Why does a career in PR interest me?

“You could sell ice to the Eskimos.”

Although the correct term is ‘Inuit’, my nine-year-old self overlooked this faux pas in the Young Enterprise workshop as visions of world financial domination flooded my impressionable young mind. Before my eyes, my future as a brain surgeon and part-time lawyer morphed into the ambiguous and unimaginative title of ‘someone who sells things’.

Young Richard Branson

Primary school Georgia: The next Richard Branson

As you can tell, I was never a particularly focused child. A magpie at heart, I latched onto whichever professional prospect shone brightest to me at that fleeting moment in time. However, the Great British Education System in all its stark realities quelled my buoyancy by bringing me down to earth with a dull yet resounding thump.

“Yes, Drama is all well and good, but science is where all the jobs are.”

“Business is a cut-throat world. Have you considered teaching?”

“Medicine applicants discuss uni here, law applicants there. English? I suppose you could go with the undecided group.”

In the words of John Lennon, “When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years / Then they expect you to pick a career.” How was a will-o’-the-wisp like me supposed to commit to a lifetime of 9 to 5? Sifting anxiously through university prospectuses, one course subtly glinted to me despite the matte paper: Communication Management and Public Relations. I knew I could communicate, but PR? There’s a thought.

4 years later, I type this essay as a fully-fledged, eager beaver, signed sealed and delivered CMPR student – Public Relations career, I’m yours. Here’s what made this job-market Jezebel into an honest PR professional in the making.

Full disclosure, my indecision did not preclude me from the part-time work necessary to thrive in the 21st century – iPhones don’t grow on trees after all! Working in the opening crew for Northern Ireland’s first self-serve Frozen Yoghurt shop, I was adept at communicating its novel concept to all strata of society wanting their dairy-free fix. Whilst I’ve spilt more 10 litre tubs of liquid froyo than I care to recall, any tricky customers or awkward new starts were sent straight to me and left smiling. In a grassroots way, this was Public Relations 101.

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My first attempt at a latte – perhaps the real reason I stuck to manning the till

As Public Relations is a tool used across nearly every industry, my flighty nature soars in this profession. Almost every industry is realising the effectiveness of Public Relations to their business, so successful PR practitioners can flit between locations and lines of business until they decide to make nest in a particular niche. With skills stretched and knowledge and connections amassed, the hard work will only serve to show your versatility.

PR is often tarred with the brush of impracticality, when in reality it is highly skill-based. The aforementioned skills and connections therefore are not only a desirable condition on job applications, but essential criteria. Many office-based jobs have set functions which rarely require upskilling from an employee unless new legislation or software requires it. A career in PR requires constant expertise updates, seldom through stuffy seminars but more likely through on the job training (often constructive criticism from experienced colleagues) and your own initiative. PR is a rare line of work where frequently asking questions and spotting gaps in your skillset is not an admission of weakness that will adversely affect your progression, but in fact shows ambition and an aptitude for successfully navigating an ever-evolving external landscape. Curious cats might find a reprieve working in a PR department and I would be happy to have them as colleagues (and long as they can give me tips on Google analytics)!

Daljit Bhurji in ‘Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals’ cites being a prerequisite quality of a successful PRP is that of a technology enthusiast, as PR often involves near-constant interaction over as many platforms pertaining to an organisation as possible. Now if you ask my mother, I have this in the bag, as in her opinion I’m in danger of all manner of health problems due to overuse of my phone. Whilst I beg to differ, I can agree that technological literacy is a trait that has been baked into me, as I bridge the cut off between ‘Millennial’ and ‘Gen-Z’ with a 1997 birth date. I have grown from MSN Messenger and Bebo into a stereotypical fervent Instagrammer, as expected of a 22-year-old. I love (attempting to) master different media platforms – why not get paid for it?

Even from my experience in an in-house capacity, PR practitioners are called to be all things to all people, with no daily workload the same. Yes, come Monday morning I’ll be wholeheartedly belting 9 to 5 in the shower, but in my opinion, the variety of PR work is second to none. Firstly, not only do you need to work cohesively with your own team, I believe cultivating personal connections in each business department can allow successful circumvention of internal issues and also provide expert sources for credible communications with external parties. Secondly, you are one of very few parties in an organisation given the proverbial hall-pass to step foot outside the office walls in everyday activity. After placement year, I cannot tell you how liberating a drive to a business park in Omagh can be as you smugly wave goodbye to your desk-bound colleagues! Thirdly, PR work keeps your ego in check, as you’ll be expected to chip in with anything and everything, especially when running events. Be prepared for early starts and late nights, parallel parking vans and sellotaping 500 sunglasses under chewing gum riddled chairs (don’t ask). However, facilitating focus groups in different areas of the country with a healthy lunch allowance, setting up photo opportunities in fishing boats and glamming up for awards ceremonies do more than make up for the grind!

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A day in the life of a PR Professional

Being on the front lines of an organisation’s outward interactions gives Public Relations practitioners (PRPs) invaluable insight into how best to shape the future of a company, as they surmount mountains and molehills of disasters, frequently spotting them ahead of time to maintain a company’s image (just call me Olivia Pope). From this, PR is now being argued by modern scholars to be a highly effective management tool to inform organisational strategy. The dynamism of PR cannot outweigh the satisfaction of being able to look at an improved organisation and silently patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

Any Public Relations practitioner worth their salt will be able to spin an issue to present it favourably to particular publics. However, for a sustainable PR career, one must be able to do this authentically by genuinely connecting with interested parties, using credible sources to do so. Being stubbornly optimistic and grounded in a strong belief system, I am genuinely so excited to get down to the nitty gritty and sincerely endeavour to improve business operations. Sound a bit wide-eyed? From a cursory Google, Impactreporting.co.uk cites that “94% of Gen-Z think companies should address critical issues” and “55% of consumers are willing to pay extra for products or services from companies that have dedicated social impact plans”. Idealism is the new realism.

On this point, one of the largest employers for PRPs is the voluntary sector. I have always wanted to use my skills to benefit of others, so a PR career allows me to do so every day. Through the now broadly recognised importance of Corporate Social Responsibility, many businesses are creating mutually beneficial partnerships with charities spearheaded by PR departments. I find this issue so interesting I have decided to investigate it in greater depth through my dissertation in the hopes of carrying it forward into my PR career, either on behalf of or alongside a worthy cause.

Though less glamorous, Public Relations is more frequently being utilised in internal communications to motivate workers and involve them in the company’s vision for the future. From placement year, I learnt that truly motivated employees don’t feel like cogs in a machine, but valued contributors linked up with other players to achieve a shared goal. A PR job is perfectly placed for this, inextricably linked to an organisation’s vision, embodying it by giving it a voice and occasionally lending it a face. My PR ‘dream job’ isn’t specific, I only hope to be fortunate enough to immerse myself in a passionate, practical and positive company that’s willing to listen to others in other to maximise its potential.

And that, dear readers, is why a career in PR interests me. Have I sold you yet?

 

Georgia Galway is a final year student in Communication Management and Public Relations (BSc) at Ulster University. She can be found at – Instagram: @imthatgalwaygirl and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgia-galway-24a568153/

 

 

It’s time to pop your social media bubble

October 22nd 2019. For many in Northern Ireland, it was a day of liberation and celebration. For others, it was their country’s #DarkestDay. I’m sure for others, it was somewhere in between.

I’m not here to comment on the laws that passed, but the discussion that they provoked which I found gravely concerning.

Before we delve headfirst into the issue, a quick case study: The United States of America. An increasingly polarised nation, with large swathes of the country being tarred ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’ based on their two-party system, which essentially limits the electorate to 2 choices come election day. From visiting the country in both staunchly Republican and Democratic areas, the ideological disparity is plain to see. I could bore you with my ‘Gap Yah’ enlightenment chat but consider this example:

When at an extended family gathering, Northern Irish politics came up in conversation. Being fairly anomalous in that I was raised non-religiously by parents from both sides of our own country’s divide, relatives curiously and kindly picked my brains on various issues. But when American politics came up, I was genuinely taken aback about how deeply divided a nation it is, even in comparison to Northern Ireland. Before I lose you here, let me tell you this: Not one of them was good friends with, worked with, or was related to someone who voted against the traditional party of their state. I tell a lie – one’s sister was married to a guy with differing political opinions, but he was “quite weird”. These are the most welcoming, loving people and non-judgemental people you could ever be lucky enough to meet, they just happened to be operating in a politically uniform community.

Back to Northern Ireland, 22nd October 2019. Some celebrated the passing of same-sex marriage and abortion decriminalisation laws with statuses including rainbow and smiley-face emojis, whilst many others showed their disagreement by changing their profile pictures to a black square with #DarkestDay. Search this hashtag on Twitter and among these typical updates, you’ll find a worrying trend.

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Of course, these people are free to follow and friend whomever they wish, but it begs the question: are we becoming polarised?

Jon Ronson published ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ in 2015. The book posits the idea that we are living in “a great renaissance of public shaming” in which “we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain.” Scroll down your newsfeed for less than 2 minutes and you’ll find a comment thread that proves this.

Even seemingly innocuous breakfast TV shows exploit this trend. This Morning (1.4M YouTube subscribers) and Good Morning Britain (478K YouTube subscribers) boast millions on views on their most popular videos, which often consist of debates on controversial topics (or increasingly, topics made controversial) between guests of 2 polar opposite opinions. Hundreds of YouTube videos following the clickbait title trope of ‘X ideologist owns Y ideologist’ or ‘Z viewpoint shut down’ boast viewership in the millions. With click-based revenue systems, arguments play the game perfectly, bypassing any reasoned discussion. Is it any wonder our own discussions are starting to follow suit?

Some of this social media shaming culture can arguably produce positive change, such as accounts like @DietPrada calling out multi-national fashion houses for copycatting smaller brands for profit or football fans that have posted racist videos being banned from future games by their club.

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Even if we consciously choose to avoid polarising media pieces, Facebook is still in the business of social segmentation. By engaging with content that interests us, even viewing a video in your timeline, Facebook classifies you by a whole range of criteria from your shopping and sports interests to your political affiliations (head to facebook.com/ads/preferences and click on ‘Your preferences’ to see your own algorithm-imposed social media bubble). Therefore, your newsfeed is tailored to bring you information suited to these interests, filtering out content that isn’t.

This algorithm has been exploited by political PR professionals, such as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to target specific groups with messaging tailored to suit their particular biases on a minute level, while hiding other issues that would cause them to rethink their voting choices. Whilst the same headline news would get through to the vast majority of people, the way the events were portrayed to whole sections of the community would be vastly different – so when we unfriend people of differing viewpoints, we only make our own social media bubble more unpoppable.

There is a glimmer of light however, as media outlets facilitating more nuanced and purposefully bias-free content are gaining traction as a result of the current media climate. A personal favourite of mine is Jubilee, a YouTube channel aiming to “make thought-provoking, real and empathetic videos to create a movement for human good”. Ran by young creatives in California, their Middle Ground series finds commonalities between those with opposing views on controversial issues and their Spectrum series find differing views between pigeon-holed people groups (atheists, plus sized people, veterans etc), among other binge-worthy videos.

So when you see a mate publish a viewpoint that is completely different from yours, roll your eyes as hard as you want, but wait a minute before you unfriend them – they may well be the only unique contribution to your newsfeed.

Georgia Galway is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Instagram @imthatgalwaygirl – and LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgia-galway-24a568153/.

Budget like a Boss

“Living the dream, sure you know yourself.”

My automatic reply for the obligatory office pleasantries had worn thin. Was I really living the dream – working 9 to 5, living off ready meals and returning to a freezing cold student house every evening? It was time to put my money where my mouth was. I booked 6 holidays over 6 months (7 over 7 if you count a budget weekend in Donegal).

March – mates weekend away in an Airbnb in a village-off-a-village-off-Falcarragh

April – 8 day combined 21st and 60th birthday blowout with my mum in New York and Pennsylvania

May – 4 days in Paris with placement pals

June/July – 2 week long road trip around the Southern states of America with a handily placed Study USA friend

August – 9 day trip to visit another handily placed friend on placement in Toronto

August/September – 6 days by the French Alps flowing onto 6 days in Split and Dubrovnik

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Why the sudden bragging? Because it was at this point I promptly remembered that while my term time address is in BT9, my bank account hadn’t caught up with my Malone Road travel mentality. Luckily, my inner East Belfast scrounger was here to save the day. This, readers, is how I budgeted like a boss.

Unleash your inner accountant

Set your monetary goals (in my case, holidaying without getting into debt) realistically in relation to your income and outgoings. Scan through your current account and note what you regularly spend money on, such as running a car, groceries, eating out and subscriptions. Take a few minutes to reminisce about your biggest childhood expense being a LipSmacker set from Claire’s Accessories, then sort all these expenses into an Excel sheet to find out what you will need to earn to cover these expenses and meet your financial goals.

So close, yet so far

The thrill of my final Excel formula coming together was caught short when the number it produced was well into the quadruple figures – quite a stretch if I wanted to eat more than Pot Noodles for the rest of the year. Therefore, like many a millennial before, I adopted the side hustle.

While not sustainable as a main income source for many, part time casual work is the perfect option for the cash hungry. Outside placement hours, I picked up shifts in promotional work for a local radio station, however there are several companies specialising in casual work in events and hospitality. Grafton Recruitment and Eventsec allow recruits to work when suits them whilst earning above minimum wage.

Make like Brangelina and split

Newly motivated, my next step was to translate these lofty goals into smaller monthly segments. With the help of a *free* Monzo account, I split my monthly income into separate ‘pots’ for different purposes. My standing orders for bills came out of one pot, whilst my contributions toward holiday money went in another. The current account tracked my day to day spend against my personalised monthly budget, with reminders if I needed to slow down on my usage of its iconic ‘hot coral’ card.

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https://twitter.com/monzo/status/1057922509486678017?lang=en

I ❤ cheap thrills

A reduced disposable income doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced standard of living. Here’s some quickfire ways to make your money go further:

TREAT YO SELF – in two weeks. That must have item? Hit add to basket and come back in 14 days. If you’re still day-dreaming about it, and your monthly budget permits, let that be your reward for staying on track.

FOOD – Youtube is a great resource for cheap meal inspiration (my breakfast for the year was sorted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XSVK_LliQM). From the gluttony of recipes online, I had my breakfast and lunches down to less than £8 per week. Sound extreme? Watch me enjoy meals out guilt free (after asking for student discount of course).

STOCKPILE – Running the risk of sounding like a crazy coupon hunter, bulk buying items you use regularly while they’re on offer saves money and hassle of running to the shops last minute. (Just don’t mention the 5 litres of apple juice clogging the kitchen cupboard to my housemates)

GET THRIFTY – The social media shame of outfit repeating has done wonders for the stock levels of charity shops. Big ticket items like formal and wedding guest dresses, often designer, fill the rails of shops dedicated to worthy causes.

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Smiling smugly in my £8 dress – thank you Oxfam x

SOCIAL MEDIA – If you were on a diet, you’d swiftly unfollow BuzzFeed Food in case their latest brownie-cookie-cheesecake-ice cream-taco derailed your good intentions. Why should budgeting be any different? Unfollow whichever sites get you reaching for your card (does anyone ever remember their CVV number?) and curate your feed to motivate your saving, be it an influencer renovating their first house or hashtags of upcoming holiday locations. Instagram accounts @thefinancialdiet and @clevergirlfinance gave realistic financial hacks tailored to millennial living, a far cry from your granda bragging about how he bought his family home for a price of a Freddo.

And finally, don’t get blindsided by unforeseen expenses. I learnt this the hard way from driving a 15 year old car! A chunk of money set aside for a rainy day really does leave you with peace of mind. That way, you can crack on with #livingthedream.

Georgia Galway is a final year Bsc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: LinkedIn – Georgia Galway and Instagram – @imthatgalwaygirl