Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Working 9 to 5

The CIPR's Student of the Year and runner up talk about the ups and downs of their placements in the profession.

Tara Cronin

Manchester Metropolitan student Tara Cronin this year won the CIPR's Student Representative of the Year award. Cronin, who beat off 18 fellow students from across the UK to win the award, won a one-year paid placement with science, technology and medicine publisher BioMed Central in London as part of the award.

What are the biggest differences between student life and the working world?

A structured routine! The MSc International Public Relations, like most Masters courses, was very much self-directed learning and so working hours were flexible. It took me a few weeks to get accustomed to a structured 9-5 schedule. Student days are long behind me now!

The sense of responsibility I have at work is also a welcomed change. The PR department at BioMed Central is active and has strong influence over the general running of the company, Even I, an intern, have taken on a significant work share that is crucial to the smooth running of the open access publisher.

Being solely responsible for something and seeing a project from creation to execution was initially quite daunting but is now very satisfying. Another big difference about working life is that I'm actually getting my hands dirty and putting the theory I spent the previous year learning about into action.

What has been your most rewarding or challenging moment to date?

I have spent a lot of time working with online social media projects for BioMed Central and monthly statistics analysis are already showing major increases in online followers and the amount of people engaging with the company through these channels. I have had direct input in these channels which is great.

The most challenging moment was a current project. I have been asked to redevelop one of the company's online portals that deals with open access to internet and its content in the developing world. This field is quite new to me and I have a lot of research to undertake and gather ideas. It is great to be set projects like this though as I have, to an extent, free reign with it and can really make my own.

Is your placement living up to your expectations?

My placement is surpassing my expectations! I studied Fine Art, Sculpture, for my undergraduate qualification before deciding to apply for a Masters course in International Public Relations. I do not have a scientific background and would be lying if I said I didn't have initial doubts about how I would take to something so alien to my own previous studies – but I absolutely love it!

Are you finding that your placement is helping you decide what kind of career you want to embark upon after you graduate from your current course?

Yes, the only way to really get a feel for a job is by experiencing it first-hand. I'm really lucky that I enjoyed not only the theory in university but also enjoy the day-to-day aspects of the job – a career in PR is what I want to pursue. I have experience in both agency and in house but for me an in-house placement is more satisfying and challenging. It definitely suits me better.

What top tips would you give to students who are currently looking for a placement?

Attend as many networking events you can, the majority of contacts are easier to make in a chilled environment. When looking for placements with practitioners it is always better to have met them before you approach them with your CV – being able to put a face to the name makes a big difference.

How did your role as a CIPR Student Rep and in general getting involved with the CIPR benefit you last year?

One of the main benefits was that it helped me make a lot of contacts very quickly. I was part of the North West CIPR Group, but as I did not do my undergraduate qualification in either the field of PR or in Manchester, I came to an unfamiliar city knowing few people in the profession.

Through the contacts I made I secured myself a work placement with the Manchester branch of a big international PR agency and facilitated opportunities for many of my classmates to meet potential employers, so it was not just me that benefited. Also, it goes without saying, if I did not get elected as Manchester Uni CIPR Student Rep I would never had won the year's internship with BioMed Central.

What advice would you give to students about getting involved with social media?

Without meaning to sound cheesy – it is the way forward! It is so important for students to have a good understanding of all social media channels. Facebook, twitter (and all associated apps and plugins), Youtube, LinkedIn, blogs...the list goes on, they all have a huge reach and are an extremely effective way of engaging with the public and relevant stakeholders. Once managed properly and used appropriately, online social media channels are fast becoming some of the most important business tools in relationship building and maintaining.

What aspects of PR do you think today's students should be aware of when considering PR as a career?

Currently, PR positions in the public sector are threatened due to the economic situation; students interested in this area need to be aware of these cut backs. They also need to understand the importance of online social media and CSR, another area growing in popularity, despite the recession. Also, internal communications is a focal point of many PR strategies, particularly for large companies, that is often overlooked in favour of external customer relations. The glamorous, cocktail-drinking myth of the PR lifestyle has long gone. It involves long hours and hard work but it is a flexible career that can be applied to any industry which leaves many doors open.

Michael White

Michael White works for Microsoft in the Europe, Middle East and Africa Multinational Sales Department. Here he talks about the unbeatable feeling of working at Microsoft.

What is your current role?

I work as a Trade Marketing liaison for Digital Advertising. This includes looking after services such as Windows, Windows Mobile, MSN, Windows Live (including Hotmail and Messenger) and Bing. Although in the last couple of weeks I have also worked on Xbox Kinect.

For the first month of my placement my job was to simply sit and absorb big amounts of information. As we are managing a multinational team it takes a long time to understand team structures, different cultures and the actual job itself requires vigorous learning sessions. In the last couple of weeks I have become far more adept within the team.

So far I have been involved with constructing sales decks, sales planning, events management, internal communications, financial forecasting, managing creative and social media implementation.

What are the biggest differences between student life and the working world?

The working world runs like clockwork. Each morning I am required at the station, at a particular time, to catch the same train. Being a commuter is something I will have to get used to, but despite how monotonous this part of the working world is, nothing beats working for Microsoft each day.

To be honest the amount of work I am required to do in a full time job isn't that shocking to me as I was proactive at university. The main difference is that I am doing less broadcasting and instead focus on sales. Marketing Microsoft products is something that has come naturally to me because I'm enthusiastic about the technology industry.

What has been your most rewarding or challenging moment to date?

A sense of urgency has, so far, been the most challenging aspect of my job. Organising clients to attend events can be very troublesome when confirmed invitees are required on the same day. A couple of days ago the team's Sales Planner went on holiday which required my personal workload to double in size. As a team we recognise stress is infectious so it is important to keep a clear head at all times.

Is your placement living up to your expectations?

My placement has exceeded my expectations. Microsoft employees are some of the brightest and most proactive people in the world. As an intern I can network around the company and get involved with departments outside of my usual position.

The experience I am gaining here is priceless and I am truly fortunate. It's hard to overlook the perks of a corporate social life which comprises dazzling dinners, energetic conferences and invitations to events which I would never usually get the opportunity to attend using my own finances! Only recently did I discover that Microsoft interns would receive a Windows Phone 7 device before the official launch.

Are you finding that your placement is helping you decide what kind of career you want to embark upon after you graduate from your current course?

It is a question that I think is quite difficult to ignore. Ideally, even at these early stages, I would be delighted to join the Microsoft Graduation Programme. However it is important to never take life too seriously. I consider my options still open. I can't deny the passion I have for radio, journalism and public relations. I think it can sometimes be dangerous to plan too far ahead. I'll just see what opportunities come my way.

What top tips would you give to students who are currently looking for a placement?

Ignore defeatists who can only talk about graduate competition. Start searching for a placement early and focus on the companies you want to work for. Use all resources available.

Many universities have placement databases but also be aware some companies would rather you seek them out for a placement. Network through your family and friends to see if any opportunities might be available for you. When you write your emails and letters make sure that your spelling and grammar are correct. Nobody is going to employ you in the public relations profession if you are unable to write properly.

How did your role as a CIPR Student Representative benefit you last year?

The event which I ran at my University, the #AddMe Social Media Conference, provided me with experiences which has put me in good stead for the work I am doing now. Before the conference I had never done events management before. I can't deny that being thrown into the deep end was quite stressful at times but I am proud to have completed the breadth of the pool. Despite one financial mistake the event ran smoothly. I must add that I couldn't have run the #AddMe Social Media Conference without help from fellow students. These students ranged from the subjects of PR, digital film, production and graphic design.

To have the opportunity to network with members of CIPR West of England was superb. I learnt a lot about the working world by being a CIPR Student Representative. Although to be a successful representative, you need to do a lot of work outside of your degree course. This wouldn't suit everyone but for those who can handle it then many opportunities will open up for you.

What advice would you give to students about getting involved with social media?

An obvious response… but make sure you frequently use social media platforms personally. Why should anybody take your advice if you don't use Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Foursquare, etc? You must have your own website, ideally a blog, which you can use to show off your own achievements and ideas.

Remember it is extremely easy to brand yourself online and this will prove very useful for finding a job. Not only do some companies use social media to employ people but providing a blog address on your CV will most likely put you above other candidates.

What aspects of PR do you think today's students should be aware of when considering PR as a career?

Prospective students should be aware that PR is becoming a digital industry. Unlike other industries, such as journalism, PR is thriving in the digital landscape.

PR requires you to build your communication skills. I have lost count of the amount of presentations I have had to do over the past couple of years. In many ways PR is an excellent profession for those who aren't quite sure want to study as it links in with each industry – plus you will have scope to delve into other sectors easily with the skills you will have learnt from university.