My Work Placement Experience Before and During a Global Pandemic

My Work Placement Experience Before and During a Global Pandemic

I can still remember the days, when applying for a placement position, wondering what the year ahead would hold. I had always worked in retail and hospitality and had no idea what working in an office environment would be like, let alone working in a Marketing and Communications role.

When I received the news, I had been offering a place working for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council I was ecstatic. I began picturing what the year ahead would look like… I for some reason did not think that my year would be interrupted by a global pandemic.

The first few months of the job were fun but also a little nerve racking. But by the time Christmas came I felt like I was finally beginning to find my feet. I was getting along well with colleagues and taking every opportunity there was to expand my knowledge. My main role involved managing the Council’s social media page and website. I got to spend time learning how to create content, in the council’s house style, and how to manage the back end of the website. I already felt like I was going to go back to University with so much more experience than the previous months, when I was applying for jobs.

I also decided to reach out to my manager and asked if I could help in other parts of the department. As I was working with a small team, they were more than happy to train me up to give a helping hand. This is where I then got to the opportunity to learn how to coordinate with professional designers to help design leaflets, banners, and social media icons. The Council provided training courses such as a Proof Reading class, a How to Write a Press Release and a How to Write for Social Media course, which I choose to participate in, to help continue to develop my skills, (I may have also missed being a student a tad).

But once March 23rd hit it felt like I was starting my placement all over again. 

While most of the other departments in the council began to die down, as the world began to close, the Marketing and Communications team at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council were more active than ever (as I’m sure the Communications teams at other Councils were too.) But with a small team of 4 plus me, to handle social media, press, internal and external communications and design. The pressure was on.

One thing I had not realised before working in the council, was that the Marketing and Communications teams are key players in certain organisations, when it comes to emergencies. Especially public organisations. The council’s marketing and Communications team are the main correspondents between the public and the council. 

Like most offices we were told to work from in March (thinking that this was only going to be for a month or two I didn’t mind this much).

But this meant my role was no longer the 9am-5pm job I had been working the previous 7 months. This was because we had to wait for Government announcements to be made. Meaning I could no longer plan the social media posts for the week, they had to go our as the news and decisions came in. It also meant that instead of writing posts for Easter, spring or summer events, and community group classes, I got to share new COVID-19 updates and campaigns to prevent the public making unnecessary journeys. (Exciting, I know!)

The requests for putting items onto the webpage went from 2 or 3 a week to at least three every day. ALOT of these posts where informing the public what building or public area was going to close next. As you can imagine I was no longer getting to be too creative with my tasks.  

However, I was learning what time management really had to look like. (And that lunch time wasn’t always going to be at 12pm..)

Don’t get me wrong working from home wasn’t always terrible. There was some benefits to this; I got to sleep in an extra hour, I saved A LOT of money on travel (I was usually driving 60 miles a day), and I got to have a freshly made lunch instead of a quick microwavable meal and spend some lunch times in the sun and with my dog.

My work from home colleague 🐶

But I still missed the office environment, I missed the craic in the office, people asking how my weekend was and vis versa, and not only being able to talk to said dog.

It was also hard being a student in the workplace, usually if I had questions about my tasks, I could turn to any of my colleagues and ask for help. This wasn’t as easy at home, people had kids to look after and everyone was working different times, although they were a quick phone call away, it was checking to see who was available to call and when.

Despite the negatives though, I was truly lucky to be kept on at a time when many were loosing their jobs. It was an experience that I truly learned from. It was definitely not the experience that I expected, I learnt the importance of a Marketing and Communications team and watch an emergency communications plan come to life. I had finished my placement feeling a lot more confident about the year ahead and the dreaded job hunt after graduation.

Keela Costello is a third year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at LinkedIn

Government – Covid – Public. How Senegal’s communication strategy surpassed U.K. efforts.

Government – Covid – Public. How Senegal’s communication strategy surpassed U.K. efforts.

Senegal has surpassed expectations in their response to Covid-19.  At the beginning of the pandemic, news outlets reported western countries falling to their knees, overwhelmed health care services, and people dying from lack of. If this was standard in the West, surely Covid would crumble the already fragile health care systems in Africa.

However, six months into the declaration of the pandemic, and Senegal has managed to keep their cases to 96 per 100,000 and a total of 315 Covid-related deaths. With only seven physicians per 100,000 people, this was a great success and a commendable handling of the situation.  

How was this achieved? Through delivering a clear, unwavering communication strategy to the general public. Efforts to equip hospitals with more ICU beds and ventilators, combined with clear public guidance on preventative measures, ensured their health care systems were not overwhelmed.

There was no back tracking of logistics, no herd immunity strategies or ‘Stay Alert’ tactics. The public support was strong following the government advice and despite fears of them being inaptly equipped to deal with a wide spread out-break, their communication strategy to the general public was so strong that they didn’t reach that ‘critical point in the curve.’

Murals were painted on the walls on Senegal’s oldest University, displaying Covid guidelines via creative out-of-home methods.

They informed the public with engaging visuals, incorporating a humanistic approach. This contrasts greatly when compared to the U.K. governments strategy – a warning visual that evokes a sense of panic and doesn’t particularly provide any clear instruction.

The lack of direction or clear instruction in this message was criticised and the U.K. general public displayed their lack of faith humorously on social media:

Whilst we joke about the efforts of a clear communication strategy from the government, the truth remains that the lack of one has cost lives. We may have come together as a country but that hasn’t been facilitated enough by the government as it has been in Senegal.

Take for example how the government communicates in debriefs with the public, Boris Johnson infamously quoted, “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” This at the time was deemed insensitive, almost trying to casualize the loss of lives and accepting the fate of the virus. Compare this with how Senegalese officials announce the death of each life lost,

“Senegal registered its 13th death from COVID-19 Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The death was a 94-year-old man. The Minister of Health and Social Action offers its condolences to his family.”

Their approach is empathetic, humane and personal, their communication has been described as, “notable not only for its humanity but for its thoroughness.” They have managed to communicate an interpersonal relationship with the Senegalese public, and in turn have reinforced the public’s trust with the government’s methods of containment. Compare this to Pierce Morgan’s daily whines of how they haven’t had a government representative appear on ITV (I think it’s day 188 now) and it is clear to see the difference between public support in comparison with the two countries.

Senegal has received international recognition for their strategy as, ‘A global Covid-19 response index by Foreign Policy magazine gave Senegal the highest possible score for its communication strategy.’ Showcasing an example to the rest of the world.

They also made a music video in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The song featured internationally artists – titled, ‘Daan Corona.’

When translated into English, the song offers practical advice, “washing our hands, avoiding gatherings to forget this plague.” Facemasks are worn fashionably as they stand in front of notable landmarks.

The sense of community and togetherness in this video is encouraging. I don’t speak Senegalese but when watching this video, I am too reminded of the personal ownness that we all have in this situation.  

A video like this lies in stark contrast to the U.K. government ad featuring the monotone voice of Chris Whitty.

And I hate to diminish the efforts of someone who quite obviously has an important role to play, but in terms of creating an engaging message, he fell short. I have an image in mind of Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty drawing straws, ending with Chris drawing up short and being forced to appear on screen.

Every country in the world has had their trials in dealing with Covid-19, but a strong and clear communication strategy should be fundamental in tackling it. The U.K. government has had many more examples of poor or unclear messages and when this is a constant theme, public support diminishes. Trust in the government and their motives, combined with engaging messages to the public, is crucial in fighting the spread. And although it would be nice, I cannot imagine seeing our current government official’s naming each life lost.

Sara Lynch is a final year BSc in Communication, Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University – interning with Ulster University’s Access, Digital and Distributed Learning department. She can be found on LinkedIn

Fatima already is a highly skilled woman??? Dear Government, she doesn’t need to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot”

Fatima already is a highly skilled woman??? Dear Government, she doesn’t need to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot”
The government's attitude to Fatima and the arts will put them on the wrong  side of history – they just don't know it yet | The Independent

What even is normal anymore?

We all miss the normality of our pre-pandemic lives, things we never imagined not being able to do. Like going to a nightclub, letting your ‘hair down’ dancing the night away to your favourite songs with your friends. Going to events, saving money for ages so you can see your favourite artist at a festival or concert. Always having something to look forward to! Despite not being able to attend events, I think throughout lockdown I’ve watched my fair share of Netflix (or far too much) and turned to Spotify to keep me sane.  

Limelight Belfast - Live Music
LimeLight before COVID-19
How LimeLight operate now
Have your say on our creative industries! - Causeway Coast & Glens Borough  Council

“Without the arts, our lives are impoverished.” – Ian Rankin

ONS have recorded that “Since lockdown in March, 82% of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses reported closure or a pause in trading activities.” The creative industries have been massively affected by Coronavirus with little Government intervention and support. This is so frustrating to see as in 2018 these industries contributed £110 billion to the UK economy and employed 3.2 million people. When you think about all the different jobs involved in creative industries, it’s hard to picture how many people are affected! If The Government do not give the correct support, we could lose this amazing industry.

This represents 1/3 of how many people are affected in the industry

This community is known for their extreme skills, talents and creativity and pave the way for us to entertain and express ourselves. Due to a lack of support, various movements were created on social media for financial support. In particular, the hashtags #SaveTheArts and #SaveTheArtsUk have over 125,000 posts on Instagram.

So far… it’s not looking too good on The Governments behalf…

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The Lyric Theatre in Belfast supporting the campaign

The ‘Context’ of the campaign…

The resurfacing of a 2019 Government backed campaign by Cyber First has been greeted with widespread backlash on the Internet. Originally, it was released as a long-running campaign to promote cyber security jobs within young people. Although the campaign used a variety of images showing people from different career backgrounds, the slogan “Rethink. Reskill, Reboot” created implications with one particular image. This campaign was released in 2019 so continuing to run this campaign during the pandemic has been called extremely careless.

Following an interview with Rishi Sunak the campaign recirculated online. He stated that people who are unable to work should “adapt” their job prospects and be open to “new opportunities.” It’s believed that he aimed this speech towards people in the creative industries, which is extremely sensitive for those facing extreme financial difficulties. Sunak has ultimately denied this claim however, the creative communities are tired of being disrespected.

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The heart of the campaign backlash comes from one image in particular, ‘Fatima’ a ballet dancer. This image was taken out of context due to the existing problems faced by creative people, making this a PR disaster for The Government. Due to this being a long running campaign, it gives the impression that the Government have always dismissed the skills and hard work in this industry.

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This image has become extremely controversial on the Internet and is highly problematic for The Government’s image. It suggests that women who have worked tirelessly to become professional dancers should ‘by the click of a button’ switch to a career in Cyber. The Government should be supporting and encouraging these people instead of having the attitude that retraining is the only solution! On average, it takes at least 9 years to become a professional dancer. Therefore, The Government have been criticised for having no regard for their excessive hard work, determination and talent.

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‘Cyber First Campaign’ – 118,000,000 search results…

The ballet dancer image has been very popular throughout social media. #Fatima trended on twitter, with a variety of opinions, mockery and frustration by many users. Political figures have been mocked in a series of memes suggesting that they should also “retrain” like Fatima.

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One post by @penleeparktheatre has really stood out on Instagram. The theatre have shown how ironic it is that without the use of a creative team, the campaign would never exist. The backlash by social media users has shown that this campaign is completely “tone deaf”, tasteless and insulting.

Sean Coleman on Twitter: "#SaveTheArtsUK… "
The irony of it all…

In reaction to the campaign, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has distanced himself and his department from it, calling it “Crass”. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister has said the content of the campaign image was “not appropriate” and has now been removed. Although the campaign aimed to encourage “people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber-security.”

Oliver Dowden apologises for 'crass' ballerina retraining advert | Daily  Mail Online

Despite The Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund programme, so far it has been largely unallocated and will not be enough to save every job. However, the announcement of £257 million funding towards museums, theatres and cultural organisations is a step in the right direction. To date, there has been no support towards freelancers who are continuing to struggle every day and overall the creative community feel the campaign has proven that The Government don’t care about the them.

How can we help #SaveTheArts

Follow these campaigns:

We Make Events NI

Save the Arts UK

Sign petitions:

Funding for the UK arts sector and freelance creatives

Financial support for the events and hospitality sector

Support to the Arts (particularly Theatres and Music)

The Artwork Archive have a great article on how to support The Arts during COVID-19. Check it out!

These small acts can contribute towards helping the creative industries to stay on their feet until they can make a comeback.

Lauren Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram: lauren_campbell656 and Linkedin: Lauren Campbell.


Lecturers always plug extra-curricular activities, don’t they?  It’s easy to nod along in agreement, making a mental note to respond to the university’s countless invitations by email but when they land there’s a deadline looming and you’re left weighing up the value of said event versus research/writing/reading.

We have the rest of our lives to learn from other PR & Comms specialists, right?

As a mature student, trust me when I say there is always something looming, that’s life. However, there won’t always be a queue of industry experts willing and ready to meet you and share their expertise.  With that in mind, I’m very glad I took @ConorMcGrath up on his invitation to attend a discussion with Alex Aiken, Head of the Government Communication Service (GCS).

I expected two things on the day of the discussion: firstly, for the event to be cancelled in lieu of the Prime Minister’s highly anticipated announcement that evening; secondly, I assumed that if it did go ahead, our guest would be sticking to a strict script, deflecting any difficult or Brexit-related questions.

I was wrong on both counts…

Alex was extremely down to earth and spoke to us candidly for over an hour; he laid out a compelling case for communications to be seen as an integral lever for transparent, responsible governance and a hugely important function within public services.  Good news for those of us that are too aesthetically challenged to make a living out of Instagram, even better news for those of us that are constantly wrestling with their conscience when it comes to considering graduate jobs outwith the voluntary sector.

Over the course of the evening we gained a fascinating insight into the GCS and crisis management – yes, that included Brexit.  We learned of the difficulties surrounding the GCS’s response to the Salisbury ‘Novichok’ attack – namely the difficulty in disseminating information to the press and public without jeopardising classified sources; we heard about previous campaigns – ‘the good, the bad, the ugly’ – and we we were privy to the contents of national address! We were given advice on GCS strategy and the modern importance of creating a story with characters and a conflict, stories that audiences can connect with, as opposed to the historical ‘who/what/where/when/why’ of the traditional press release.No alt text provided for this image

Most importantly, we were awarded the opportunity to put questions and observations to Alex; I had a list as long as my arm but settled on raising the dilemma of ‘spin’ – do communicators run the risk of fuelling tensions in society, especially in this climate, by creating a ‘story’ for their audience?  My understanding of the answer is ‘no’, providing the intentions of the author are not to mislead or misrepresent.

Alex laid out 8 key challenges for the GCS in 2018, one being to “maximise the role of government comms in challenging declining trust in institutions through honest, relevant and responsive campaigns”.  I felt that parts of the discussion were a rallying call to humbly acknowledge public mistrust and harness its existence as motivation to prove the positive impact that communications can have in our society; as someone that is leaning towards a career in some form of public service, but often cynical about the integrity of certain institutions, the call was welcomed and now that I’m writing this, I’m reminded of an exchange that has resonated since.

A small group of us headed to the Harp Bar after the discussion, and along the way, Alex praised Police Scotland’s tackling of knife crime via the campaign to treat violence as a public health issue.  Well this obviously sent me off on a tangent about whether it’s appropriate for police forces to use social media tools (yes, the laughs never stop when I’m around).  I was giving it big licks about certain public services ‘cheapening’ their reputation by endorsing PR tactics, when it was put to me that any measure with a proven ability to reduce the numbers of people being stabbed on our streets was a positive one.  Who could argue with that?

So take it from me: if anyone is reading this and thinking about skipping a relevant talk or event in lieu of a library session, then catch yourself on.  We are extremely privileged to have these opportunities and the confidence that comes from making your voice heard among the current leaders of PR & Comms, and learning from them, is more valuable than a book chapter.*

Don’t just rely on invites from your lecturer, either.  Find out for yourself what’s on offer.  For those in or near Belfast, !MAGINE! FESTIVAL has a fantastic line-up of events and discussions between 25th to 31st March 2019.

*don’t @ me for any academic decline

Fay Costello is an MSc in Communication & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @fay_costello.