Archive for the 'Guest post' Category

Just a giving sort of person-3rd sector networking

August 22, 2008

First time guest post from Beccy Allen, Creative Director STEP ( Southwark Theatres’ Education Partnership).

So, when the Director of the biggest arts network organisation in your field and locality takes you out for lunch and suddenly asks, halfway through a plate of pasta, “So, why do you think you’re so good at networking?”, you suddenly realise that this is more than lunch at a lovely little Italian in Camberwell.

Following a few minutes’ discussion about his research paper on whether you can teach networking to those who are bad at it, I had a eureka moment about networking, fundraising and profile in the 3rd Sector.


The Director in question commented that I am a “natural networker” (why, thank you) because I’m not afraid to ask for anything, mainly because of always being willing and eager to help (that’s charity for you, darling). So, turns out that the profile of the arts charity I work for, STEP (Southwark Theatres’ Education Partnership) rests on the favours its Director asks for.

The cheekier she is, the more “What did STEP ask you for this week?” conversations that take place around the water coolers of plush, central London offices and the closer STEP gets to attracting just a little more funding and profile. Brilliant.

All non-natural networkers take note: ask for more; get more. Turns out Mums and Dads were right on that score.


A woman of little substance

June 24, 2008

A first-time post here for Nicola Miller, Communications Manger, Thames Valley University. If you’d like to contribute, please do drop me/James a line on Facebook.

This week, the international PR industry gathers for the fifth annual World Public Relations Festival & Conference, being hosted in the UK for the first time. But whilst there will no doubt be plenty of healthy professional debate taking place, what about the global debate that needs to be addressed surrounding the unhealthy image of our profession? I’m talking about the comprehension of public relations beyond its own sector, and the image of its female practitioners in particular.

I know from experience that the practitioner role is taken very seriously by those working in and with us in our industry. But when will the rest of the world, the television-watching one that lies beyond the CIPR’s doors, finally catch on?

Sex and the City has a lot to answer for. Like most viewers of the multi award-winning TV series and now box office smash, I’ve been amused by its characters’ exploits, baffled by their wardrobes and staggered by the number of sexual partners they’ve collectively worked their way through (it’s 95, in case you were wondering). But from a professional viewpoint, I have one ‘Big’ problem with SATC, and it’s not a Mr: It’s Samantha Jones, the PR woman.

Friends think that I ought to be flattered by the show’s portrayal of a strong-minded, sexy female working in the same job as mine and who knows what she wants. But it’s the depiction of this ‘profession’ that makes me want to pull my hair out.

Samantha’s job seems to revolve entirely around casually throwing together every exclusive bash in New York and then attending them with her friends in tow. We all know the reality would be very different. I guarantee Samantha would be found running around backstage at any of her events, trying to keep everything and everyone to a watertight schedule. Just to shatter illusions even further, most of us in PR do not occupy our time planning lovely parties. Events are far more likely to consist of a corporate lunch or two or, if you’re lucky, working on a stand at the occasional conference, which is bound to be on an exciting topic, such as steel production or beekeeping.

Sex and the City is not the first programme to have damaged the reputation of women in PR. Jennifer Saunders did it first, of course, with her satirical portrayal of Edina Monsoon in the brilliantly funny ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. But a big part of the comedy lay in the ‘joke’ that Edina worked in PR, a job with so little substance to it that turning up was optional and when you did, it was an endless round of parties, drinking and the occasional lunch with Lulu. And don’t forget Bridget Jones famously ‘fannying around with the press releases’, to quote Hugh Grant in the film as Daniel Cleaver.

They say ‘sex sells’, but there is a loaded sub-text to the chosen profession of the sexually experienced character of Samantha. She even states in one episode that; “’I’m in PR’ translates as ‘I’m good in bed’”. Would Samantha’s character be as convincing if she were an accountant, or a chef, perhaps? The not-so-subliminal message is that working in PR is suited to women and neither they nor their profession should be taken too seriously. When you consider that SATC sets out to empower its female audience, it’s rather depressing. Even if it were a true depiction, what about the corporate communicators, those working in politics and generally making a difference for their clients or within the organisations where they slave away?

I cannot be alone in cringing at the thought of my mum watching Kim Cattrall play Samantha in SATC, but I recoil at her opinion of what her two daughters do for a living. No wonder she still thinks I’m going to come to my senses one day and ‘get a real, professional job’. I have a profession, just not the fictitious one that the rest of the world sees on screen.

I think it is time for some non-fiction please. The PR industry needs to do more to counter the stereotypical image of PR as an occupation that can be entered without relevant training and education. We need to do a better job at policing the reputation of our own industry.

Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, Samantha, Edina and Bridget are doing nothing to damage the appeal of working in public relations. Nothing could be further from the truth, with roughly 48,000 people working in the industry and PR regularly featuring amongst the top three career choices for graduates, many of them female.

Furthermore, a recent salary survey from industry bible PR Week illustrated that a career in public relations can command an increasingly attractive salary with employers set to maintain levels of graduate recruitment levels in this industry.

But why do so many fresh-faced young graduates want to work in PR over most other areas of employment? Should the industry be slapping itself on the back for offering such excellent salaries, working conditions and job satisfaction, or be concerned at the possibility that PR is being viewed as a soft-option, a Mickey Mouse career that can be done by anyone who knows how to hold a conversation and a wine glass simultaneously?

My suspicions that PR is not viewed as a serious profession were aroused when I learned that, across the country, applications to study public relations degrees were down once more this year, according to UCAS figures. Do those planning their careers not consider PR to be a vocation that values or requires the tailored education provided by universities? If you were pursuing a career in anything you perceived to be a true profession, wouldn’t you want to study for the appropriate qualifications in order to practice it?

I hope the delegates at the World Public Relations Conference remember that not all the world views PR as we do. If not, I know of a beekeeping conference they may prefer.

‘Tis the season for charity PR

December 3, 2007

A few Christmas thoughts on Third Sector PR from regular guest contributor Rob Dyson.

Should we all be committed (givers)?

December is upon us, and it’s the time of year charity PR’s cautiously welcome. I say cautiously because we predictably get a flurry of journalists – who ordinarily shun our meticulously-crafted pitches – seeking those warm feel-good stories, miraculous acts of human kindness and tales of ‘triumph over tragedy*’ (*TM every tabloid in the country).

A well-resourced charity PR will pull out those case studies we’d been keeping aside, unleash the Christmas campaigns, and speak sweetly to capture the public’s sense of festive generosity….but charities are for life, not just for Christmas.

And that can be the problem. In January, when the tree’s browned needles cover the floor and most people emerge blinking, pallid, confused and sober into the new year – charity PR’s have got to keep campaigning, lobbying and largely selling ‘the concept’ over ‘the tangible’. Alas, relying on people’s resolutions to ‘do more for charity’ doesn’t fund third-sector projects forever.

But as discussed in my previous offering not-for-profit PR’s best tools are clout, a sense of the current climate and the ability to raise consciousness with a well placed editorial, corporate partnership or celeb endorsement. So enjoy the season-to-be-merry. Relish those media slots where you can exploit topical stories of excess, goodwill and traditional notions of charity to your advantage. After all, if you’re a third sector PR, who needs NY resolutions? Apart from maybe being more forgiving to those Xmas ring-round hacks…

Fashion Zeitgeist

June 18, 2007

Being a] deeply stylish, and b] readers of Sunday Times’ Style section, we present the ‘going up/going down’ of fashion PR-with the return of the mysterious Ms J for the ladies’ perspective…

Currently loving [Ladies]

Peep toe heeled shoes (look good with anything)

Vintage dresses (though good ones are hard to find)

Girly skirt suits (make you feel empowered and sexy at the same time – bonus)

Footless tights (they may be officially “out” but I actually really like them and they are just so handy when the weather is this random)

Currently loving [Gents]

Yep, still the Khaki. Or the dark blue jean. Never lets you down.

Polo shirts. If they’re good enough for corporate America, why they’re sure good enough for us.

Sunny enough weather to get away with wearing shades without entirely looking like a poser.

Currently hating [Ladies]

Square heeled chunky shoes (you were supposed to throw them out back in 1997)

Wrap dresses (as above but intended to reach the scrap heap in 2005)

Mini skirts (never good in the workplace no matter how good people tell you your legs look)

Trouser suits (I feel like a man when I wear mine and I never saw the point of that androgynous look)

Currently hating [Gents]

Pointy toed shoes. It isn’t the 16th century, and they aren’t comfortable. I’ve heard.

Short sleeved shirts. Not unless you’re out on the town in Newcastle. Sorry ‘Toon’.

The black roll neck. Unless you’re Steve Jobs.

Ironing shirts. Never going to be good at it, and there’s only so many times you can pull puppy eyes at the girlfriend/flatmate/postman to do it for you…

PR’s better half?

June 11, 2007

Here’s another post froma guest contributor, Rob Dyson, discussing the challenge of PR when it isn’t about shifting products/shares/government funding…but *shock horror* about helping people. Over to you, Rob….

As Third Sector PRO’s do we need to tighten our tools?

Having worked in PR / Comms roles for around four years in the not-for-profit field, I’ve noticed some themes that run through our beloved ‘Third Sector’.

There is undeniably some incredibly good PR being done on malnourished budgets, poor resources and with ‘products’ that…well are just not that ‘sexy’, frankly. You tried selling an inclusive model of independent housing for disabled people over a sleek MP3 player with the ability to lend the listener teleportation skills?

But this can actually make us PR’s best kept secrets – innovative, resourceful, and approachable to our target media contacts. Yet before we place a worthy slap on our altruistic backs let’s agree that as a sector we’re not without our faults…

If you weren’t quick off the mark, you’ll have missed this year’s deadline in May for the innovative “Media Connections Awards scheme”, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and run by the Voluntary Action Media Unit (VAMU) and the Media Trust. I’d urge applying in ’08. I entered last year, along with about 200-odd eager charity beavers, and secured one of 20 national placements.
The purpose of the programme is to “enhance the media skills of people who work in the charity sector” by placing them in shadowing – and often working – roles in media institutions across the UK.

My time was spent with the BBC and I quickly found myself immersed in editorial meetings of the likes of The Today Programme, and felt a little like I had been permitted into a very select coven – with the chance to influence the stance of big news-setting institutions. And, I had at times brutally honest conversations with journalists regarding their opinions of my sector and our -ahem – failure to sometimes deliver the goods…

So what did they tell me?

Forgive me if I’m teaching charity PRO’s to suck eggs here but one oft-overlooked point were reiterated to me time and again – from producers, editors, and reporters: there absolutely must be the media ‘peg’ for the charity ‘apparel’ to hang on. These could be…

1. New research

A piece of brand new research, or a survey (of over 1,000 people), that reveals something about society that needs addressing is one way in. It could be about discrimination, access to healthcare, employment rights, the environment, etc; all bread and butter not-for-profit themes – but whatever it is has to be big enough, ‘shocking’ enough AND be clearly asking or calling for something to be done about it.

2. Say something – don’t be bland.

A not-for-profit should be damning a policy or ministerial decision – not just giving a shoulder-shrugging ‘disapproval’ or raised eyebrow. A really strong line is needed, and even better if it resonates with a current theme – like a response to a policy that day, or piggy backing of broader media story with your twist on it. Not only must we stick our heads above the parapet but we need to understand the devil we deal with. Don’t be afraid to feed new lines, new angles and dimensions on an existing story to a journalist. As long as the piece has genuine longevity they will welcome it. Some will be positively grateful!

3. Colour with case studies

Without the colour or texture or ability to tell a story with a real affected person, the story is weakened. Media know that real people are worth a hundred charity talking heads. Here is where you can really be their best friend – just make sure the relationship is reciprocal and your cause gets a plug in the process. It is more than frustrating when you have killed yourself getting your best / most emotive case studies over to a journo, and then…they forget to plug your organisation or they leave a website / telephone number out. Brief them well, and be clear about what you want to get out of it too.

So what’s it like working for a charity?

Well it’s not all sandals and socks and knitwear, that’s for sure. In fact charities are *gasp* quite trendy these days, and very competitive. The average age of people breaking in is early to late twenties, with possibly a slight lean towards more women, especially in PR.

Charities are big business – and many work with large corporations either through corporate responsibility programmes, charity of the year partnerships, and on innovative projects. Many also lobby Government on big issues, and are increasingly turned to for consultations on shaping policy. Government know that they can’t change society on their own, and not-for-profits can be agents of real social change. Plus lots of celebrities want to be associated with a ‘cause’ to lend them some of that feel good stuff. So you could be working with the big brands and swanning around with slebs, whilst making waves that don’t just make stakeholders money but actually change their lives for the better.

If you are interested in PR careers in charity, log on to Facebook and join up to the Third Sector PR and Communications Network

You could be surprised.

Rob Dyson is a Press Officer at disability organisation Scope. About cerebral Palsy. For disabled people achieving equality.
• The Media Trust runs successful media training seminars and a media matching scheme to help charities access marketing and PR help.
• The Voluntary Action Media Unit has developed, a database of charity media contacts which journalists can subscribe and tap into when chasing leads and case studies for stories.

PR clothing – for women

June 5, 2007

The following post comes from a mystery figure, who stylishly wishes only to be known as Ms J… 


Further to Desmier Esq.’s recent posting on this issue, it falls to me – a loyal reader and PR fashion guru, to reply. I’d like to start with one main assertion: Dressing appropriately for PR is much more of a dilemma for the ladies than it is for the gents.

As far as our male counterparts go, it is far easier for them to find a half-way house between a suit and jeans (e.g. chinos and open-necked shirt) than it is for us. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has flung her whole wardrobe all over the bedroom floor in despair and tried on three separate outfits in the morning before deciding on a suitable look for that day’s activities.

The smart/casual conundrum could be endlessly debated, as could clothing options for a day which contains meetings with three radically different clients. However, I think it can be essentially concluded as follows: don’t be afraid of being a little bit creative, and, above all, wear what suits you. By creative, I don’t mean wacky (!) but I think if I were a client, and especially one of the more consumery variety (or one that doesn’t have a particularly impressive wardrobe themselves), there would be something quite gratifying about seeing your agency team mirror their creative qualities in their clothing style.

Nevertheless, as far as PR ladies in London go, most people seem to play it safe and stick to one general “look.” They may have a wide range of different outfits but I believe they basically fall into one of five categories and I have had a bash at segmenting them as such for the purposes of this article. Being a corporate PR girlie myself, this is skewed towards the types of people usually found in a corporate agency, but I imagine those of you working in other sectors have similar examples in your own companies.

1. The Quality Surveyor – classic fashion sense, always looks good, checks out everyone else’s outfits when they walk into the office content in the knowledge that she looks better, and has spent more money on her outfit than everyone else. The QS is stubborn about her favourite shops – you’ll never catch her in H&M and secretly wish you too could buy your capsule items (white t shirts and the like) from Reiss and Joseph.

2. The Classic Cheap & Chic-ster – good bargain hunter, adept at teaming a one-off designer or vintage piece with something from Topshop or even Primark (as unprepared as she is to get involved with the current chav-tastic crush-athon situation on Oxford Street). Always well co-ordinated and knows what suits her. Like everyone else, she has her off days (i.e. when all the good stuff is in the wash) but this is ok because off-days are timed to coincide with a rare night off in front of the telly.

3. The Flesh Flasher – great figure, not bothered about updating her look on a regular basis, the Flesh Flasher is a fully signed-up member of the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” club. She has several flattering pieces which she knows are winners in any situation – super short skirts and shoulder-padded jackets for the new business pitch, ridiculously low-cut tops for the meeting with new male client. FF has the most criticised dress sense of all the women in the office, sometimes rightly deserved (inappropriate for her age and seniority), though oft-fuelled purely by jealousy (we all wish we had pins like hers).

4. Am I bovvered? – Probably the most intelligent girl in the office and a firm believer that there’s more to life than clothes. Never looks bad but equally never takes a risk, sticking to what she knows and likes. Often has a theme to her outfits e.g. always wears black or whenever she wears a suit, it’s always with the same blue shirt. Equally not bovvered about footwear and has a sensible pair of M&S “footgloves” which are sturdy and sensible and clearly far more comfortable than the stilettos the rest of us are limping around in.

5. The Wrong ’un – we all have one in our office – the person who probably thinks they have an “individual sense of style” but whatever they do, it just looks wrong: no co-ordination, silver, gold and costume jewellery (together), red toe nails, pink finger nails (at the same time, usually chipped), tights with sandals, winter coat with flip flops etc etc. the list goes on. The annoying thing is, the Wrong ’un is normally pretty good at her job so when she rocks up to a client meeting looking a bit, well, wrong, no one bats an eyelid.

It’s just the beginning…

June 1, 2007

Louise Orr is a final year PR student at Bournemouth Uni, who has just sat her last exams.  

So I have officially finished university. Forever. And as the hangover clears following a brilliant celebration and farewell round of “pub golf”, I’m getting very excited about what is on the horizon.  

The last four years have been a real rollercoaster, with the high points far outweighing the low. My BA (Hons) Public Relations degree at Bournemouth University has prepared me for what will hopefully be a long and prosperous career in the industry, and I’ve made some amazing friends. I do think that regardless of your opinion of PR degrees, I could not be more ready to go into the industry; I’m excited about the challenges that lie ahead and feel like I’ve been planning this day for months.  

As I left the exam room yesterday lunchtime, it hit me that I’m no longer a student. The initial excitement turned into apprehension as one era ends and I stumble into the next. But after a little reflection and a supportive chat from my housemates I realised that this is far from the end. Firstly, most of Bournemouth University PR students are now winging their way to London, so there is bound to be a few familiar faces on the tube each morning, but also because the end of my degree signals the start of the rest of my life.  

Having been in education for 18 years, I’m now stepping out into the big, bad world with life experience from university that I doubt I would have got elsewhere and with the confidence in my chosen career path to know this is what I want to do for the foreseeable future.  Personally I have overcome a lot of challenges, and I learnt so much from my industrial placement year that I’m now excited to put four years of very hard work into practise.  I have 11 days until I start my first “grown up” PR job and I can’t wait. Those 11 days provide me with just enough time to recover from this awful hangover, clear out my university house and get everything in order for the next stage of my life. This morning signals the end of an era – and the start of something amazing. And it’s very exciting. (Or at least it will be when I recover – all suggestions on how to cope in the rat race with such awful hangovers will be greatly received! I’m definitely retiring my pub golf clubs for a while!)