To go or not to go?

I find it strange that it has already been two years since I received my A-Level results. I remember it being an odd day with mixed emotions. I didn’t know where I wanted to go from there and would have never expected to have a full time job and a head start on my career two years later. I’m now over half-way through my apprenticeship and even though I’m making my way to work every morning while all my friends are lounging around in the sun (currently rain) for three months, I’m happy to say that I do not regret the decision I made.

500,000 places are available in UK universities this year – the highest number to date. It’s great that everyone who wants to go to university can, but the question is, are the 500,000 young people going to be ready for the world of work after three years at university? For most, university is thought to be a ticket to success. But, more and more employers are finding it hard to fill places with graduates who have the necessary skills for the job.

The other day I read that in 2011, a survey by the Young Enterprise charity found that three in four corporate chiefs believed graduate skills were poor. The charity’s chairman said that employers are finding it harder than ever to fill positions because the Department for Education is adopting an alarmingly narrow focus on academic skills and exams. This will mean that fewer students emerge from education with the necessary employability skills.

Having declined my place at university in favour of a Higher Apprenticeship, I see the value of a vocational route over the often blinkered approach of a university course. A full time job working alongside people who have had years of experience has definitely enhanced my employability skills. Slowly but surely I think that more people are starting to see the value of these vocational routes. This week a poll commissioned by British Gas found that 40 per cent of London teenagers said they were considering a vocational route instead of higher education. Understandably, the majority of students are most tempted by the opportunity to “earn while you learn”, but they should also realise how important it is to have practical experience. When my friends finish uni in a couple of years, I will already have had years of experience in my chosen career.

While it is encouraging to see that nearly half of students consider apprenticeships instead of university, there is a still long way to go in promoting the alternatives to students, schools and wider society, especially as universities are offering up so many more places and fighting for students who are willing to offer up £9,000 a year. There is no right or wrong option; everyone should be able to make their own decision about the route they want to take after leaving school. Most people I speak to have had a great time at university and I’m glad that more and more people now have the chance to go… I just hope they are prepared to fight for a job at the end of it.

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Can you fix a crisis?

Unfortunately, in PR we tend to come across the term ‘crisis’ quite often, probably because we are always on standby in case our clients have an emergency.

Crisis management is such an important tool in PR purely because a crisis has the potential to seriously damage a reputation. Think back to last year when it was revealed that a selection of Tesco and ASDA beef products contained horsemeat. I don’t know about you, but that definitely made me think differently about shopping there and added to their ‘cheap’ image.

A crisis can appear in many different shapes and forms but there are certain steps we can take to minimise damage. So what did Tesco and ASDA do to manage their crisis? Well, Tesco placed full-page adverts in national UK newspapers apologising for the scandal, while ASDA attempted to pass the blame onto someone else. The way they managed the issue definitely had an effect on their reputation. In this case, I would predict customers would be more likely to rebuild the trust they have in Tesco than ASDA, as an apology demonstrates values and social responsibility. That is, of course, unless you believe that it genuinely wasn’t ASDA’s fault…but that’s a different debate.

Inevitably, when situations like this arise we, as customers, lose a little faith and think slightly less of the brands we are buying from. In this particular situation, we may also be weary when buying beef products. However, having worked in PR for a little while now, I have noticed that there are still things that we can do to gain back a bit of the public’s trust. Personally I think the most important thing you can do is respond appropriately. No matter what the situation, you should explain what happened, why it happened and what you are going to do in the future. You should also make sure you have deployed allies and ambassadors who can speak positively about the company. After all, PR is all about what others are saying about you.

Last week at Health+Care our chairman, Trevor Morris, professor of PR, held a session on crisis and reputation management. Speaking to a range of healthcare professionals, he gave them some really clear and simple ways to manage a crisis. However, the one thing that stuck with me and got me thinking about the horsemeat scandal was when he said you should never underestimate the power of an apology. He noted that lawyers will often tell you not to apologise to avoid admitting guilt, but you should always do so after a crisis because the public will appreciate the consideration.

I know that saying sorry can’t solve every problem, but it often makes a good start after a crisis. However, prevention is always better than cure, and improving communications in the health sector more generally will definitely help to avoid crises. To contribute, Salix & Co has just joined ITN productions to form a new communication network for the NHS Alliance (formally launched by Trevor’s session at Health+Care). We will be offering members simple and practical guidelines to help them communicate effectively with patients and the public to manage potentially damaging media situations.

So, to return to the question: can we fix a crisis? Well, avoiding them all together is the ideal, but there are also certain measures you can take to improve a damaging situation. Saying sorry definitely would have helped Luis Suarez after biting Giorgio Chiellini – apparently his refusal to accept he had done wrong played a big part in deciding the length of his ban. Missing out on the rest of the World Cup and four month exclusion… bet he wished he apologised sooner now.

Failure: a stepping stone to success

In life, the majority of us have a fear of failure. This is probably because we feel pressured to succeed and others have such high expectations of what we should achieve. The problem is that we tend to play it safe in order to avoid failing. It makes us feel bitter, disappointed and disheartened. Fear of failure holds us back from realising our full potential. Luckily, I’ve already realised that you might as well take the risk; because if you don’t try, there is no chance of success.

Personally, I believe that failing is nature’s way of saying that you have to stop doing something that obviously isn’t working. For example, if dating the same type of man always ends up being a catastrophic failure then it’s clear that you should be doing something different. That said, you can definitely learn from them. Failed relationships are a good example as, hopefully, you learn from your mistakes and ultimately succeed to find the right person.

As an apprentice I am learning something new every day. Recently I have learnt that failure can lead to success. During National Apprenticeship Week I entered a creativity competition in the bid to win two PRCA training days. After endless hours of editing, I produced a three minute video of what a PR apprentice does on a daily basis. Proud of my creative idea, I was sure that it was what they were looking for. However, after it was announced that my video failed to take first place I was left feeling bitter, disappointed and disheartened. On reflection, I realised that it wasn’t quite what they wanted as I had failed to read all the entry criteria.

Apart from pointing out that I need to read the question properly, it pushed me to go beyond my apprenticeship coursework and reach out of my comfort zone in order to succeed. At Salix I have a list of my top ten journalists. I researched each of them and discovered that the editor of PR Week has experienced both a journalistic and PR perspective. She also chose not to go to university so I jumped at the opportunity of interviewing her. After personally getting in touch with her, I was so pleased when she agreed to meet with me.

I’m not the only one who hasn’t let the fear of failure keep me from taking a risk. Oprah Winfrey was told she was “unfit for TV” at the age of 22. JK Rowling battled depression until she was 30 and then faced 12 rejections before Harry Potter was acknowledged by a publisher. Even Steve Jobs had a setback. Before he invented the iPod he was fired from his own company!

Failure is a part of life. Everyone experiences it at some point. It’s just important to not let the fear of failure hold us back. Of course I was scared about not going to university. Deciding not to go seemed like a massive risk, but with that risk comes rewards. Maybe I will be appointed apprentice of the year… you never know. In life, failures are inevitable, what you take away from them is how they become stepping stones to success.

A Day in the Life of a PR Apprentice

Anouska Cope/20/Assistant Account Executive

If you had said to me a year ago that in six months I would be an assistant account executive at a respected PR company, I would have thought you were mad.

I decided that I wanted to get into public relations because I’ve always been good at communicating with people and coming up with creative ideas. It made sense to focus these skills on improving reputations and delivering innovative hard-hitting campaigns. Coincidently, I started talking to someone about how I wanted to pursue a career in PR and it just so happened that they knew someone who ran their own PR consultancy. Salix & Co specialise in communications within the health, education and social sectors and had been looking to take on an apprentice for some time. After an interview and a month of interning, I became their first apprentice.

At Salix I am given more and more responsibility every day. I was assigned 2 clients and work closely with the account managers to meet their needs. Every morning I arrive at our office in Balham by 9am, avoiding the rush hour crowds that head towards central London. I start my day with a cup of tea while I reply to emails and jot down a ‘to do’ list for the day. I am then responsible for sending out my client’s newsletter, controlling several social media accounts and recording any coverage my clients have received. We constantly keep on top of what’s going on in the media, especially in our sectors. Most days I finish at 5:30pm, which gives me time for a quick gym sesh before I collapse in front of the telly.

photo 3 (3)I put aside two afternoons a week to concentrate on my apprenticeship coursework, which my line managers help me with as much as they can. Salix is teaching me how to write press releases, giving me advice on how to deliver professional presentations and allowing me to sit in on meetings with potential clients. I have an assessor who comes in once a month to check my progress and give me any necessary feedback.

When I first started the director was particularly interested in my background in design. I love graphic design and planned to do it at university, but now I get to incorporate it into my work every day. I recently designed the launch document for one of our biggest campaigns to date, Dispensing Health. Whenever someone needs something to look nice, I’m their ‘go to girl’. As much as PR focuses on the written word, people often forget how creative it is. It involves a lot of creative thinking and brainstorming. From the office manager to the associate director, the whole team play a part in coming up with new ideas for campaigns.

Salix gets very involved within its sector and we are constantly out at events, talks and conferences. Already, Salix have sent me to a HealthChat, a Gorkana breakfast and on a course about how to pitch to the media. I have also been to an education conference and a careers day on behalf of one of my clients. If you want to work in this industry it helps to be a sociable person. Networking is a massive component of PR and eventually you will be in and out of the office on a regular basis.

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By doing an apprenticeship I am both earning and learning. Living in London is expensive but by earning a decent wage I can afford to be independent without being worried about any debt. Not only does an apprenticeship increase employability skills, it also lands you a nationally recognised qualification. Having said this, one of the best perks of being an apprentice is having an NUS student card – I love saving 10% here and there!

My advice to those who aren’t sure what to do is make sure you do your research. It’s important to find out whether the career you want to pursue requires a degree. Be smart. University isn’t cheap, especially if you are going for the experience. Also, remember that you don’t have to rule out getting a degree as it’s so easy to go back to university as a mature student. This is becoming an increasingly popular option because it gives you time to think about what you really want to study so that you can get the most out of your degree.

This blog was first published on http://www.unisnotforme.com/

Ok so I have left school….what now?

I’ve always felt like I was the only person who didn’t know what to do in life. Strangely the tables have turned and I’m the first who’s actually started a career. How did this happen? I’m still asking myself the same thing.

It all started at school when I took a careers test, which told me I was going to be an agricultural farmer. From then on I didn’t have much faith in the careers advice. All through sixth form I went along to university open days, went to all the subject talks and eventually applied to university. But, in the back of my mind I couldn’t imagine myself at university, living in halls or studying something I wasn’t 100% interested in. And then there is the £9,000 a year price tag. The devil on my shoulder kept asking me, “Do you really want to spend that kind of money on something you’re not sure about?” Whilst the angel was telling me, “You will always have a degree to fall back on and besides, what else would you do?” Plus all my friends were going and the student loan would cover most of the costs so why not?

For all those who are as confused as I was having left school… go travelling. 6 months, 14 countries, really cleared my head. Before I went away I had a place at university. I planned to go off and study with all my friends, which trust me, would have been the easier option. One day somewhere in the Namibian desert it clicked that university wasn’t right for me.

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When everyone left London to go off and study, I bagged myself a PR internship. I was anxious that the risk wouldn’t pay off and I would have to go to uni next year but the excitement of working in London took my mind off it. The problem is that people still have that old fashioned view that you can only be successful if you have a degree. Did you know that a quarter of graduates earn less than former apprentices? After that I managed to get an apprenticeship at Salix & Co, a PR company specialising in the health and social sector. Even though it wasn’t my preferred sector at first, it grows on me every day. I am now an assistant account executive….snazzy ey?

A lot of people presume that if you don’t go to university it’s because you don’t get the grades or that you can’t be bothered to study anymore. Maybe it’s true for some but in my case it couldn’t be more wrong. I enjoy learning new things but wanted to do this on the job whilst improving my employability skills. Plus I just wanted to make some money, who doesn’t?

University is different now. The majority of my friends either went because they didn’t know what else to do, it’s the ‘right’ thing to do or because they didn’t want to miss out on the ‘university experience.’ Are people really willing to have £50,000 debt for an experience? Don’t get me wrong, if your dream is to become a doctor or teacher then yes, you do need that qualification. But nowadays there are people actually spending thousands of pounds on David Beckham studies. Really?

It’s all coming back to me at this moment because I’m sitting on the train en route to Bristol University. It’s certainly nice to have the odd taster of university life and I always have a good time visiting friends. But, it also confirms that I 100% made the right decision. Uni just isn’t for everyone.

If an apprenticeship sounds like a possible option for you then watch this space and find out what it’s like to be a PR apprentice in the real world. It’s also worth a look at www.unisnotforme.com for more advice and to explore what other options are out there.

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Social Media Madness

Up until a month ago, I used social media as a way of communicating with friends, seeing what my family are up to and generally as a source of entertainment. I was asking the typical questions like how many followers do I have on Instagram now? Why am I so threatened by the girl who liked my boyfriend’s profile picture?  And, why am I taking everything you say on my posts to heart?…I don’t even know who you are. 

Now that I have joined Salix as the new PR apprentice and control the social media in a business environment, it’s got me thinking very differently about it. Seeing social media in this new light has got me asking questions like are we completely reliant on social media? Do social media ‘mishaps’ have a good or bad impact? And, what would happen if I tweeted something controversial by mistake?

The boom in social media has contributed greatly to the PR industry. I have noticed that we are heavily reliant on it, but is this necessarily a bad thing? It’s a great way to increase awareness and connect with our audience. The social media sites are only getting more advanced, and increasing in number every day so why not use it to its full advantage?

We’ve been careful over the years and avoided classic social media ‘mishaps’, but others have been less fortunate. I thought I’d recap on a couple of these just to make sure everyone stays clear of them in future. That, and also because some of them are quite entertaining.

Back in January 2012 McDonald’s created the hashtag #McDStories so people could post their positive dining experiences on Twitter. This backfired when they started receiving responses like: “One time I walked into McDonald’s and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up. #McDStories” This is a classic case of a ‘bashtag’ – when a hashtag is used for critical and abusive comments. A few months back I would have found this social media ‘flop’ extremely entertaining. Now, I just feel for the poor apprentice whose heart sank when they realised their clever idea had backfired. Unfortunately they learnt the hard way that it’s vital to know your audience and the medium.

Another social media ‘blunder’ exploded last year when Margret Thatcher died. The hashtag #nowthatchersdead was created, and for those who can’t see where it all went wrong…refer to the tweets:

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These particular misfortunes created a massive buzz, and well, ultimately that is what we aim for in this industry. Over the years I have heard that ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity.’ However, working in PR has taught me otherwise. I suppose it might be true for exposure hungry celebs. But as my boss retold the BP oil spill disaster and the shocker that Tony Hayward had, it became clear that corporate reputations can easily take a bashing.

Last year I thought it would be a good idea to start a personal blog. One of my posts was about a fishing trip I went on, unfortunately it attracted some negative comments. People said ‘I was a disgusting person’ and couldn’t believe I would take part in something that harms animals like that. I was so disheartened and upset by this, but why do we take comments from complete strangers to heart? That particular post received five times more views than any other. Funny how people love a scandal. Of course I deleted it straight away. However, if this happened now I would have thrived off the attention in order to attract more views – check me out with my new PR skills.

A few months ago, for me, social media was a great way of communicating with friends and family but now it’s this amazing PR tool that increases awareness. And even though it causes unexpected consequences hopefully we can use our crisis management expertise to create a positive outcome. But then again, both professionally and personally, maybe we are too reliant on social media. Is social media making us less social? I will leave that up to you.