This is blogger, and former PR student, Orlagh Shanks (22), who runs the blog https://orlaghclaire.com/, where she talks all things PR related happening in the world from day to day. She also discusses all sorts of life experience topics, such as being a student, living in different cities of the world and general lifestyle categories.
I was drawn into Orlagh’s blog when I was exploring the idea of studying a PR related course at university, and with Orlagh being from the same town as me and attending the same secondary school, I felt I could gain some well trusted guidance from her blog.
Her blog was one of the many reasons I not only decided to study a PR related course, but also then decided to start my own blog.
So, for me, it is not hard to see why she has been given the title of ‘UK’s Best PR Blogger’ for not only 2018, but also 2019.
This is why I wanted to do an interview with her, for those that may not know her, in order to get to know Orlagh and find out what drives her in staying so dedicated to her blog and also to find out what her future plans are now that she has graduated. I feel that Orlagh will have some great advise for this years final year CMPR and CAM students.
Siobhan: Hey Orlagh, how are you? I have seen that your life has been crazy at the minute, so I appreciate your time to complete this interview. We are both from the same hometown and have both chosen to do PR related courses. You have now graduated with a first class honours, well done! So my first question for you is a typical one, why PR?
Orlagh: Hey Siobhan, I’m really good thanks! Ah, I always dread this question even though it’s so straightforward. I had always planned on following a career in finance, but my interests were always centred around magazines, fashion, entertainment and music. But growing up in the small town that we come from, a career in any of those industries was never really seen to be real or achievable to someone from Lurgan, in my eyes. But I spent three days at a PR agency in Belfast for work experience and I was sold. I wasn’t really able to explain PR to my mum and dad (or myself) but I just knew that it would allow me to somehow follow my dream career in one of those areas and be able to work with journalists since I had squashed my own idea of being a journalist once my two favourite magazines folded. Choosing PR meant that I was going to give myself a lot of options once I graduated from university and only once I started to study PR at LJMU did I realise just how many opportunities PR opens up.
Siobhan: How would you describe your course at Liverpool John Moore University? What did you enjoy about it and was there anything you didn’t like about it?
Orlagh: It was a good course. I studied Business with Public Relations so I was able to also study modules like Marketing, Accounting and Finance, HR and Corporate Social Responsibility alongside my Public Relations modules. I enjoyed that part of it a lot as I now have a fair bit of insight into these areas of business that I wouldn’t have if I had studied Public Relations on its own. Another thing that I loved about the course was the option to carry out a placement year. I knew I was going to be making use of this once I had applied for the course.
What I didn’t like about the course was probably that it was very top line. Unlike a few other universities, my lecturers weren’t very active online in the PR community. They didn’t promote writing a blog like Conor McGrath from the University of Ulster does or Richard Bailey from Leeds Beckett. They didn’t really seem to know what was happening outside of LJMU or even that I had a blog and had won an award. It kind of felt like you were there to get the bit of paper at the end and that was it.
Quite like the schools back home, the main career choices were pointed towards working in corporate comms, crisis comms or internal comms for not-for-profits and public sector organisations. Roles such as publicity, influencer marketing and social media management weren’t discussed much or thrown into the equation.
Siobhan: Why did you choose to go overseas for university rather than stay at home?
Orlagh: Being honest, I couldn’t wait to get away from Northern Ireland. I was around 17 when my dad told me to get out of Northern Ireland as soon as I could, to make a better life for myself. I knew that there weren’t any opportunities for me and I wanted a change of scenery. I wanted to broaden my horizons, meet a lot of new people, live in a new city and see what England had to offer. I also think that if I hadn’t moved to Liverpool for university, I probably wouldn’t have applied for a placement in London as I would have gotten too comfortable being at home. Moving to England at 18 was probably the best decision I have ever made as I think everything that has happened since then has been a ripple effect from that moment. Right now, looking at Northern Ireland in the news and just being away for so long has really made me realise how far behind NI is and how much it is struggling in terms of government, healthcare, prospects etc. I know I won’t be coming home for a very long time, that’s for sure.
Siobhan: So you said you did your placement year in London, what was your experience with that?
Orlagh: Yes! And it was the best year of my life so far, without a doubt. I was able to carry out a placement year at Coty Inc. in London working in the Luxury PR and Influencer Marketing department. I lived and breathed my job and was so excited to go to work every single day. I was basically living my childhood dream of working with magazines, going to fashion events, music events, movie premiers, working with huge fashion labels etc. It was everything I imagined and more. My placement year made me realise that you really can find a job that you enjoy and wake up excited to go to. Now that I’ve had that, I don’t want to settle for a job that I don’t enjoy when I could be working and progressing at one that I do. My team were the best, my role was the best, the other interns were great and living and working in London was an overall great experience and one that I won’t be forgetting for a long while.
Siobhan: How did you become the UK’s best PR blogger for 2 years running?
Orlagh: Truthfully, I don’t really know. I started blogging at the beginning of my second year of university, so three years ago now. I think it really helped that I was consistent and kept blogging at least once every single week and I think with the amount that I was writing, I was improving with the practice and with every blog post that I wrote. On my placement year my content really ramped up which I think helped a lot. Then during my final year, I still managed to post at least once a week, sometimes up to three times per week and was able to give a speech to students at Greenwich University in London as well as be active on social media, contribute to Twitter chats and network with other PR professionals.
I think the main thing was consistency. I made myself stick to posting something every single week and then just got into the habit of doing it. Now, it’s second nature to post at least once per week and when I don’t post, I have a weight on my shoulders until I do. I think the more time I invested into my blog, the more my stats progressed and the more recognition I received, the more I became pretty obsessed with my site. I was constantly trying to make it look better, write better content, make it easier to navigate, make social media pages for it etc. I’m quite proud of how far my blog has come in the past three years and I think the time that I put into it shows for itself. I would be up to all hours of the morning blogging away and neglecting all of my university work just so I could focus on my own website instead. And now the middle of the night is the only free time I have to blog in New York.
Siobhan: How did blogging help you during your time at university? And how do you think it has help you in your career path?
Orlagh: I guess for university purposes, it helped a lot with my essay writing. I was writing 1,000 word blog posts a few times per week, so when I was given a 2,000 word essay, it didn’t seem as daunting. This is also how I approached my dissertation. To me, 10,000 words was just like writing 10 blog posts – achievable. It also helped a lot in terms of knowing what was going on in the world of PR and being able to draw examples for my work as I was constantly reading about PR and getting involved in conversations surrounding what was currently happening.
The main thing that my blog helped me with was my career, for sure. I really do think I owe my placement year at Coty to my blog and the opportunities that followed. Any public relations graduate can say that they are interested in the subject since they studied it, but a blog really emphasises how much you are invested in the industry since you are constantly writing, reading and talking about what’s going on. Having a blog about your degree topic is probably one of the best things to have on your CV (if you can write and spell well of course).
There’s a lot of writing involved in PR, so your blog would be a great example of your capabilities, who you are as a person and your skillset for the working world of public relations.
Siobhan: What does the next year have in store for you now that you have graduated?
Orlagh: After graduating in July of this year, I moved to New York City at the end of August to work for a year in influencer marketing. I feel extremely lucky to be here and can’t believe that I actually am. I’ve only been here six weeks but working and living in New York has been everything I imagined and more.
I’m excited to learn more about influencer marketing and further my knowledge and skills in the area as it’s the career path that I currently want to follow and work in once my year in New York is up.
So for now, I’ll be spending the next 12 months in NYC working in the finance industry and seeing and doing as much as I possibly can. Where blogging fits into that, I don’t know as I don’t seem to have a spare minute to myself at all.
Siobhan: What advice would you give to the CMPR/CAM students of Ulster University to help them get through final year?
Orlagh: Enjoy it as best you can! It may be called final ‘year’, but in reality it’s around eight months maximum. Those months will go by in a flash and it will be straight out into the real world. Make the most of your lie-ins, your flexible calendar, your student discount, living with your friends, many nights out and everything that your university offers. I was able to go to Amsterdam with my course during my final year and it was the best way to celebrate the end of our four years together.
Also, look out for one another. Final year can be very tough and you can feel a huge amount of pressure when thinking about what you’re going to do next. That was probably the toughest part of final year for me – deciding what my next career move was going to be. Make sure your classmates are finding everything ok and if they are struggling, help them. There is no competition in university as you all want to finish with the top degree, so help make sure all of you get the result you deserve.
But seriously, enjoy it. Don’t feel that because you are in your final year that you need to spend the entire time in the library. Do your work on the weekdays and enjoy yourself on the weekends. You can have the best of both worlds and still finish with a first class degree. As long as you put the work in, you’ll get the mark that reflects it.
Thank you so much to Orlagh for being involved in this blog post and answering some questions for me. I feel that we can all take in this quality advice from Orlagh to help us complete our degrees.
View Orlagh’s award winning blog by clicking here.
Siobhan McKerr is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations staudent at Ulster University. She can be found on: Twitter – LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/siobhan-mckerr and Instagram: @Siobhan_mckerr.