“Would you like a bag with that?” What retail taught me about PR!

Retail is a mad environment, a mad environment that I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working in for nearly 5 years! Don’t get me wrong it’s fun but it’s also fast-paced and tough, standing on your feet for 8 hours hurts, running back and forward like a mad eejit to get items for customers will increase your fitbit steps considerably, as will dealing with difficult situations and moving fixtures to name but a few! If you have worked (or currently work) in retail you’ll be able to relate to this blog in some way, shape or form! If you don’t work in retail – no worries, I am hoping you’ll get a glimpse of life from behind the counter and what retail workers deal with daily!

Before starting university, I didn’t realise how much I’d learned in the world of retail nor how much it had prepared me for my future career in Public Relations. Who would have thought that retail makes you quite the PR professional…OK, maybe not a professional but you’ll definitely develop a bit of a flair for it. As I am a student, I will include some academic writing just to prove my point (and to sound highly intellectual).


Trust me, it will all make sense!

Public relations is all about building, maintaining and managing good relationships though communication, according to the two academic legends Grunig and Hunt, who wrote this in 1984. Apply their analysis to a retail setting, or any setting where a customer/client relationship is involved, and you must deal with them appropriately, right? In retail you encounter a wide range of customers with some extremely unique characteristics. The ones who’ll quip “well I’m hardly going to carry that around now am I *insert laugh*” after you’ve offered them a bag; or my all-time favourite “if there’s no price on it that must mean its free!” I have heard that 6 times today… Bet you’re reading this, and you’ve said that yourself more than once! Haven’t you?


Regardless of who or what you encounter, having good public relations skills will ensure you make their retail experience a pleasurable one which they will hopefully repeat regularly. Imagine you are a customer purchasing goods and the sales adviser is rude, arrogant and totally unpleasant – you would be outraged and leave feeling annoyed at the situation. You would have little or no inclination to shop there again and at worst, you would give the shop a poor social media review.  If you’re of a “certain age” you might prefer to phone and ask to speak to a member of staff. Imagine poor customer service in a PR agency?  You’d be out of business in no time.

In retail the customer is your priority and in a competitive market they expect the 5* treatment.  Ever heard the expression “kill them with kindness?” I’m pretty sure that was written for retail workers. To be successful you must always be polite and attentive, listening to their needs, communicating with them effectively and showing a genuine interest in them. Remember us Irish love retail therapy!  But BALANCE is key🔑 in all of this as an over-zealous approach can also be off-putting and have customers behind the mannequins in lingerie like an episode out of “Fr Ted”.

Similarly, in PR, when working closely with a client, it’s vital that you listen to their needs, concerns and ideas – showing that you care about them. By remembering customers’ names, their likes and dislikes, whether they want the receipt in the bag or in their hand your customer will hopefully feel they are appreciated. They must feel that your world revolves around them.

In retail you need to be able to multi-task to the best of your ability, including doing 10 different jobs at once!   Merchandising, deliveries, not to mention manning the tills whilst also bending over backward for your customer while a queue begins to form with impatient coughs beginning to resonate towards you.  Yes my friends, if you can do all this under tight deadlines and still keep that smile on your face, then you should be able to work in PR……


Sometimes you might wonder “why do I bother?” but in the PR world you need to be highly motivated all the time – adapting to every situation that is thrown your way.  There really is no such thing as a typical day!

Often in retail you can find yourself in a situation you’d never have dreamt of, smiling as you deliver a suitable response to an unhappy customer in order to survive.  Time to shine a light on your problem-solving skills – this might be rhyming off your companies return policy to Susan who clearly bought the item in a different country and wore it 100 times, or how the bags cost 5p and it’s not your fault.  Let’s not forget the customer who will not believe that you genuinely have none of that item left!


You guessed it! Us PR Wizz kids need to work with other managers to solve communication problems. Being able to act quickly during a difficult situation calls for a crisis communication plan. Now, in the PR world this will be most likely be on a mass scale, it might involve writing a press release, releasing a statement to the organisation’s publics on social media and taking calls from members of the press to ensure the same message is communicated to all.

I am thankful for all that I have learned during my time working in retail, I feel it’s a rite of passage for us millennials.  Now to graduate, get a job and enjoy some retail therapy of my own.

Alannah Stephens is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. Alannah can be found on Twitter @AlannahStephens and on  Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/alannah-stephens-ab1525127/ 

Bordering on Insanity…

Bordering on Insanity…

The four-month countdown begins until Britain officially leaves the European Union. But you already knew that and as the saying goes “time flies when you’re having fun!”. At this stage of the game most people are sick to death of hearing about the Irish border (I know I am), whether it will be a hard border, a soft border or something in between. As a young girl living on the border between the North and South of Ireland, I dread the thought of potentially having to bring my passport along just to do a spot of shopping in Penney’s, what a catastrophe!

AS1Let me throw some fascinating facts your way before we get in to the nitty gritty -when I look out my window I can see the Omeath Road. To the naked eye, there is no obvious borderline. There aren’t any obvious physical differences either, no markings, just speed signs in kilometres per hour; and the grass doesn’t appear to be any greener on the other side. For me to get to Omeath or even the gorgeous Carlingford (Ireland’s own Gold Coast or as we know it the “Cooley Peninsula” which is also famous for its oyster farms and medieval buildings) it takes 11 minutes, that’s just 7 miles.

All joking aside, it’s clear that the so called “Government” don’t know what to do with the Irish border. Neither does Michel Barnier. Theresa May is feeling the pressure from her own party, the DUP and everyone else – each response is usually along the lines of “the common travel area has been around since the early nineteen twenties so we don’t want to change that”.

We are stuck right bang in the middle of this regardless if you are from the North or the South and it will affect everyone. Many of you reading this were probably very young when the Good Friday Agreement (1998) was signed, some of you might remember the peace it brought to the Island of Ireland, after years of violence.  One thing is for sure, no one wants a return to violence especially students like us, who were born in good times!

The stability of Ireland now depends on whether the United Kingdom and the EU can negotiate a future trading relationship. However, this ultimately is where the problems start to arise. If the UK decides to leave the single market and the customs union, we’re sort of in a pickle. Basically, we’ll be taking a step backward and potentially re-introducing border checks, and paying additional custom charges on our ASOS purchases, to name but a few. Mrs May and various UK politicians have promised all along that there will be no hard border,‘no physical infrastructure at the Irish border’. This sounds fantastic but what we all want to know is how?


Honestly, I have no solution myself to this contentious issue or what sort of border should be put in place. I am quite happy with how things are now – a trip to Omeath for petrol, a trip to Aldi in Dundalk or just the freedom of movement the border community in Newry enjoy. However, the harsh reality is that it’s going to have to change. Famous for our sense of humour in Northern Ireland, we try our hardest to make light of the situation in spite of the severity of Brexit and the potential supply issues for medicines, food etc.  Some people have suggested everything from an electronic border, to drones, and even to painting the border.


(What about the suggested border in the sea, looks a bit ludicrous right?)

One of my all-time favourite suggestions is to allow Northern Ireland to enter the Eurovision. We could write a song about the Good Friday Agreement and pull on everyone’s emotions. Right now you are probably thinking “this girl has actually lost it”, I agree! But my blog is about “bordering on insanity” – so it only seems right that I go slightly insane whilst writing about it.

In all seriousness though, it might just help the British Government understand why we really cannot go back to the old days! Nobody wants to bring back thirty years of border checkpoints, customs clearance, violence and smuggling.

As it stands there has still been no agreement made, all I can say is that Brexit is good at winging it. To use the words of the Madonna song, “Borderline, feels like I am going to lose my mind………”


Alannah Stephens is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @AlannahStephens and on  Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/alannah-stephens-ab1525127/