Do PR and marketing degrees give anyone an edge in this industry?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rather bizarre experience. I received an email pitch from a PR/social media agency. I say it was bizarre because I’m used to being on the other side of the process: drafting the brief then picking up the phone or sending an initial email that would be followed up at a later date.

Being viewed as a target for coverage felt pretty surreal – but also flattering.

The agency in question was representing Bournemouth University and its new range of short courses for media professionals. It’s an intelligent approach that allows working individuals to ‘mix their own MA’ and pick the modules that will be most useful to them in their careers. A number of modules are also delivered in partnership with the BBC which adds further credibility to the qualifications, in my opinion.

While I can certainly see the value of this kind of continuous learning and the development of specific skills required for this career, I have never been convinced that trying to gain this expertise before actively doing the job is such a good thing.

I’ve worked with a number of colleagues who have PR and/or marketing degrees, but in all honesty I’m not sure whether those three years of study have made much of a difference to the individuals’ careers in the long run. In fact, I very much doubt that those particular qualifications gave them an edge when they entered this industry fresh from university.

My thoughts on the subject have been compounded by the experience of working with others who have completed degrees in subjects as wide-ranging as business, literature and law who I found to be just as driven, competent and suited to careers in PR and marketing.

I don’t doubt that you can teach almost anyone to write a passable press release. I’m sure that you can also teach them the fundamentals of good media relations. But it’s that flair for the work and innate aptitude that is much harder to find. If an individual has “it”, I highly doubt that any astute employer would turn them away simply because they chose to study a more diverse subject at university.

Besides, they can always add to their academic prowess at a later date with a masters degree, on-the-job training, a specific marketing qualification – or a short course for media professionals…

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What motivatation do PRs and marketers need?

What motivates you?

It’s a seemingly simple question, but it’s one that I’ve been mulling over ever since it was posed to me.

Is it pride in my work? Or praise, perhaps? Maybe it’s the satisfaction that comes with knowing that I’ve really achieved something today – something that was worth working exceptionally hard for.

As a freelance copywriter, I could plough through a project and churn out copy that is sub-standard simply because I am being paid by the word. In theory, the quicker I write those words, the quicker I get paid. Professional integrity and pride in my product stop me though and always have me reviewing the copy long after it’s been written. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

When I worked in the PR industry, the highlight of my day would be seeing a piece of coverage in one of my client’s key titles that I knew they would be delighted with. It was never about adding an impressive cutting to my book or boasting about column inches, it was simply about knowing that the client would be happy. It might sound corny but it’s absolutely true.

In my online marketing role, there was a genuine buzz about the office when a client’s website hit page one on Google or shot up the rankings for a highly competitive search term. It gave everyone a little lift.

These are the environments that I thrive in. Everyone enjoys success but it’s important to remember that most people will quantify that success very differently. A pay rise or a title change will always give you a boost but don’t forget about all of the small and seemingly insiginifant triumphs in between. Those are the things that really make the world go (merrily) round.

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Is it a good idea for companies to promote themselves during the World Cup?

I was asked an interesting question in response to my last post on the PR pitfalls of the England football team. It was:

what’s your advice and thoughts on companies promoting themselves during the footy, particularly trying to trade off the back of it and the tide of patriotism?

I think it’s a tricky one which is why I’ve given it its own post for a response.

If a company already has an affiliation with the England squad (Nationwide and Umbro are obvious examples) then of course they are going to shout about it as loud as they can for as long as they can. It will represent a significant ongoing investment for them that they need to see a healthy return from.

Companies trying to “piggy-back” football’s current popularity need to exercise more caution. For instance, they need to think about whether they will drop the campaign if/when the England team gets knocked out of the tournament and – more importantly – whether the nation will notice and perceive that company to be disloyal as a result?

In my mind, there are three distinct sets of people to market to during the World Cup: die-hard football fans who live for the game and know every statistic that exists; people with temporary football fever who will watch every England game but only for the next four weeks; and everyone else who is desperately trying to avoid the whole event. Pick the wrong target market or neglect your key group and it’ll be money down the drain.

That said, topicality is always one of the key ingredients for any big news story so if you’ve got some money put aside in your marketing budget and you’re feeling game, give it a go.

Just make sure you can find your own angle – I’ve recently seen far too many companies running “your money back if England win the World Cup” promotions. Whoever did it first had a great idea (although it does make me feel like they are pretty confident that we won’t win…), it’s just a shame that it’s lost its edge because of copy cats.

That’s my view on the topic. What do you think?

P.S. I’ll try and avoid too many more football-related posts so I don’t neglect my third group!

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The England football team: a PR challenge and a half

England’s World Cup campaign kicked off last night with an unconvincing 1-1 draw with the USA. There were some flashes of brilliance early on, but far too many mistakes, including a horrifying goalkeeping error from Robert Green which led to the equaliser. (Please read on: marketing-and-pr isn’t turning into a football-crazed blog, don’t panic!)

The nation appeared to be absolutely determined to get behind the national squad yesterday. There were St. George’s flags flying proudly from car windows and a last minute rush to buy “Tailored by Umbro” shirts before kick off. But after questionable results in the warm-up games and a troubling performance last night, how long can British World Cup fever last?

Most level-headed Brits have already resigned themselves to the notion that we’ll be lucky if we get to play a quarter final game. While the kids may still believe that Stevie G. has a hope of lifting that trophy, they may just be the only ones. Call me cynical, but improving public perception of our chances is becoming a bigger challenge with every passing day.

Add to the poor performances on the field countless rumours about affairs off the field, and our chances of regaining a rapport with the squad look more desperate than ever.

We’ll need, then, a PR miracle that will absolutely reverse the public’s feelings about the squad – and there is hope. A good result in these World Cup finals or (do we dare dream?) a win, would surely right the recent wrongs and leave the nation pleasantly abashed for not having more faith in its national team.

Our pride would be restored and our cynicism shelved – at least until Euro 2012…

That leaves me with just three words to say: Come On England!

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Professional relationships with the wonderful written word

I’ve become completely caught up in a  freelance copywriting project lately that has been filling my days with creativity. It has been a great relief to get involved with writing again at such an intense level after a year of working in online marketing where I was only occassionally creative by constructing the odd blog post.

With a degree in Literature that was propelled by a somewhat shameful obsession with English lessons in school, I’ve been in love with words for as long as I can remember. Reading them, writing them, re-reading them time and time again…

Now I only occassionally return to my university texts when I feel the need for some age-old  prose; you’re much more likely to find me poring over the latest issue of Vogue at the weekend – word by glorious word – or racing my way through some fanciful modern fiction.

I wonder whether all PR and marketing professionals share the same reverance for the written word, or whether their press releases, brochures and corporate boiler plates are as far as they venture in their relationships with writing…

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What would your social network look like?

If you’ve got even half an ear to the ground, you won’t have failed to hear of the ongoing grumblings about Facebook and its privacy issues. While it doesn’t seem to have affected the site’s overall popularity or dominance in the social networking space, rather ironically its members have formed groups via the network itself protesting about the ongoing issues.

Facebook groups have been formed to protest against ongoing privacy issues

While Facebook still reigns supreme, I’ve been wondering how these ongoing issues might eventually manifest and whether the masses will desert the site. If they do, where will they go? Surely not back to the rather unfashionable MySpace or Bebo…

Twitter continues to win people over but I have serious doubts about whether it has the mainstream appeal to take over from Facebook. If my usage of the two sites is anything to go by, at a very basic level I use Facebook for personal networking and Twitter for professional networking. While there will always be some overlap, the distinction remains reasonably clear for me. For others it may differ hugely.

LinkedIN continues to operate in the background, attracting many professional networkers like myself but also a multitude of recruitment consultants looking to poach staff who have attractive online CVs. There’s no doubt that this can be off putting.

Chatroulette looked like it was going to gain some prominence when it first appeared but its webcam-based conversations seem to have scared too many potential users away since pornography threatens to rear its ugly head at every other click.

So what is the answer? Where would we all go if we chose to abandon Facebook? I’d like to think that there’s a new kind of social network on the horizon, one that combines the best bits from all of the others but also brings us something fresh and new.

My question to you is – which elements of your social networking couldn’t you live without and which would you happily wave goodbye to? Answers on a postcard please – or in the comments section below!

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