10 lessons I learned 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 learned 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…

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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.

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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?

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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.

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How to manage a PR crisis on social media

Social media can be a valuable platform if you are responsible for crisis communications. You can continually monitor what your stakeholders are talking about and how they are feeling so you may be able to spot an issue before it becomes a crisis. But, there will inevitably be times when you can’t and social media can become a liability.

By having a presence on social media, everyone can see what you are doing, whether proactive or reactive. Crisis risks used to be private but now they are very public and the world can see your crisis ‘prevention’ activities.

So how do you manage a crisis risk in public?

Timothy Coombs, Professor of Communications at Texas A&M University shared this advice in a recent webinar hosted by PR Academy:

The basics:

Crisis scanning – Identify early. Find the crisis before it finds you

Crisis monitoring – Keep on top of the debate and where it could be headed next

Crisis responding – Use the platform(s) to get your message out as quickly and responsibly as possible

Social media allows for fast placement of messages, quick adjustments and you can use multiple channels at a low cost to reach as many people as possible. But, an audience’s expectation of how quickly you should respond can be unrealistic and the “jumble of voices” online means you need a well-established social media presence ahead of a crisis so you don’t get lost in the noise.

Ways to respond to challenges on social media:

Refusal – Keep quiet and hope it goes away– not a good idea!

Refutation – Duck, dodge and denyagain, never a good idea

Repression – Try and suppress the sharing of opinions and information relating to the crisis – not a good idea!

Recognition – Recognise the issue/complaint/problem and, when appropriate, accept the challenge. This is a typical response: “we understand”, “we are aware”, “we are working to resolve the issue” – this should be your minimum standard

Revision – Listen and make changes. This can take time so a combination of recognition and revision is sometimes required. The key is to ensure you communicate the changes you have made to your audience and complete the picture for them – aiming a bit higher

Reform – True reform, that is. Essentially, this is a change of core practice within the business that is felt across the organisation – certainly not in all instances. A “storm in a teacup” would never warrant this level of response

Clearly, there are times when social media is an asset and others when it is a liability for the crisis communications professional. The trick, if you can master it, is to get the balance to tip in your favour as often as possible.

Should your next comms campaign be all about influencers?

At a recent conference, a major player in the sports arena shared details of how their communications focus is moving away from targeting traditional media to developing and courting social media influencers.

As the conference was held under Chatham House Rule, I am not allowed to divulge who this information came from – suffice to say it is a major, global brand that is known to everyone (that is no exaggeration).

10 years ago, this brand had lost ground to its main competitor so they had a “brand reset” and created a new overarching comms strategy. A big change was to focus on key markets and expect the rest of the world to follow, rather than trying to communicate with the entire world at once.

One of the four primary roles of their communications team (along with earned PR, owned/paid social and sports/entertainment talent marketing) is now to engage social influencers. And this is where it gets really interesting…

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At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, this brand made a bold decision to give 70% of its talent interview opportunities to social influencers and only 30% to traditional media  based on the knowledge that:

  • Traditional media will not talk about the brand; influencers will
  • Influencers have a far greater reach (more than 150million social media followers)
  • Influencers are more integrated with the brand so advocacy is much, much stronger
  • Influencers are easier to work with than traditional media
  • Influencers crave the experiences high profile brands are able to provide for them

…this brand now expects to give 100% of its talent interview opportunities to social influencers at the next Olympics.

So how do they choose which influencers they will engage to deliver their message?

Work with people who are credible and fit with the brand. It’s not just about how many followers they’ve got.

Have you begun introducing social influencer engagement in your communications plans? Will you consider it after reading this?

In-house vs agency PR – bridging the skills gap

I attended a PR Moment training and networking event last night on “Future proofing in-house PR teams”Sarah Ogden, Director of 3 Monkeys Zeno, opened with research from a survey of in-house PR professionals.

Some of the headline results were completely expected, such as “in-house PR teams need to be more integrated across all communications” but an increase of outsourcing media relations and copywriting was a surprise.

Hearteningly, 80.6% of the in-house PR professionals surveyed believe PR is becoming more valued as a business discipline

Other interesting findings included…

Top 3 priorities of in-house PR teams today:

  1. External copy
  2. Strategy
  3. Social media

Top 3 services required of agencies:

  1. Activation
  2. Strategy
  3. Content

So, while strategy is still absolutely vital for both disciplines, if you want to work in-house, you’d better brush up on your writing and social media skills; if you’d prefer to work in an agency, examples of how you’ve delivered campaigns and developed content will set you in good stead.

Howard Jones, Head of Comms at EE also shared some insight into the skills he feels in-house PR teams need today.  One phrase that really struck a chord with me is this:

Increasingly, in-house PR teams are being used for brand protection, not brand promotion. We are the only ones with the integrity and credibility to protect the brand.

He also said, “there is a huge difference between the skills required for brand activation and crisis comms but we are all trying to deal with both in one team”.

So which skills does he think in-house PR teams need now?

  1. Data (audience targeting and effectiveness)
  2. Measurement (convincing budget holders you’re worth the money)
  3. Social (specifically how to integrate into activities for protection and promotion)
  4. Content (developing multimedia for traditional and social media)

And which skills can’t we afford to leave behind?

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Have you noticed a change in the skills required of in-house and agency teams? Let me know in the comments below.

I’ll be posting another blog soon with more great content from this event, focused on how one global brand is moving away from targeting traditional media to developing and courting social media influencers. Watch this space!

Turning customer contact into PR gold

Once again, I have to applaud the the PR team at Virgin Trains. They really know how to spot an opportunity and turn it into a winning story, as demonstrated this weekend:

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They clearly haven’t forgotten the rewards of publicly going over and above for their customers…

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The story of the new menu reminded me of the time Sainsbury’s grabbed headlines by changing the name of their “Tiger Loaf” to “Giraffe Loaf” on the advice of a three-year old girl.

The foresight to realise that doing so would be a great story resulted in a viral hit and a huge amount of positive PR coverage on BBC, Daily Mail, Telegraph, The Sun… the list goes on and on.

So, make sure you have a good relationship with your customer service team and ask them to let you know if they receive any ideas from your customers that you could make a reality. Beyond making that one person happy (and most likely a customer for life), the story could bring big rewards for you in PR terms.

 

Resisting the urge to create content

An email from PR Week landed in my inbox over the weekend that really made me stop and take notice.

This is the quote that caught my eye. It’s from Lisa Jedan, Global Head of Brand PR at Bacardi-Martini:

When marketers say: ‘We need some content’ – you can just replace the word ‘content’ with ‘shit’ if people don’t know what they’re going to say.

Anyone who has ‘content creation’ as part of their job description is bound to have felt the pressure of filling a pipeline with great articles, videos, blogs and news to satisfy a hungry and demanding audience. But sometimes resisting the urge to churn out another piece of ‘content’ is the very best thing you can do.

Creating content for content’s sake, without having a clear idea of your message, aims and call to action will typically leave both you and your audience feeling uninspired, unenthusiastic and pretty darn disappointed. Putting out something mediocre or off-message can certainly do more damage than going quiet for a few hours.

I recently attended a fantastic CPD course about business storytelling which had this message (echoed by Lisa Jedan in PR Week) at its very heart:

“We need to find passion points for our audience.”

Taking the time to understand your audience then creating specific pieces of content designed to connect on an emotional level will ensure your work is actually adding value to someone’s day, and is not just created to put another tick in a ‘to do’ box.

So next time you feel the pressure to post “something” on social media to fill a gap, try taking a breath and really thinking about what you want to say before you start. If you don’t have anything specific to share, perhaps it’s better not to post at all. An alien concept for some, I’m sure.

Why you should include video in your next marketing plan

Video is no longer an “up-and-coming” marketing tactic — it’s here, and it’s a powerful way to communicate.

To start, here are three Insivia statistics that suggest why you should consider using video in your marketing campaigns:

  1. 1/3 of all online activity is spent watching video
  2. 92% of mobile video consumers share videos with others
  3. 87% of online marketers use video content

Live video

If you don’t want to invest in professionally filmed and edited videos, have you thought about trying live video to see if that works for your brand?

The key to the success of live streaming is its accessibility and unpredictability. It’s not staged or an advert; it’s a genuine experience. The things you see are actually happening, creating a transparent representation – QS Digital Solutions

While there are live streaming video services available from Twitter (Periscope) and YouTube, Facebook – with its 1.86billion active users – would be the place I’d start. You’ll get instant feedback on whether people like what you’re doing through likes, shares and comments.facebook-live-video

If you’re worried about your video looking less ‘authentic’ and more ‘amateur’, for around a £100 investment you can buy some basic tools such as a clip on mic and small tripod to improve the sound and picture quality, without compromising the authenticity of the film.

360-degree video

For something completely different, you could consider 360-degree video.

Incorporating 360-degree technology further immerses users in your world, creating a new layer of connectedness or giving them an ‘on the ground’ view that they might have been missing previously.

Ted Baker recently invested in a new 360-degree ‘shoppable film’ to increase shopper engagement and drive online purchases:

 

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A still from Ted Baker’s 360-degree ‘shoppable film’

 

Google suggests that 360-degree video typically results in a higher click through rate, as well as a greater amount of engagement in the form of social shares. 360 video can have a 3x times higher average watch time, too, (source: iProspect) and while this is all very persuasive, it is worth bearing in mind that virtual reality development can add approximately 40% of additional costs to video production.

So, will you be including video in your next marketing plan?