Why does a career in Public Relations interest me?

Why does a career in Public Relations interest me?

The journey from a creative to a creative PR professional

Creativity is deemed to be an essential quality of a PR professional as discovered by Parker, Wayne, and Kent Ltd. (2005) through their survey conducted amongst 104 professionals belonging to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Their survey discovered that 96% of these professionals considered creativity to play an extremely important role in the public relations process.

It could be argued that I was always destined to explore a career in public relations as I was often described as a very ‘imaginative’ and ‘creative’ child throughout my younger years. ‘She has some imagination’ my relatives would have said – and so I did. I had two imaginary friends: Lizzy and Dumb. They went everywhere with me at the annoyance of my sisters who were often demoted to the boot seats of our jeep so that my imaginary companions could sit beside me. I’m not sure whether this made me an imaginative child or just downright weird. I had great aspirations for my two best friends at the time. Lizzie progressed to be a hairdresser whereas Dumb, the more academic of the two (ironic I know), went on to attend University to become a doctor – but what did I want to be when I grew up? Well, a dancer of course, what else? I dedicated many of my junior days to blasting music in my living room, dancing until my heart was content and attending several dancing classes until one day, I decided it wasn’t for me, as most children do. Expressing my creativity and imagination through my work, however, is something I always knew I wanted to do, and I knew my future career had to involve this side of myself which I discovered from a young age.

During my teen years I began involving myself in creative pastimes such as drawing and painting which motivated me to opt for Art as a GCSE subject. My creativity also transferred to paper through my writing in English which I decided to take on for A level. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this decision would be beneficial in my future career when targeting publics as throughout A level English, I was taught to provide a deep analysis of written pieces composed from different points of view. I was never an overly scientific, mathematic, or athletic student in school. My performance was very much average in these areas and I didn’t really show much interest in pursuing them in the future. It was quite demotivating when I seen many students commended for being brainboxes and strong athletes, whereas there weren’t as many opportunities for the more creative students to portray their talents. However, growing up, my daddy ensured that my two sisters and I had a strong work ethic instilled in us from a young age. This work ethic enabled me to achieve my desired grades at both GCSE and A level and to this day it still enables me to work hard against any oppositions I face to do what needs to be done. I know that this will be useful throughout my PR career as I very rarely let anything stand in my way and will put in any amount of work needed to get a job done.

When it came to applying for UCAS in September 2016, I’m not going to lie, I had no clue what I wanted to apply for! At the tender age of 17 how are you expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life? I had expressed interest in mental health nursing as I had an unrelenting desire to help people and have an impact on the lives of others, however, upon taking part in a two-day work experience it was revealed that you had to be a very emotionally strong person with the ability to detach yourself from your patients – an ability I didn’t think I possessed and so it was back to the drawing board for me. When I was researching what I wanted to study at university, I discovered that a job in public relations would allow me to express my creativity through innovative ideas on how to make a brand stand out when developing PR strategies and campaigns (which is a concept I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout the 3 years of studying my course so far). This was what first sparked my interest in PR and applying to study Communication Management and Public Relations.

What does Public Relations mean to me?

Despite the copious hours I have spent studying CMPR over the past 3 years, when people ask me what PR is, it is still something I struggle to underpin and define as it is constantly evolving. CIPR define public relations as, “The result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour” (CIPR, 2015).

It wasn’t until I spent my placement year working at The SHS Group, Belfast, and was given the opportunity to put the theory I had learnt into practice, that I gained a better understanding of what a career in PR included. I spent my year shadowing Kellie-Ann Hoey, Head of Group Communications, working as a Communications and PR intern. The knowledge and experience I gained throughout my placement year has been invaluable and has without a doubt boosted the beginning of my career in PR. My typical daily tasks at SHS included designing graphics, updating social media platforms and company websites and circulating PR communications such as press releases and emailers. I quickly realised that the ability to social network is essential in PR. Throughout my time at SHS I connected with many different contacts in the industry who only spoke highly of the work I had completed, which massively heightened my confidence in the career path I had chosen. Although I would describe myself as a very sociable person which made it easy for me to connect with these contacts, I also discovered that it is just as important to humble yourself, prepare to be flexible and adapt to different situations in the PR world to ensure you present yourself and your brand in the best possible light – especially during a crisis.

It was at SHS that I learnt that public relations is an extremely fast paced industry with each day guaranteed to be different from the last. To me this is a very appealing aspect of the industry as I am someone who tends to get bored with the same old repetitive patterns and processes. A career in PR can also quite literally take you anywhere in the world you want to go. The reason simply being that every company needs public relations to some extent and travelling with the job is a definite career perk for someone with huge wanderlust. Another perk of the job is that you are not confined to a desk like most other 9 to 5 professions. This only enhances my perception that I would love a career in PR and as they say if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life!

Although a degree in public relations can take you down many different routes, the route I mostly gauged an interest in during my time at SHS was events management. I was heavily involved and had a great sense of responsibility in the organisation of launch events, company conferences, briefings, and seasonal parties. When organising my first event, I realised there is so much work necessary to host a successful event that I hadn’t even considered before, however, the sense of accomplishment you feel when the event you organised is a success not only to you but to others as well, is second to none and satisfies my need to impact the lives of others by providing them with a time to feel enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, each event brought it’s own set of challenges and stressful, ‘on the verge of tears’, moments as I navigated my way through the organisation of table plans, entertainment, guest speakers, taxi lists and charity activities. That is another thing about a career in PR; to be successful you must be on top of your crisis management game and be prepared for the worst to happen, armed with several back up plans and solutions for X, Y and Z. The stress that emerged from the trials and tribulations presented to me when organising events, could not outshine my desire to be successful and instead it provided me with an adrenaline rush that spurred me on and motivated me to overcome them.

In the PR world, it is essential that you keep yourself up to date with the latest trends to become fully aware of what your publics will want to see and engage with the most. As an avid social media user active on most platforms, who has a slight obsession with pinterest and reads far too many news articles, this is an enjoyable pastime for me. When I had finished my normal 9 to 5 day at SHS I often found myself screenshotting news stories and saving social media posts in the evenings which included material I thought could be beneficial to incorporate in our own PR strategies. This is the kind of work, to me that does not feel like work but that I get a great sense of pleasure out of.

Despite most of my work experience consisting of customer service and retail jobs, I value my past retail work experiences as great opportunities that have allowed me to develop skills which are frequently used in PR. I now have a better understanding of how customer needs can vary among different demographics and how in turn, they react to different situations. I hope to one day be working as part of a public relations and event management team at a global brand, but for now I look forward to improving the PR skills I have acquired so far and graduating in 2021.

Katie McKeown is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and LinkedIn.

A puppy – not just for Christmas nor lockdown, but for life.

A puppy – not just for Christmas nor lockdown, but for life.

How much is that doggy in the window?

As panic buying continues, toilet roll, pasta and hand sanitiser are among the many things that have consistently flew off the shelves throughout the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic, however, a dearth of puppies wasn’t among the shortages expected as a result of the health crisis. With millions working from home and being placed on furlough, the demand for new furry friends to keep us company throughout the dreary days of lockdown has soared dramatically and it is understood that this has led to prices for popular pooches such as Cockapoos and French Bulldogs now being quoted at double their usual price. According to Pets4Home, £829 is the average price a buyer would usually pay for a designer crossbreed cockapoo pup, however, there are now cockapoos being advertised on their site for over triple this price at £2,800. That is over £1,000 more than the average monthly salary in the UK!

Cockapoo puppies are now being quoted at triple their usual price

These extortionate prices don’t seem to faze many as ‘waiting lists’ have very much become a thing in the puppy market with many potential owners enquiring about an estimated date for future litters and puppies being ‘sold’ before they are even born.

According to research conducted by the Kennel Club, 38% of those who have bought a puppy during the pandemic did so because they were spending more time at home. With Christmas fast approaching, the demand for puppies is only expected to increase further which has caused concern for puppy welfare among dog charities. Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, recently explained that puppies could suffer from separation anxiety when their owners, who have been furloughed or working from home during the pandemic, return to their place of work if they have grown used to their owners being with them 24/7 and giving them a lot of attention. Sharp has also stated that there have been a large amount of reports of owners already wanting to return dogs because they are returning to work and urges buyers to consider their long-term plans when searching for a furry companion.

The Danger of Puppy Farms

Due to the high puppy demand, it is more important than ever to carry out proper research into where we are purchasing our puppies from. The Kennel Club reported that a quarter of new owners admitted they bought their dog after doing little research and the scary reality is that an increase in demand of puppies will subsequently lead to an increase in puppies being bought from puppy farms. If you aren’t aware of why this is so scary, keep reading.

A puppy farm is essentially a factory farm, but with dogs. These dogs are treated as nothing more than products being manufactured, purely for profit! Puppy farmers continue breeding from a female dog until she physically can’t have puppies anymore. The mothers often die due to the enormous strain on their bodies or are abandoned when they are no longer deemed useful for breeding. The puppies are not properly socialised with other people and are often separated from their mothers too early – because of this, these puppies are more likely to develop behavioural issues. Puppy farmers also tend to breed dogs that are closely related which results in poor puppies suffering from serious health complications and being sold to buyers as perfectly healthy dogs. Some pups die before or even after they are purchased by a buyer as a result of poor health and the conditions they are kept in but puppy farmers DO NOT CARE about the welfare of these dogs. They care about one thing; the cash in their pockets.

Below is a link to an episode of BBC show Panorama which shone a light on Ireland’s biggest puppy farmer; Ray Cullivan, back in 2016. Cullivan’s farm features in the video from the 8th minute on and exposes the horrific truth behind the farm, which is based in Cavan and was recently rediscovered online as ‘Dogs.ie’, advertising two large breed litters; Retrievers and Doodles.

Although there are laws against puppy farms and the illegal sale of puppies, they are very much still in existence. Many buyers miss the red flags of puppy farms, with one in four pandemic puppy owners saying they might inadvertently have bought their pet from a puppy farm. But how do you know if you are buying from a farm or a legitimate breeder? I have placed some tips below on how to spot and avoid puppy farms.

5 tips on how to spot and avoid puppy farms:

  1. Perform a Google search of the phone number listed on the puppy advertisement. This will allow you to see how many other ads are associated with that number. Puppy farmers also often copy and paste descriptions on advertisements so the details will be kept to a minimal and used for several different litters and breeds of dog.

  2. If the puppy you want to buy has a passport, there is a huge possibility your puppy has been imported from a country where there are little or no breeding laws. Only puppies over the age of 12 weeks should be able to get a passport, so sellers claiming that very young pups have passports is a red flag.

  3. Ask to see health certificates from BOTH the puppy’s parents and make sure you ask plenty of questions about the breed of dog. A genuine breeder will have extensive knowledge about the breed they are selling.

  4. Puppy farmers might try to persuade you to meet in a public place such as a park and ride or a supermarket car park to “reduce your journey”. Instead, make sure you are able to see the puppy at it’s home with the mother present. This may be more difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it is essential when buying a puppy. If the buyer makes an excuse about why you can’t see the mother, do not buy a puppy from them. NOTE: Puppy farmers may expect you to ask about seeing the mother and will try to pass off a healthy dog as the mother of the litter so make sure to watch how the mother interacts with the puppies. Take notice if she has teats or is watchful and connected with her pups – does the puppy feed from her?

  5. Puppy farmers quite often use generic photographs of healthy dogs to attract buyers and dupe them into buying a different puppy. Take the advertisement photograph with you when visiting the dog to ensure it is the same dog being advertised.

If you think you have encountered a puppy farm, do not buy from it! I have encountered a farm myself so I know how difficult it can be to walk away from a puppy knowing it is probably not receiving the care and attention it deserves and needs. It is normal to want to remove the puppy from mistreatment but buying from a farm will only put more money into the farmers pockets, allowing them to continue to mistreat more dogs and puppies as a result. If you found the puppy advertisement online, report it on the website and to the RSPCA or if you directly witness cruelty to any dogs or puppies do not hesitate to ring the police.

If you would like to contribute to the fight against puppy farms and help end the illegal sale of dogs in Ireland, please take a minute to watch the Dogs Trust ad and sign their #soldapup petition I have placed below.

Thankyou.

Link to Dog’s Trust Petition: http://dogstrust.ie/soldapup

Katie McKeown is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Social Media – Is it the real Pandemic?

Social media is arguably one of the most powerful tools in our society today and I can’t deny throughout the pandemic it has done a lot of good as we all tried to make the best of a horrible year. It has given us a platform to voice our opinions and concerns and connect with loved ones from all over the world in the form of weekly zoom quizzes. Even just sending each other adorable puppy videos has brightened some of our darker days as we muddle through these unprecedented times. However, it is important to address how Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and the pressures that are associated with the overuse of these platforms can be all-consuming, draining, and impact our mental health negatively, particularly during lockdown when we are alone and forced to deal with our thoughts.

Endless, mind-numbing scrolling and switching from app to app on our smartphones has become an addiction for our generation and as we find ourselves planted in the middle of another lockdown, ask yourself this; could you spend a whole day without visiting either Instagram, Facebook or Twitter? Your answer is probably very much like mine; a no, but we aren’t alone. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2018, 63% of the 743 young adults interviewed said they use social media every day, while 45% say they are on the internet “almost constantly”. Scary. Our smartphones have become an extension of our arms and at the touch of a button we have access to millions of tiny squares filled with pictures and videos of beautiful people in beautiful places, doing beautiful things, looking beautifully happy. Sometimes these tiny squares can make us compare our lives to others, belittle ourselves and even feel like less of a person but it is important to remember that we don’t see these people when they are sick or having a bad day. It is great to see people thriving and living their best lives but it is ok if you aren’t thriving and living YOUR best life right now.

Thanks to social media and in particular Instagram, we have this warped unrealistic image engraved in our brain of what our lives should look like. Through the introduction of influencers and large social media personalities promoting all the latest garments and gadgets, it can be easy to inhabit an unhealthy ‘I want to be like them’ attitude. We think if we have a life like theirs then we’ll be happy – if we buy that overpriced designer item, we’ll be happy, if we go on that holiday, we’ll be happy, if we have a relationship like theirs, we’ll be happy, if we look like that influencer or work ourselves silly in the gym to have a body like theirs, we’ll be happy. There is SO much to think about today and trends are constantly changing so unfortunately there will always be another we may feel pressured to follow. However, it can be helpful to take a step back, put things into perspective and realise that the celebrities who appear to have the ‘perfect life’ are human too and the impact social media has on their mental health can be just as detrimental.

In 2017, Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner opened up to Dr. Phil McGraw about how her long-term depression worsened during her fourth year on the show just as the use of social media was on the rise. Describing social media as a ‘catalyst’, she stated that trolls would take to Instagram to make comments about her skin, weight and acting abilities which “impacted how she did her job and how she interacted with the world”. I know right? You may be scratching your head thinking ‘Why is this Queen feeling like this?’ Once again though, Sophie Turner isn’t alone. According to a survey carried out in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health, a lot of young adults who fall within the 14–24-year-old age bracket agree that their wellbeing is being damaged by social media, and platforms including Twitter and Instagram invoke anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation. This may be because the days when we could live and let live are gone. When we post something on social media we almost invite opinions into our lives – everyone has an opinion on everything so it isn’t hard to see how social media has created this culture of anxiety which can often stop us from doing the things we want to do. (Side note: try not to let this be the case. You do you. We have a limited time on this earth so there is literally ZERO point wasting it worrying about the opinions of others – make that instagram page, write that blog post, share your talents with the world! Could you imagine if Sophie Turner had listened to all of those trolls who told her to stop acting? Game of Thrones simply just wouldn’t be the same!)

On the other hand, throughout the years I’ve seen celebrities use social media as a platform to address mental health issues. Little Mix band member Perrie Edwards took to Instagram to share her personal experience with anxiety and debilitating panic attacks and how restricting the time she spent on social media helped combat her mental health issues. For me, Perrie’s brave post only highlights further how from the outside looking in, someone can appear to ‘have it all’ and still struggle behind closed doors. Instagram is a highlight reel and the happiness we see is only a tiny glimpse into these peoples’ lives.

The reality is that life is not how it is portrayed on social media and as most of us have come to realise in 2020, it is not all highs, sunshine and rainbows and we don’t know what lies behind a screen. As my granny always says, “everyone has their own cross to bear” but now more than ever, it is so important to not only be kind to others, but also ourselves.

I could write a lot more on this topic, but for now I want to finish with one piece of advice for lockdown number two; if you begin to feel overwhelmed or claustrophobic by social media, seeing everyone using this time to better themselves and you feel you don’t have that same motivation or if you’re just sick of hearing about COVID-19 – turn it off, go for a walk, talk to someone you trust or do something that will make you feel relaxed.

I have listed a number of resources below if you or someone you know has been struggling recently. We are living through scary times and our thoughts can make them seem even scarier. Be kind to your mind and stay safe during this lockdown.

Anxiety UK
Mind
Rethink Mental Illness
Samaritans

YoungMinds
www.anxietyuk.org.uk
www.mind.org.uk
www.rethink.org
www.samaritans.org.uk
https://youngminds.org.uk

Katie McKeown is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ktmckeown_/ and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-mc-keown-89bb72189/