which was so interesting and now more recently at the BBC Worldwide.

To me, each role I’ve taken has been a step up from the last and I’m very lucky to have achieved what I have and met the people which have input so much time into developing me as a strong professional. The different roles and varying companies have opened my eyes to what I want to look for when I graduate. For me the most important lesson has been learning how different the same role can be depending on the company for which you work.

2.      When you were working as a Communications Assistant at BBC Worldwide, what sort of tasks were you performing?

I have spent the past six months working in the Global Brands departments of BBC Worldwide; it’s a very fortunate position to receive at 21. I work in a three person team covering the five global brands (Top Gear, Dancing with the Stars, Doctor Who, Lonely Planet and BBC Earth), live events and gaming.

The team handles both press and publicity. To say the team is busy would be a little understated and there certainly isn’t really such a thing as an average day here – it changes all the time but it keeps you on your feet. There have been some fantastic opportunities, my absolute favourite being The Stig driving me round the Top Gear track in a Lamborghini!

3.      Did social networks LinkedIn or Twitter play a big role in your job hunt?

I got my first placement offer through Twitter! I think both are really important but in very different ways. I think you should have a profile on LinkedIn and keep it up to date with your contacts, recommendations and experience – it can show a lot more at a glimpse than your CV can but I personally didn’t use it to search for roles in placements. I think it could definitely play a more crucial role in searching for permanent jobs.

As for Twitter, I know there are many people that don’t like it, but the fact is things happen online first now, whether it be news, releases, trends or jobs… it’s all announced through the internet and Twitter plays a huge part in that, if you see an opening position online you can apply within seconds and they can see a little more about you from your profile.

4.      You also run a blog “Simply PR” focusing on public relations, digital communication strategies and university – what was the main reason you decided to create it?

Oh my gosh, I’m sure I’m not supposed to admit to this, but we had to start it for a module at university! We had to blog about our lectures each week for one semester. I started blogging off-topic and just got really into it. I find the digital world and its affect on PR and Marketing fascinating, it’s so forward-thinking, I think it’s important to stay on top of it all and a fantastic tool to keep your writing in check. A lot of PR students use blogs to market themselves now but I think it can really benefit you if you can find a slight gap to put a more unique edge on yours.

5.      How important do you think blogging should be in a PR student’s job hunt?

I think it’s a strong advantage if you can start a blog. I’ve met some fantastic people through their or my blog. It’s a great networking tool and you can learn so much from your peers, it would be silly not to take advantage of that whilst you’re a student and still have the time to blog because trust me, you will not have time whilst working. I barely have time to sleep and eat, let alone blog frequently!

When I started at BBC Worldwide, they told me that one of the reasons they wanted me was because of my blog and social media knowledge… if your employers are looking at it, it’s just another way to set yourself above other candidates, prove you know what you’re talking about and show off your creativity. It’s yet another fantastic way to build up your reputation in the industry.

6.      Looking at your LinkedIn profile, you’ve worked in agency and in-house roles. Do you prefer one over the other?

One of my old directors told me that when you work in an agency you learn very quickly and build up contacts but you remain invisible whereas in-house you build up a reputation very quickly and if you do it right, you will never have to look for a job again, people will look for you. I guess that kind of stuck with me so I do sort of lean towards in-house roles, but I did really enjoy working in agencies so if the right opportunity came up then I’d definitely consider it.

7.      Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I wouldn’t like to judge really. As I said before; this has been a real learning curve for me. I’m really keen to get involved in some sort of graduate scheme. I’ve looked into a few so far with companies such as L’Oreal and Google but I definitely haven’t decided anything yet. After that, cliché maybe, but I’m completely dedicated to working my way up the ladder. I’ve always said this isn’t just a job for me – this is a career and my life.

8.      And lastly, what do you think are the 3 most important things PR students need to remember while on a job hunt?

I know everyone says it but that should just emphasise how important it is…

Work experience

It’s so much easier to get the jobs and experience you want when you’ve got basic experience under your belt. And when you’re a student – that’s the time to do it, you have such long summers, it’s the only chance you’ll get.

Keep up to date with the industry. 

Read PR week, Media Week, Media Guardian, New Media Age, Wired etc. Read the trade magazines of the sector you want to work in. I’ve set my home page to PR Week so even if I’m not going to read the whole article, I’ll still see the headlines at least once a day.

Use social media… and use it wisely.

One advantage a student can bring to any company, no matter how up-to-date they are… we have an advantage. We have the time to invest in these sites and learn how they work inside out. If you can offer a company some strategies for their social media and know and understand how to monitor and evaluate it, it’s a huge asset for you and definite advantage over other candidates.

Since the time of interviewing, Jessica has completed six months with BBC Worldwide and is completing the rest of her placement with Farrow & Ball.

***To get in touch with Jessica say hello on Twitter @JessicaNorthPR***