Name: Helen Standing
Job title: Founding Director
Employer: Engage Comms Ltd.
Find Helen on Twitter: @helenstanding.
How did I get started in Public Relations?
After graduating from a BA (Hons) in English & Philosophy from the University of Manchester, I applied for the CIPR-accredited MA in Public Relations at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. I had done some online careers tests and found that my skills were naturally suited to public relations but wanted to build up some knowledge, contacts and work experience before embarking on a career in the field.
What do I do?
Having worked in a variety of in-house and consultancy PR and comms roles, in June 2012 I decided to take the plunge and set up my own business. I run communications consultancy, Engage Comms Ltd., with my business partner, Jo Parker, who I previously worked with at international consultancy Grayling. We work with clients in professional services, construction, education, health and other sectors on a project basis to help them engage their customers, employees and stakeholders.
As co-director of a company that is still establishing itself, a large part of my role is business development, which includes everything from understanding how to drive traffic to our website using search engine optimisation, to blogging and tweeting, to meeting with contacts and submitting proposals.
Because we tend to do things on a project basis, client work is incredibly varied – we don't do the same monotonous stuff for them every month. We have moved largely away from media relations and mainly focus on business development and internal communications activities that have a real impact on business performance. For example, we're currently working with a construction firm to develop case study and other content for tenders to help them win significant contracts, as well as working with them to gradually integrate social media into their business development strategy.
On top of that, I am a part-time lecturer and mentor at Leeds Metropolitan University and voluntary treasurer of the CIPR's Yorkshire & Lincolnshire regional group.
What motivates me in this job?
I am motivated by helping people and making a difference. Social media – especially LinkedIn and Twitter – allow you to constantly interact with new and interesting people and share useful information, which means you can have multiple conversations while sitting at your desk. It's an exciting time to work in a field that is constantly evolving and changing! I get the biggest kick out of convincing 'cynical' senior professionals in very 'traditional' sectors of the tangible business outcomes that can be gained from investing in improving communications, particularly digital communications.
What skills do I need?
At Engage Comms, we pride ourselves on the fact that we combine the academic writing skills needed to produce high quality, engaging content; the experience to understand business strategy; and the relationship skills to ensure that we challenge ourselves – and our clients – to get the best possible results. Inquisitiveness and the ability to empathise with others and talk their language are vital in any comms role.
What do I get from my CIPR membership?
I am extremely passionate about communications as a strategic management function and think that for it to be taken seriously, practitioners need to be accredited by an industry body. As an Accredited Practitioner of the CIPR, I can demonstrate credibility and commitment to my profession, which helps me as a young business woman. I can also keep my finger on the pulse of the latest industry trends and developments and share best practice with others. As a voluntary member of the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire regional group, I have gained valuable skills and built a strong network of contacts in the region. I also find member benefits like discounts on events and free use of the CIPR's HQ in London useful.
Where do I go next?
The future is extremely bright for Engage Comms. The growing recognition of communications and social media as important business tools offers an array of opportunities for us to use our engagement and digital expertise to advise and train others in how to build quality relationships. We plan to grow and develop the business over the next few years without losing sight of why we first set it up – to offer clients a no-nonsense, easy way to integrate better communications into everything they do.
What advice do I have for someone starting out in Public Relations?
Never stop learning and challenging yourself. There are so many different career paths in communications and public relations and you will probably need to experiment with what's right for you at the start of your career. Always remember to do your own PR by building a personal brand and protecting your reputation. Everything you do and everyone you interact with now is likely to useful in the future – even if it doesn't always seem like it!