How to find work experience in the Marketing and PR sector

Last week, I travelled back to my university to support a ‘Career Conversations’ event for current students. I loved my three years at the University of Essex and was glad to have an opportunity to give back.

The event was really well organised, with small groups of students sitting down with alumni to ask questions and make connections. It was fun to share my career story and talk about how I got to where I am now with such an engaged and enthusiastic group.

I was in the Business, Marketing and Technology set, talking to students studying for degrees as wide-ranging as English, History, Law and Languages.

There was one question that I was consistently asked throughout the evening:

How can I get work experience with Marketing or PR companies?

By doing work experience with a PR agency and keeping in touch with them during the final year of my degree, I secured my first job as an Account Executive when I graduated.

What was interesting, though, was that these students were only thinking about formal work experience schemes and internships which I largely steered clear of. For me, it made far more sense to avoid the battle with hundreds of others for just a few places and instead target companies I wanted to work for and make a direct approach. When I told the students this, they admitted it wasn’t something they had considered but definitely would now.

The other point I was keen to make was the importance of keeping in contact. There’s little use doing work experience with a great team then disappearing completely afterwards. It may get you some bullet points on your CV, but you’re likely to be quickly forgotten by that company.

By following up a few times when you’re back at university (“How did that campaign go?”, “What’s the latest with that client?”, “Did XX have her baby yet?”), the rapport you’ve built during your work experience could well translate into an actual job or, at the very least, a more personal and persuasive reference when you need one.

If you have any other questions on this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.


What’s the best training course for PR professionals?

I have a confession: I love CPD. If I know I have a training course coming up, I genuinely look forward to it. No matter how much other work I have on, I almost always see the value in taking the time to develop new skills.

I may feel this way because I’ve attended some genuinely great courses during my career. It may also be that I’ve somehow managed to avoid the worst. Either way, continuing my education in any way possible has always felt important to me.

A few years after I graduated, I really started to miss learning. Studying for my Literature degree was hard work but it was also inspiring and I wanted to feel that again. So, I enrolled in the CIPR Professional PR Diploma course. On reflection, this may have been a bit extreme as it meant I had to juggle a full-time job with face-to-face tuition, 10+ hours of self-study each week and writing four assessment papers. It also took a full year.

I’m proud to hold a post-graduate qualification but I can’t see myself signing up for anything that intensive again. Instead, I’m always on the lookout for after-work seminars and free webinars. I also take full advantage of the training budget available to me each review cycle.

For me, the best courses I’ve attended in recent years have been:

  1. How to be an inspiring storyteller – Berkeley Story Academy
  2. Effective people management – Chartered Institute of Public Relations

The first really refreshed my copywriting and helped me re-connect with my first boss (he runs the course); the second helped me develop my own leadership style and taught me a lot about how I like to be managed, too.

What are the best courses you’ve attended lately? And, if you’re feeling brave, what are the worst? Let me know in the comments!

My top five takeaways from ContentEd 2018

Last week, I attended “Europe’s only content strategy conference for the education sector”. Perfect for this Communications Manager and Copywriter working for a global schools group.

Overall, I found ContentEd really worthwhile and quite inspiring, with lots of real-world experience being shared. My highlights from a packed two-day programme were talks by Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University and Alex Ayling, Head of Digital Studios for BBC Worldwide.

I took pages and pages of notes over the two days but the top five lessons I’m taking away from ContentEd are:

  1. Happiness at work isn’t about major projects, it’s about small wins and making progress – Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University
  2. Great content can inform, educate or entertain. It doesn’t have to do all three at once – Alex Ayling, Head of Digital Studios for BBC Worldwide
  3. Influencers can be categorised into the following four groups – Robert Perry, Head of Research, Pickle Jar Communications
    • Activists (really interested in a topic but not necessarily in a professional sense)
    • Academics/experts (passionate about a topic and it is their job)
    • Bloggers (content creators embedded in a topic with their own channels of conversation)
    • Broadcasters (don’t tend to engage, one-way communication, but can be hugely influential)
  4. Create change through experimentation. ‘Pilot’ new things rather than ‘launching’ them – keep testing and changing – Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University
  5. Work hard and be nice to people – Octavia Reeve, Head of Content Strategy, Royal College of Art

If you attended ContentEd 2018 and you’d like to connect, please follow me on Twitter (@beccajhills) or send me an invitation on LinkedIn

When it comes to PR, its the toy makers I’m watching

There are two brands I can’t help but get excited about when it comes to their PR: Barbie and LEGO. But how is it that the toy companies are the ones producing some of the best PR stunts and stories out there? Shouldn’t it be the disruptor brands and start-ups that pull my attention?

It could be that I enjoy the toy brands’ PR so much because the basis of their business is play. They’re not afraid to push boundaries or do something to make people genuinely smile. Corporations can be guilty of over thinking things so going ‘back to basics’ and focusing on what’s genuinely fun and entertaining is a great place to start.

And if all else fails, there’s always childhood nostalgia to fall back on.

Here are a couple of recent examples:

LEGO’s Royal Wedding

Capitalising on a national event like a Royal Wedding is harder than it seems. With so many brands trying to ‘cash in’, finding a unique angle can be a huge challenge.

But, as usual, LEGO didn’t over think it and simply did what they do best: building incredible scenes out of their iconic bricks. This is something they’ve done time and time again and it never fails to generate headlines.

This time, they’ve unveiled a miniature “LEGO Royal Wedding & Windsor Castle” at their Legoland Windsor Resort, playing on its proximity to the big event and astounding people with the detail of the design.

Not only has it generated a huge amount of press for the brand, I’m sure it’s translated directly into ticket sales for the Windsor theme park, too.


Barbie on the cover of CIPR’s Influence Magazine

When Barbie manufacturer Mattel announced it was giving its iconic doll the opportunity to wear flat shoes in 2015, it felt like a real turning point for the brand. They went all-out to generate headlines about Barbie moving with the times and shrugging off her “airhead” image, generating big pieces of PR in fashion magazines and newspapers alike.


The following year, they introduced three new body shapes for Barbie, firmly reinforcing the notion that they’ve listened to and understood the current market –  and that they’re here to stay.

With 98% brand recognition globally, this is a powerful brand, regardless of whether you think there’s much more work to be done to shrug off the negative associations of Barbie’s past.

In this month’s CIPR magazine, the cover and five whole pages are dedicated to “Barbie the feminist and her PR breakthrough”. Certainly one to keep watching if you ask me.


What’s the point of International Women’s Day anyway?

Today, 8th March, is International Women’s Day and I, for one, am always delighted when this day rolls around. It’s a great reminder to celebrate the incredible women in our lives and remember the struggle for equality that so many before us have faced.

But it still shocks me that a number of people fundamentally don’t understand that it should be all about equality, not championing one sex over the over.

A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less. – Vera Nazarian

It really shocked me today when someone commented on my Facebook post: “The fact that women need ‘a day’ to prove that they are powerful…kind of proves they’re not.” I politely reminded him that there’s also an International Men’s Day (19th November) and we don’t ‘need’ a day, but why not celebrate when one exists?

One brand that also seems to have missed the point entirely is Brewdog. They launched a pink IPA ‘beer for girls’ ahead of International Women’s Day 2018 and, surprise surprise, this move spectacularly backfired. This tweet sums it up nicely:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 14.18.36

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.

What is a ‘Portfolio Career’ and how do you get one?

I read an interesting article in Stylist magazine recently about the rise of the Portfolio Career. This is essentially a way of piecing together various part-time interests and opportunities to create a full-time job.

Why might you consider a portfolio career?

  1. Your dream job is only available on a part-time basis but you need a full-time income
  2. You need true flexibility in your working hours
  3. You want to work from home
  4. You want to utilise your wide range of skills and/or interests
  5. You can’t decide on a single career path
  6. You want to transition to a new role and/or sector but you’re afraid to do so without gaining some experience first
  7. You want it all

With more and more companies really buying in to flexible working, a portfolio career could be more of a reality than you realise.

“Flexible working” used to be something that companies listed in the benefits section of a job description but when you challenged them on what it really meant, they couldn’t offer much beyond occasionally finishing at 4 on a Friday.

In my current role as a Communications Manager for a truly global business, I finally understand how flexible working can benefit both the company and its staff. “Flexibility” can mean different things to different people, of course. For some, flexible working hours are key to support a busy home life and dependants, while for others it’s about having the option to work from different locations on different days. For me, it’s a shorter working week with a couple of days working at home.

So, if you are able to change your hours to better suit your schedule or even condense your working week, you could start to build yourself a portfolio career. For someone in a role like mine, this could mean taking on freelance copywriting or proofreading projects to make the most of these in-demand skills. Or, you could try something completely different to your day job to help you stay motivated and interested in your work.

If you’re not currently working in your dream role or if you don’t have any experience in the sector you want to join, this could also be a way to gently start the transition so you don’t have to make such a blind leap of faith further down the line.

It is worth noting that some employment contracts state you must declare any business interests that you have and seek permission from your line manager if there could be a conflict of interest. If this is in your contract, do it. It’s not worth losing your main source of income because you didn’t think to check. 

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who works for a business that is truly flexible with its team and those who have started building portfolio careers for themselves. As always, you can comment below or tweet me via @beccajhills.

10 lessons I learnt in the first 10 years of my career 

During my final year at university, I couldn’t wait to start work. I’d already completed two summer internships and lined up a job with one of those employers, a PR agency that I’m happy to say I’m still in touch with today.

I graduated in the summer of 2007 and, a decade later, I’ve learnt some important lessons that I’m confident will serve me well throughout my career.

So here they are, my top 10:

1. Keep in touch with the people who helped shape your career

A good piece of advice I received early on was “never leave a job on bad terms”. In fact, leaving on the best terms possible has meant I’ve been able to keep in touch with my mentors and call on them years later for advice.

The CEO of my first PR agency and Marketing Manager at my most formative job are the two people I still call on today and I’m so grateful for their continued support. If you can find these people for yourself, hang on to them. Their counsel is invaluable.

2. Get a professional qualification

Five years ago, I completed my Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. When I started, it had been four years since I graduated and I was really missing the challenge of education. I won’t lie, it was tough studying and writing assignments while working full-time but I was lucky to have the support of my employer who contributed funding and a few days off to attend seminars in London.

I’m proud to hold a professional qualification and it definitely got me thinking about the industry in a more considered way. I also made some great friends who really understand the challenges of doing what we do…


3. You don’t have to be first in and last out at night

It is far more important to prove that you can manage your workload effectively and deliver to tight deadlines when you need to. Staying late to get things done is sometimes inevitable but it’s not worth doing it just for show.

4. Really get to know your colleagues

I’ve met some people through work who have come to mean a huge amount to me. Not only does it make the day go faster if you like those you’re working with, it also means you have a reliable sounding board to get you through the tough days and someone to celebrate with on the best days. Take the time to get to know your colleagues – you won’t regret it.

10514571_721712872297_2935786205960374607_n5. Never stop learning

It’s easy to get complacent when you feel like work’s going well but with the world moving as quickly as it does, things can change in an instant. Even if you don’t have the budget for formal training, you can sign up for free webinars and evening training/networking sessions where some really influential people come to speak. PR Moment, PR Academy and Social Bakers are some of my favourites for this type of informal training.

6. Regularly talk to others who do a similar job

My job title doesn’t mean that much to people outside of the industry. “What’s a Comms Manager?” is a very common question. Talking to people who understand what you do can be invaluable if you work in a small or one person team and need to float an idea.

Attend networking events, join groups on LinkedIn, make contact with your counterpart in other regions of your organisation. It all helps.

7. Keep records of your own development

…because no-one will do it for you. It’s so important to have a record of your success to look back on and it’s invaluable when you decide it’s time for a new challenge. You won’t need the finer details of every campaign you’ve ever run, but if you can refer to examples of quantifiable success (percentage increases, award wins, customer feedback), you’ll be one step ahead of the competition’s vague assertions of their worth.


8. Stand up for yourself

The very worst bosses can be bullies so it’s important that you know what you have achieved and arm yourself with the facts to back it up. I once went in to a review meeting unprepared and I’ve always regretted it. If I’d had the figures in that meeting, I would have been able to definitively prove the value of my work, rather than getting railroaded by unfounded assumptions.

9. Take a career break

This is one that probably won’t feature on many people’s lists but I can’t recommend it highly enough. Not only can you quickly gain valuable, transferable skills when you’re in a challenging and unfamiliar environment, I genuinely believe it makes you a more interesting and well-rounded person.

Not convinced? I’ve written more on the topic here: Is taking a career break ever a good idea?


10. Don’t take things so personally

This is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. I’m grateful that I’ve developed the self awareness to know that if I’m given nine positive pieces of feedback and one suggestion for improvement, I’ll obsess over the negative. Knowledge is power and I’m going to keep trying to take my own advice on this one.

Have you got any other lessons to add to the list? If so, please comment below.