Working with the General Public… It’s not always plain sailing

Working with the General Public… It’s not always plain sailing

They say to work in PR you have to have the best of the best in communication skills. Now you can study these skills at university or on a night out, but nothing will teach you the art of communication better than a job that requires you to work face-to-face with the general public.

As someone who has spent 4 years in retail and a further 2 years working in the travel industry for a shipping company, I’ve had my fair share of time with the general public. And because of this, I’ve learned the hard way that the general public will challenge your ability to communicate professionally and push you dangerously close to crossing that unprofessional line. So, I thought I would share some of the nuggets of knowledge ive gained in my career so far and how they could benefit you in a job in the future.

  1. Non-Verbal Communication – there is no skill you will build more than the ability to control your non-verbal forms of communication. We’ve all been there. It’s 5.29pm and you’ve 1 minute left of your shift. You’re thinking about getting home to your dinner and a glass of wine when all of a sudden a face appears at the door. Now you want to give the customer the benefit of the doubt, maybe they didn’t check their watch or maybe they just need to grab something quickly. We all know this is not the chase. Usually it’s a woman who believes the entire shop will stay open just for them to come in and have a little look about. It is at this moment the anger and the resentment starts to creep into your face. But you smile through it, because even though they’ve ruined your night (albeit 5 minutes of it) it’s the professional thing to do.

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  1. Embracing Shift Work – PR for the most part is a 9-5.30pm job, Monday to Friday. But jobs like retail and travel, are most certainly not. There’s nothing a student loves more than good Saturday shift followed by a Sunday shift to wipe out their social plans, hence the various student nights during the week. You never get to experience that ‘Friday Feeling’ those professional folk talk about because the weekend means work. But the one thing shift work will teach you, is the ability to work well with little sleep and to be flexible. One night I’ll work 6pm – 11pm and then the next day work 6am – 3.30pm. That’s dedication to the job and to a complete lack of sleep. But you do it and you live. It also proves to future employers that you can make time for work and are committed to the company, at least that’s what I tell myself at 5am.

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  1. The customer is not always right – its probably the most cliched saying when it comes to work, but I can confirm that the customer is not always right, but they certainly think that they are. I’ll take an example of this from a few days ago at my part time job. I work for a ferry company and on this night, I was checking in vehicles that were traveling over to Scotland. Like most travel companies such as airlines etc, if you’ve made a mistake in your booking, you are liable to a cost to change such mistake. It happens more often than you would think but customers often book their travel arrangements the wrong way around. So instead of sailing from NI to Scotland, they’ve done Scotland to NI. Now most people who make this mistake are a little embarrassed but generally are happy for you to amend the mistake which can incur a cost. But there’s always that one customer who believes you are doing this simply to annoy them. I can confirm we are not. The first sentence that usually leaves the mouths of those who believe that the customer is always right is ‘are you sure?’. Yes I am. I’m not making it up for a laugh, you’ve done it wrong. On the night in question I had this from a gentleman who had booked the wrong. Now the important thing here is that, this was not my mistake, this was his. But given the 10 minutes this man spent yelling in my face about how much I was making his journey hell (by fixing his mistake so he could actually travel) and his threats to travel with the rival company instead of paying the amendment fees (which would have cost a lot more than the payment I needed from him) he did in fact prove to me that the general public will blame anyone if it means not admitting their own mistakes, and they seem to think you are their verbal punching bag.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I will never be rude to a customer, you can be as rude to me as you like and I won’t yell or be rude back. But if someone continues to yell at me, I will not go out of my way to help them unsurprisingly.

These are just 3 examples of the things ive learned working in a job that puts me face-to-face with the general public. Stay calm, smile when you have to, always be flexible and remember in a situation where you are the one with the knowledge of how your profession works, more often than not you will be in the right, not someone with little experience in what you do for living.

These are skills that can be taken to every single job and it’s why I believe that only once you’ve spent time working with the general public are you ready for a job in communications, because only then do you understand the way in which you should hold yourself in the professional world.

Kirsty Wallace is a final year BSc Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at www.linkedin.com/in/kirsty-wallace-851504115 and on Twitter @KayyWallace

 

Uni Today, Gone to Morrow | My PR Placement Experience

Uni  Today, Gone to Morrow | My PR Placement Experience

They say a placement year boosts your CV, gets you ready for work and gives you a break from university. What they don’t mention is it builds character and throw’s you in right at the deep end.

With Summer approaching, most students in the year were already set with their placements, I was starting to become resigned to the fact I wasn’t going to find one and going straight into final year was the option for me. After being pushed by those around me, I applied for one last placement, with little hope of being their chosen student. Having been given an interview, and immediately thinking I had absolutely failed it, I was shocked to receive a phone call that day and was offered the job.

This kick-started the most incredible, strange and brilliant 12 months as I joined the PR team at Morrow Communications.

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As an inexperienced junior, what surprised me the most about my time at Morrows was the trust that they gave me to work on some of their biggest accounts. As a placement student I expected to be kept as far away from these clients as possible but instead I was immediately handed more responsibility than I had expected. I was thrown in at the deep end and I swam, surprisingly.

I gained so much experience in such a short space of time and saw my confidence in my own ability grow day on day. But if I learned anything from working for a PR agency, its that you will never know everything, you will always be learning something new, like always.

I was also incredibly lucky to work with some really wonderful people who never made me feel like a placement student, but simply another member of the team from day 1.

On day 4, the agency had organised their annual away day. You will never get to know your colleagues until you get together and do some clay pigeon shooting and some Archery Golf (yes a real thing). I can only thank the guys for embracing me that day as I didn’t even know any of their names.

As I settled into the company, I really started to find my feet and discover my strengths. I’m not going to lie, I’ve never considered myself a great writer. I come from an Astrophysics background and I loved maths in school, its not the most natural transition into PR. But that’s the thing about PR, you don’t have to be brilliant at everything. At least not when you first start out. I spent a hell of a lot of time working on my writing skills through press release writing, email style and general documents. You learn, you get better.

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I could spend hours talking about the things I got to do with Morrows; styling George at Asda for Belfast FASHIONWEEK, working in Enniskillen for the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards or spending 5 days as a runner on the set of a BBC Bitesize shoot, but it was the hours I spent in the office learning the trade and the skills that made my placement completely and utterly worth it.

As someone who gained so much from their placement, I have some advice for students and employers.

For any businesses looking to take on a placement student next year, take a leaf out of Morrow’s book and let them have some responsibility. It makes the world of difference for both your business and the student to know their opinion matters and their purpose isn’t just to take admin off your hands, its to grow and develop into professionals.

For students, don’t panic if you are turned down from other placements. Remember that everyone studies the same thing, you all know the same thing. Employers are looking for students who will fit it and who have the right attitude. Employers turned me down and I finished as the highest scoring placement student across the PR and CAM courses, so don’t get down if someone doesn’t want you. Put your energy into the people who do and prove them wrong.

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And finally, to Morrows, thank you for the experiences, your patience, the laughs and endless teaching. I will always appreciate the time and effort you made to make my placement year the best it could be. You guys rock.

Kirsty Wallace is a final year BSc Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at www.linkedin.com/in/kirsty-wallace-851504115 and on Twitter @KayyWallace

PRide and Joy: NI’s outstanding communicators celebrate 2017

PRide and Joy: NI’s outstanding communicators celebrate 2017

Friday 13th may be unlucky for some, but for many of Northern Ireland’s PR practitioners, the night ended in trophies, applause and possibly some sore heads in the morning!

For the past 18 months, I have had the privilege of sitting on the CIPR NI Committee as a Student Ambassador. During my time I have sat opposite some the leading lights in Northern Irish public relations and have witnessed the organisation of some brilliant events for PR professionals across the country.

There is however, one event on the PR calendar which can’t be missed – The PRide Awards.

Now, I’ve heard the rumours about PR, “it’s all parties and drinking and schmoozing”, and despite what this post may suggest, trust me it isn’t. But for one night a year, that stereotype might be a little true.

The CIPR PRide Awards NI is an annual awards ceremony to recognise the hard work and creativity of PR professionals and communicators over the past 12 months. It’s that one night of the year when professionals put away their laptops, put down the phone and come together for a night of celebration and healthy competition.

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Like previous years, the PRide Awards 2017 were held in the Culloden Hotel, Holywood. Taking the lead in organising the event along with the team at CIPR HQ were Seona McGrath from Smarts Communicate, Jane Williams from JComms along with Sinead Doyle and Alana Taylor from MCE Public Relations, who put together a brilliant evening.

I was kindly asked to be this year’s trophy assistant at what would be my first year in attendance, which much to my surprise included an official announcement and my name on the screen, hopefully, the amount of make-up on face hid my reaction. The awards portion of the night was hosted by Stephen and Cate from Q Radio, while I was tasked with delivering winner envelopes and passing on trophies. Thankfully, I didn’t manage to mess it up.

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There I am, in the background, looking the wrong way

The big winners on the night were PR agency powerhouses Smarts Communicate, with Seona McGrath deservedly picking up the Outstanding Young Communicator Award, and JComms. Also showing very strongly, proving the strength of practitioners across the country were in-house communication teams. Some of the winners included Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, North West Regional College and Translink.

Click on this link if you want to see a full list of the winners from the night along with the winning case studies: https://www.cipr.co.uk/content/awards-events/pride-awards/northern-ireland/results-and-case-studies

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For those of us studying and working in the industry, we know first-hand that public relations is often one filled with misconceptions. For most, PR is ‘selling tickets to nightclubs’. The PRide awards are the perfect response for those who criticise the industry and its professionals, and give us students who face questions about how ‘serious’ our degree is, some back up for those unwanted questions.

Another important aspect of the night, was supporting the CIPR NI charity of the year, AWARE. AWARE NI are the national depression charity for Northern Ireland and provide vital support across the country for those suffering from a mental health condition. Led by an incredible team, AWARE NI offer many essential programmes which require funding. Thanks to some great raffle prizes and generous donations, £1450 was raised impacting the lives of 96 pupils across NI – a job well done!

If you want to find out more about AWARE NI check out their website:

http://www.aware-ni.org/

The PRide Awards and the CIPR NI in general offer a great chance for young professionals to meet established practitioners, so if you get the chance check out one of the social events I would really advise doing so. Our industry is in great hands and growing year on year which can only be a good thing for those us who need a job in the next few years.

Images are courtesy of Press Eye

Kirsty Wallace is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at www.linkedin.com/in/kirsty-wallace-851504115 and on twitter @KayyWallace