Final Year: So How Did I End Up Here?

Final Year: So How Did I End Up Here?

As I start into the second semester of my final year at university, it’s interesting to reflect on just what lead me to study communication, management and public relations. Just over four years ago, I had a very different plan.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a primary school teacher. I had performed well all throughout school, I wanted to work in a job where I was helping people and, to be completely honest, I really did quite like the idea of summers off. I carefully chose my GCSE and A level subjects around a potential career in teaching and even progressed further throughout my grades in vocals and piano, knowing that it would serve me well as a teacher. But now, those skills simply serve me well at karaoke nights.

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In January 2015, I went for my entrance interview for Stranmillis University. With the predicted grades I needed for admission, the interview was a key aspect of gaining a place on the course and I was determined not to fall at this hurdle. Following the advice from my parents, I went into the interview calm and collected and let my personality shine through.I nervously waited for weeks for the letter that would urge me on to achieve the grades that I needed. But when that letter arrived and I learnt that my application wouldn’t be taken any further, I didn’t know what to do.

All of my life, I had planned to be a teacher. I never thought I would even need to consider a plan B. Devastated and desperate for clarity, I got in touch with the university. I needed to know why I wasn’t considered good enough. The answer I got was simply; “We don’t think that you’re teacher material”. I started to re-evaluate everything; who I was, what I wanted to do and what type of person exactly did I come across as during a 20 minute interview?

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In a discussion with one of my teachers, he mentioned jokingly that my personality really was ‘more fitting for a PR executive for a vodka company’. Whilst it was said in humour, I couldn’t deny that he was probably right. This was nothing to do with my love for every single flavour in the Absolut range, but I knew myself well enough to know that I was outgoing, organised, creative and thrived off deadlines and goals. Surely all of the skills and qualities that would serve me well working in public relations?

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But at this point, I didn’t even know exactly what PR was, never mind whether it would be the correct career path for me. My knowledge of PR stemmed from Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and thankfully I was smart enough to know that a career in PR wasn’t all about organising glamorous launch parties, going to power lunches and barely ever spending any time in the office.

But now, as I edge closer to graduation and prepare to throw myself into the big bad world of public relations, I know exactly why a career in public relations interests me.

Ask any of my friends and family and they would probably tell you that I never have a free moment. I am constantly doing something, making plans, working on projects, planning my next trip. I tend to thrive when I have more going on- I don’t like being bored! A recent study revealed that PR is one of the most stressful jobs being listed alongside careers such paramedics and advertising executives (Krietsch, 2011). It isn’t the apparent stress that is attracting me to the career, but instead the fast-paced environment. I believe that when you have a passion for what you do alongside an understanding of what is required from you, the stress of your job is minimised and stressful moments become moments that add a little bit of excitement to the day. As someone who has previously worked in jobs where the only excitement would be if somebody brought a dog into work, this is definitely an important factor that I look for in my career.

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Another personal attribute of mine that I believe has encouraged my interest in a career within public relations is my ability to ‘spin’ and persuade. Despite the negative connotations that spin within PR receives, I simply mean that I have the skill to communicate in such a way that has the ability to change how people perceive  what I am saying. By no means am I claiming to be a professional liar, but I naturally try to see the good in every situation and focus on that. As for my persuasion techniques, I’ve managed to persuade my boyfriend to make me lunches for  work nearly every day for the last two years- so if that isn’t skillful persuasion, I don’t know what is….

During my time at university, my course has provided me with the opportunity to study a wide range of modules that cover topics such as; marketing, political communication and media and society. The combination of media related topics that I have been able to learn about is one of the main reasons why I recommend my course to other people. I believe that it has been a great foundation in preparing me for a career within public relations as public relations can consist of a combination of many media related jobs. When coming up with ways to promote a client via a multitude of channels, you use skills relevant to advertising. In maintaining a strong brand image for a client, you are practicing brand management. I even believe that the skills taken to write an effective and informative press release are those that would be required from a journalist. When pursuing a career in PR, you really are pursuing a blend of many media related jobs- all of which I believe to have gained experience in through my varied university course.

As a career in public relations involves many different media related roles, it can provide you with the chance to work more specifically within an area that interests you. According to Johnston and Zawawi (2004), there are more than twenty roles and areas within the PR industry that you can specialise in. I believe that as work takes up such a large part of your life, it is important to be doing something that interests you and matches your motivation. Although I have a great interest in politics, which would suit me well to work within public affairs and lobbying, my one true skill that I believe will serve me in my future career is planning and organising. I am quite lucky to come from a family who are very laid back and even more lucky to have found friends who are happy to let me take control of most of our plans we make together. They all know that it brings me happiness to organise events, make travel plans for holidays and to have control over situations. My personality would definitely be best suited to event management. But the best thing about a career in public relations? No matter your personality, you would be able to find an area within it to suit you.

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From press releases to blogging, writing is a major element of a career within public relations. I have always enjoyed writing from a very young age. I remember our old family computer when I was in primary school; it didn’t even have the internet, but I spent most weekdays after school on this computer, writing short stories and daily diary style entries (I was basically way ahead of my time with the whole blogging craze). Whilst I never thought that I would be pursuing a career in which I would get the opportunity to use my creative writing skills, I have to say that it is one of my biggest motivations now for my growing interest in a career in public relations.

As I write this essay, it is a little over 4 months before I will be graduating from my communications and public relations degree. Given the opportunities and experiences that I have gained through studying my course, I have never been more thankful for that rejection letter I received in 2015.

Lucy Sempey is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – @LucySempey ; LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucy-sempey-482ab9130/

University: The Third Edition

With the aim of forging a path to a future filled with success and happiness, settling on a university degree was possibly one of the most daunting and difficult decisions we, at the tender age of 17, were forced to make. However, the recurring questions of: “what is Communication Management and Public Relations?”, “what can you do with that when you graduate?”, and most common of them all: “whaaaaatttt the **** is that?” have echoed in my ear from the day and hour I accepted the offer on UCAS. There are times I feel like I can’t even walk down the Jordanstown mall without folks knowing I study that course that nobody can describe or explain.

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Before embarking on my undergraduate degree in Public Relations, I had spent the two previous years chancing my arm at two different courses: English and Journalism. However, anybody that has spent more than 42 seconds with me will know that I am almost incapable of making life-impacting decisions, and I was unsure whether I wanted to devote the next three years of my life studying either of these degrees. So, I threw the towel in, packed the bags, and I decided to pursue a new path. Again.

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I have always been an avid believer that good things happen to people who communicate eloquently, confidently and fluently, and the opportunities they have are boundless. Therefore, I have continuously been heavily reliant and focused on the way I communicate in order maximise the potential possibilities there are for myself, too. Brian Tracy describes communication as: “a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life”, which perfectly underscores the importance of it. The reason communication is so significant to me can be encapsulated in a quote by Shannon L. Adler (2018), which is: “When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” Removing negative energy equates to a happy life, my friends.

As a very charismatic and vocal person, I haven’t been classified as “shy” too many times in the last decade or so. I took this with me all throughout school, and still utilise my boisterous personality to benefit my day-to-day life. My ability to communicate has always been something I took pride in, and I have used it to, as Adler phrased it, receive peace and deter from negative energy of fear and regret. Following this, communication has broadened and enhanced my social, personal and professional life. In my personal life, and especially in the last year, I have been surrounded by good, likeminded people who motivate me to keep making good choices and changes. Whereas, in my professional life, I have climbed the career ladder and now hold a supervisory position within an ostentatious restaurant, where I oversee more than 20 staff members; and no surprise, confidence and a high-quality level of effective communication gave me both of those positive outcomes.

 

So, why a career in Public Relations?

I was feeling similar emotions to Ross Gellar who feared being known for getting divorced, but instead, I was Dalez, and instead of divorcing, I was trialling and swiftly exiting undergraduate degrees like I wasn’t clocking up £20k debt.

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I became interested in Public Relations during my stint at studying Journalism, and it was here that I flourished in the written aspect of it. Throughout my school years my interests centralised on communication; verbal and written and it was in this that I thrived. Fortunately, this was an intricate component in Public Relations, which perhaps meant to me that this would be the one, and I wouldn’t be waving Jordanstown goodbye.

Before making the decision to study it, I did some research into what jobs were associated with Public Relations, (meanwhile, my Mum insisted it was offering cheaper entry into nightclubs and five Jägerbomb’s for a tenner), and then I investigated what other interpersonal skills I would need, coupled with a degree, to become successful. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations describes Public Relations as: “the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public”, and as someone happy enough to “wet the ear” of anybody willing (or unwilling) to listen to what I have to say, PR is well-suited to my personality. This would also mean I would be able to strategically practise my expertise with oral and written communication to build and maintain long-lasting relationships with clients, suppliers, and partner organisations.

During my research, I uncovered that it is essential to be organised, with particular importance placed on the ability to multitask; and as somebody who has a generally busy social life, works full-time while also studying full-time, organisation is a skill I can assure you I have (even if I do rock up 10 minutes late from time to time). It is imperative for me to have a weekly to-do list and have my days mapped out beforehand, to help ensure that I complete each task I have set for myself; otherwise I’d become overwhelmed, quit my job, drop out of university, and continue my life on a different continent somewhere because of a meltdown which stemmed from a week of disorganisation. And it could happen yet, folks. Other sets of skills listed included strong teamwork and problem-solving skills; which are qualities I utilise on a day-to-day basis, leaving me confident enough to exude them professionally.

As well as this, Public Relations provides an extremely broad line of work, which was a crucial requirement for me while I was deciding whether to apply to my undergraduate degree and attaining a qualification which only benefited one specific field of work is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I did some research and found that the possibilities of work were plentiful within Public Relations; I was largely unaware of how extensive the prospects really were. “PR practitioners work across a range of industries and may work in any of the following settings: consumer, corporate, financial, local government, public affairs or trade and technical”. I had always feared that I would qualify and feel trapped within a job, but as Public Relations is so extensive, it would be possible to move within these interrelated industries and fields of work.

 

The Plans For The Future

Regardless whether I follow the path and end up in the Public Relations industry, I think the qualification will be beneficial for me within any job I pursue throughout my life. The knowledge gained in my undergraduate degree can, and has been, transferred to enhance my personal and professional life, as aforementioned. Ideally, I would like to become an entrepreneur and leader; and this coupled with an established blog, and knowledge in Public Relations would prove to be very valuable to a start-up business, where success can be tough – with 50% of new businesses failing “during the first five years”.

Currently employed as a social media manager for a renowned business, I already use and expand my skills I have attained from university to help aid the businesses marketing strategies online. The language, photographs and posts are all pre-empted in order to portray the business in a particular manner, which helps to maintain the respect and good relationship the company has already established with the clientele. This experience, with the background knowledge of Public Relations, marketing and advertising would all be useful in helping me solidify future decisions on how I would like to advertise and appear online, as social media presence is currently incredibly crucial.

With a passion and interest in writing; and more specifically, the conversational style of writing, a Public Relations degree would give me the professional information on effective communication that I would need to ensure that I could have a balance of expressing my own personality, while still appearing eloquent and well-versed. The possibilities for the future are endless, my pals, and maybe even the oul blogging will sky-rocket and take off now shortly due to the growing popularity and demand there is. If you have never had a story relayed to you by Dalez, have you really heard a story?

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Mark Daly is a Final Year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations Student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markdaly123/