November 2019: cool evenings and pre COVID-19. At the time I was a second-year student at Ulster University (UU) waiting for an interview. The interview was to become the next Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) representative. My name is Lottie Kelly, and I was a CIPR student ambassador for UU 2019-2020.  

If you are unaware of CIPR, it is an governing body which provides a central hub for public relations (PR) practitioners across the United Kingdom. It offers resources for training, qualifications and networking. I held an interest and PR and thought that being a representative (or ‘rep’) would provide insight on a potential career in PR. As a representative, I soon became acquainted with the new responsibilities and opportunities available to me through CIPR. 

A great event for students, the CIPR/UU Student Conference. 20 February 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

First I should note that my role and experience as CIPR rep was affected by COVID-19. Like many other industries, events were cancelled or moved online and work was carried out from home. Fortunately my role was transferred online with only minimal adjustments, such as ZOOM meetings. 

Not all work is in an office. In February I attended a CIPR meeting at the Ramada Hotel Belfast. ©Wyndham Hotels

Attending meetings is an essential responsibility for the CIPR rep. The Northern Irish CIPR members attend monthly meetings and talk through its agenda (an itinerary of topics concerning the governing body). These meetings create a space for members to to discuss CIPR membership and issues effecting the PR industry. From attending these meetings I became knowledgeable to working through agendas, recording minutes and group discussion of ideas for events and campaigns. These skills were also valuable to me in applying for placements and work experience.

For a student, it can feel intimidating attending meetings in which members are discussing sometimes unfamiliar topics. Whilst you may not be an PR expert, having a student perspective is still valuable to CIPR. Your opinions and point of view are unique and thus salient in promoting students to get involved.

Another key feature of the CIPR rep role is attending events, a popular method of promotion in PR. CIPR holds many events annually, such as the CIPR Annual Conference. This is an experiential event where PR practitioners from across Northern Ireland gather to discuss current issues and skills for succeeding in PR. Guest speakers also join the conference, offering guidance in live Q & A sessions. 

Another event, the CIPR PRide awards celebrates top PR campaigns of the year. (©CIPR Newsroom 2019). 

The biggest event and opportunity for the CIPR rep is the CIPR/UU Student showcase. Held at the Ulster University campus, award winning PR campaigns are presented by their teams to UU students. This event invites students to understand how PR campaigns are built and delivered. Likewise, it portrays the wealth of PR talent available locally in Northern Ireland. Outside of events and meetings, I also found that a rep needs to brainstorm ideas for student engagement including methods for encouraging young people to get interested in PR

If you are considering applying for this role and are unsure, my best advice is to just apply. Even if you have a limited knowledge and/or experience of PR, everyone can personal skills to bring to the role. If you are interested in PR and possess an open mind to learning, there’s plenty to be taken from the experience. 

 My work from home set up for CIPR meetings online. 

I also must recommend to anyone studying a university course related to PR to become a CIPR member. Even had I not become a rep, CIPR hosts a gallery of education resources available to members. There is a fee (for students, £35 for 12 months) but a beneficial qualification for those pursuing a career in PR. Again, from my perceptive, being a university representative for a governing body is a very advantageous merit for my CV. Moreover, it was manageable to work with CIPR along with my studies.  

I simply cannot recommend this role enough. 

Lottie Kelly is a third year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She will soon start her placement year at AV Browne, an integrated communications agency in Belfast. Lottie was a student member of the CIPR Northern Ireland committee on 2019-20. She can be found at: LinkedIn and Twitter. Lottie’s personal blog is here.