AS IF: the blog

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Adaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible… AS IF

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Adaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible. AS IF. The four most over-used words in tech PR. Perhaps here, we might be a little bit more authentic.

This blog was started by Sam Howard in February 2011, and accidentally chronicles her transition from fledgling freelancer to virtual agency MD. Horribly honest, but therefore insightful, The Crowd posts on how to keep your B2B comms credible while also providing guidance for starting your career in PR and becoming an effective freelancer.


What price freedom? Part I How to find your ‘base’ rate

25/04/2012

First of three posts from Sam Howard on the commercials of freelancing:

If you are good with words, I’ve noticed, sooner or later you need to get good with maths. The first of three posts looking at how to price up your freelance comms work.

A recent survey in PRmoment, showed that most freelancers charge between £200 and £500 a day. So where might you fit in? The next few posts share my ideas on how you decide what to charge. Hopefully useful if you are considering becoming a freelance comms consultant, starting out, or just sense your business model might be a bit broken.

Part 1: calculating a day rate AKA what do you need to charge to survive?

Step 1) What do you need to earn?

Did you really go freelance to become rich? Really? Most people I know have gone freelance to take back control of their lives, to be able to make their own decisions, to be there for their families and generally to feel like they are living a more balanced and healthier life. And in that sense we are all very successful, though none of us ‘rich’. So when you are working out what you need to earn, if you really want to be a freelancer, I doubt if it’s anything like what you used to earn. Do a monthly budget of what you can cope with, (you’ll be surprised freelance currency goes along way).
This gives you your base line figure of what you need to clear after tax. For easy maths’ sake lets say that’s a £1,500 a month so £18,000 a year. So how does that convert to a day rate?

Step 2) How many days in the year do you have to earn it? Answer: it’s not 365

Though this is where you start.
– Days in the year 365
– Less main public holidays 5
– Less weekends 104 (don’t actually schedule to work weekends)
– Less holidays/family/emergency days 25
– Less sick/jet lag/ hangover days 12 ( just being realistic)
– Days available to work 220 ( standard industry figure)

Now assume that 50% of that time you are not doing client work, either because there just isn’t any, or because you are working but not being ‘paid’ for it, eg admin, networking, training, research, marketing, pitching, preparing materials etc. That leaves 110 days to cover your budget, plus tax plus expenses.

Step 3) Not all that money is yours you know; provision for tax and expenses.

So sticking with our notional sum of £18,000 a year,

Plus expenses say 15% £2,700 ( if you are working from home, can easily be more if you are not),

Plus tax, say 25% £4,500.

So in theory you need to earn around £25,200, to give you £18,000 and meet that £1,500 budget.

Step 4) Calculating the notional day rate

So now just look at how much you need in total, and divide it by client days.

In our model that’s
£25,200 /110 days = £229/day notional day rate.

You’re welcome

Next blog: how does that compare to what the market will bear? Favourably we hope. After that, take a look at when to discount your work so that you find that sweet spot that keeps your clients happy and your finances healthy.

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The first year – the luxury of hindsight

23/02/2012

After 17 years of having a ‘proper’ PR job, Sam Howard takes a moment to reflect on her first year as a freelancer.

what care we for fine reception areas check out the new office rug!

So I took the leap of freelance faith one year ago now. I started with just one contract (that’s all you need) and an old laptop (such a bad idea). A year later and I’m busy and increasingly teaming up with industry mates to deliver on a wider brief.

And I’m know I shouldn’t boast but also the proud owner of:

  • A shiny new laptop (bought in great distress):
  • A comfortable office chair (couldn’t actually stand after that first month perched on rustic dining room chair);
  • An all-singing all-dancing printer (I tried a basic one, but running to the shop to pay 10p for photocopy soon lost its appeal);
  • A fan heater (essential);
  • A dog (absolutely not essential and quite possibly a really bad idea but I’m sticking with it.)

I’ve celebrated making it to Year One with a new office rug and several cocktail parties for those who have looked after me most. (“Mind the rug!”). Forgive this nostalgic moment while I reflect on the year gone by…

What was the best revelation?

That I would enjoy it quite so much, even the dodgy days are somewhat thrilling. I love the diversity of work and the random twists opportunities offer. Despite my commercial brain, I don’t seem to be overly obsessed with making a fortune (handy). Just doing good work and getting paid well enough for it, works fine for me.

What was a complete let down?

My misperception that if I didn’t have any paid work I’d be just working on my tan. If you don’t have paid work, you feel somewhat obliged to look for it, and even if it’s already on the horizon, then you still labour over laptop every day staying on top of admin marketing accounts etc. A year in, and Loose Women still remains a mystery to me. Damn that work ethic. And it turns out I hate doing my own PR. I ordered some business cards off the internet and I do enjoy writing this occasional blog, as long as I don’t have to pitch myself as a ‘thought leader’, but beyond that, turns out I’m not very interested – which I think, given my training, is a bit rubbish.Is there

Anything you miss about your old life?

Well I’m not lonely which I was a bit worried about, but I walk the dog every morning so usually bump into someone to chat to, and then I shout at self-same dog quite a lot all day which keeps the volume up. As predicted, it’s the IT department that I miss. The combination of having a giant house rabbit that’s addicted to power cables and my own complete inability to do anything other than cry when the black blinky screen shows, means, I’ve truly and repeatedly suffered.

If it’s so great do you wish you’d done it sooner?

Erm maybe, not sure. If I’d gone solo earlier in my career I’m not convinced I would really have known what I was doing, ten years in a busy agency means you are learning every day and I’m really glad I have that experience. Without it I think I would have been just too freaked to enjoy this solo life. As it is, my instincts are nicely honed and the advice I give has usually been proven.

So what’s next?

Well no plans for global domination or any more pets (there’s more of them than us now). But perhaps I should go on a dating site just to spice things up a little. Place an ad that might read:

“Mostly chirpy freelancer, smelling slightly of wet dog, would occasionally like to meet IT Geek with too much time on his hands and an endless supply of cables for emergency assistance and fun times (deadline dependent).”

Huge thanks to my early adopter clients who were kind enough to hire me, pay me and refer me. And to my gorgeous friends who have looked after me this just-a-bit-scary, year. My round this next time.

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In the world of freelance, is it wrong?

24/01/2012

#Is it wrong? Sam Howard shares her frelance ethical ponderings:

shh please don’t wake him…

1. Just in case he’s the only person you’re going to get to talk to all day, is it wrong to launch in with your most perplexing business issues, work fears, and brilliant new ideas while your 11 year munches on his morning porridge and does up his shoe laces?

2. To wear leg warmers and fingerless gloves indoors?

3. To pretend the web camera on your Skype call isn’t working when in truth it’s cos you look like shit and The Bloody Dog is jumping around in the background, trying to bury his Kong toy in the sofa?

4. To have full blown conversations with the rabbit, cat and dog in an effort to recreate those water cooler moments?

5. To have the fan heater and the central heating on at the same time?

6. To stuff dog treats in your brand new £40 sheepskin slippers, that were a Christmas present from your lovely mum, in an effort to keep The Bloody Dog amused for ten minutes, so you can reach your copy-writing deadline?

7. To eat your soup straight out of the pan and then give the carton and the pan to The Bloody Dog to keep him quiet for another five minutes?

8. To hang up on a conference call because you’ve just spotted The Bloody Dog has got the rabbit’s head in his mouth?

9. To top up your afternoon coffee with a large dose of Tia Maria? And then put its purchase against your tax expenses as ‘office beverages’?

10. To open the door to your child as he comes home from school, starving hungry, freezing cold and soaked through, with the greeting:
“Can you PLEASE take The Bloody Dog out! I have had him all day and he’s driving me frickin crazy. GO! NOW! GO!”

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PR Agency or PR freelancer? Who best to tell your particular company story?

02/01/2012

Sam Howard’s top tips for whether to go with a freelancer or an agency.

Recently I turned down a brief. Even my 11 year old questioned the sanity of that one, “Have you seen my Christmas list?” he queried.

Thing is, although the brief specified a freelancer it was for one that had specialist knowledge of everything basically – from travel to technology, from business to design, from gaming to food and a fair few other categories for good measure.

I’m not exactly a one trick pony but this had AGENCY stamped all over it. I recommended a favourite one and waved bye bye to it. I’m as good as my last job and I didn’t see how I could shine at that one. Besides what’s the point of spending 100 hours bringing in results that Iquoted I could do in ten?

So if you’re thinking your comms might need a boost from some professional help and your budget is borderline here’s five things to consider when deciding if a freelancer or an agency is in the best position to help:

1) Budget: is the first factor that most people consider. Freelancers should be charging about half their agency rate. “Bargain!” I hear you yip, but it’s not that simple… Say you hire a senior freelancer who is at account director level or above, do bear in mind that day rate is fixed whatever the task, so yes amazing value for money when it comes to strategy and guidance, good value for media outreach and creating content, but when it comes to sourcing coverage, building media lists, feature research, reporting tools etc, not so much. In an agency, a junior or intern would be tasked with such mundane and time consuming activities, and could charge accordingly. So if you have an admin heavy/consultancy light brief, you might be better with an agency. News heavy accounts ( eg a release a week) also qualify for this model as they fit better into an agency ‘machine’.

2) Expertise: So if you need lots of different sectors covered off as described above, 100s of media outlets, it’s agency all the way, if you need integrated services, again an agency is often a smart choice although most freelancers have a trusted network they partner up with. But if you want access to senior level support or a fair amount of hand holding again a freelancer might be a better fit as account directors can be pretty thinly spread in a busy agency across six accounts or more. So your monthly retainer may only allows for a day – to half a day of precious ‘AD’ time.

3) Capacity: Everyone knows it’s feast or famine for freelancers, but feast for a freelancer might not be a banquet for you, the client. Be sure to have a good understanding of your chosen freelancer’s workload and exactly how many concurrent clients they have. It maybe their eyes are bigger than their hands on abilities. This is less of a problem for agencies who have a bigger pool of staff and of course can hire should work levels remain consistently high.

4) Best practice: A good agency continues to hone and develop best practice, the opportunity to learn in an agency is one of the most compelling reason to work there. A freelancer from ‘birth’ will not have had the same exposure and will have had a different learning experience, They may have developed some shabby habits and I’m not just talking about dress code. If you are going to work with a freelancer, check their pedigree and make sure they have a good few years agency or established in- house experience that they can bring to the table with them. Ask some journalists what they think.

5) Payment terms: And finally if you know your company is somewhat backward at coming forward when it comes to settling its bills, again go to an agency where the two account departments can fight it out between themselves leaving your client relationship cosy. Working directly with a near hysterical, half-starved freelancer who hasn’t been paid for 100 days plus is not going to necessarily get you the kind of exposure you had in mind. Think Sideshow Bob on twitter.

Whoever you chose to partner with for your comms, go in with a glad heart and some real commitment, so that 2012 is a great year for you both.

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On working with the brains you’ve got

18/11/2011

Sam Howard proposes you stop dwellling on what you can’t do and make sure you tap into what you can…

Tim France

if the suit fits…

The most perplexing thing about writing this blog, is not coming up with the ideas or the opinions, or creating the content and making it interesting and engaging – but noticing days after I’ve posted something, that it’s full of typos. A recent blog post saw me pen the phrase, ‘pig picture thinker’ for heaven’s sake!

I really struggle with the detail, to be honest I don’t even see the detail. Does this make me stupid? I’d like to reassure you it doesn’t it’s just my brain works very differently to your brain and your brain works very differently to the person you sit next to, or at least we should hope it does.

In the words of Groove Armada: “If everybody looked the same, We’d get tired looking at each other.” Usually in team of people you get a great mixture or analytics, inventors, empathisers and doers so why not just let each person do what they like doing best and stop bemoaning that the most organised person in the room is not so hot at brainstorming or your most creative copy writer can never get to a meeting on time. Let people be what they want to be and great things can happen.

The trick is to understand how your brain ticks and how to get the best out of it and then surround yourself with people that tick to different rhythms so between you you have the surround sound sorted.Nicky Imrie, co-founder of the PR Network explains a recent profiling session we did together…Are you playing to your strengths?

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a day in the life of a PR freelancer

16/11/2011

So what’s it like being a PR freelancer?  Six months into freelancing Sam Howard on what a calm day looks like (the frenetic days you don’t want to dwell on):

 So you guys with proper jobs have
an expense account, gym membership,
private healthcare oh and a salary…
but I have a dog, and his name is Moby.

7.15am: Alarm goes off, this is really annoying as now I’m my own boss I’m sure I shouldn’t have to get up while it’s virtually dark, it says so in the small print somewhere.

8.00am: Lasso the new pup and accompany my son to the bus stop, and then  walk our new lab/mastiff puppy, a much longed for addition to the family. He is 18 weeks old and my reward for going solo, my bonus if you like.

10:00am: Team commute to office.

10:01am: Team settles in for the day: I fire up my shiny new laptop, (last one died without warning, great week that was) cat settles on desk, giant rabbit flops by french window, new pup flakes out on sofa. Drink coffee, review mails. The days of 200-plus mails every morning are thankfully no more.There’s a mail from a head hunter, ‘do I want to go permanent in a super high-profile new role?’ No thank you. Another mail from a journo friend, ‘would I like to do some PR consultancy for a small tech company he’s just met?’ Yes please. Check out Facebook, Twitter and my LinkedIn groups.

11:00am: Start with some essential admin, this takes easily an hour a day. Enter my receipts and raise a modest invoice. This still makes me ridiculously proud, as if I baked it myself or something.

11.30am: Okay, so now the day is free for actual work. What luxury! When I was agency side, in the end, I was lucky if I could find 20 minutes to sit still and ‘do’ anything at all. I enjoy being able to focus, turns out I am a starter finisher, who knew? This morning I write some client content. I like writing  good job too there is alot of it when you go freelance. Then spend some time  preparing a workshop I’m giving at the Taylor Bennett Foundation, tomorrow. After all if your time is your own, it’s quite nice to give some of it away I think.

1.30pm: Boy do I miss Pret, Itsu, Eat, Tossed. Stand by the fridge and finish last night’s leftovers, then take the pup out, he chases leaves, I laugh.

2.10pm: Spend afternoon reaching out to contacts in search of internship opportunities for my USC Annenberg post grad students. I love working with my Californian crew, hopefully I’m teaching them the gentle art of self deprecation while they’re teaching me to be nice – won’t kill me will it?

5.20pm: Welcome my son home. I had to return to full time work when he was only tiny, now he is 11 and this is the first time that I can open the door to him pretty much every day. The novelty has yet to wear off. Manage to fix my printer after a week of glaring at it, feel really rather smug.

6.30pm: Shut down office but brain is still ticking, it’s hard to switch off just like that, so take pup for a quick stroll, he rolls on the grass and i have to drag him on his back for 50 yards.

7.00pm: Hit the kitchen and prepare something gorgeous. Tonight we’re having smoked haddock on puy lentils with hollandaise and an apple crumble. Not bad for a school night.

This article first appeared in PRMoment http://www.prmoment.com/.

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Searching for your soul role

21/10/2011

Sam Howard On how the right career will find you, regardless of how hard you try to cram you curves into that square box.

Moby’s just found his soul mate, a boy that spills his food.

I’ve been to a couple of reunions recently. The first, a writers’ group that we formed about fifteen years ago when I was still collecting my boss’s dry cleaning. The second, a work reunion of some five years’ back when I was  a programme director and about to hurtle through several glass ceilings.

What hit me at both events was the way we had all progressed or should that be digressed…E.g. Writer mate 15 years ago – working for the council, now runs his own charity helping other charities set up social enterprises. Another writer mate 15 years ago – a highly ambitious, bright young thing, already head of comms for a funky major brand. Now a lecturer in philosophy at Oxford University. On the work front, a smart account manager I once hired who went on to head up a division at a rival agency, now follows the sun around the globe, to practice yoga on mountain tops. While my boss at that time, now writes tech copy from a caravan in his back garden and is very much in demand…

In my tiny survey of ten friends, 20% were pretty much where we had left them, having accumulated mortgages, pets, partners and babies along the way, 20% had straight-arrowed in terms of career path and were kindly paying for more than their fair share of the drinks, but a whopping 60% had done some weird tangential or perverse U-turn in terms of their career. What did we have in common? We were all pretty pleased with our lot.

So what can I conclude from my poll? That I am and always have been attracted to eccentrics? True. But also, in time you’ll end up where you are supposed to be, no matter how much you conform to someone else’s or even your own image of what you should be ‘doing with your life’.

Our brains are muscles and we can train them to do anything if we have to, if we want it badly enough. But at the same time we all have some natural talents and some natural aversions. So is it any surprise, that among my reunited friends  the cool tech heads are now suited and booted swanning round The City; us big risk takers are all working for ourselves careening form one inspired moment to one unmitigated disaster; the expressives are now pursuing harmonious lives that makes ethical sense; and the structured organisers are going about their lives in some semblance of order, focused on the job in hand and taking no small satisfaction in that.

It seems eventually you do gravitate to roles that tap into your natural talents and spare you the pain of shining a high beam on your weak spots. Very few of us seem lucky enough to land in the right place, right away. But take heart in knowing, that unlike the quest for a soul mate, your ‘soul role’ actually is out there somewhere, and it will find you.

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The fallible freelancer – a cautionary tale

29/09/2011

turns out life is not a rehearsal, shame becasue this month has been a shambles

Sam Howard  shares some freelance fall out…

Everyone who’s their own boss bemoans the roller coaster ride of being solo. Secretly I have always thought this could be avoided if one was just a little bit more organised and realistic. I believe I may have even posted helpful advice on the subject. But it feels like September has gone out of its way to prove I knew nothing. Nada. Zip…

Week 1
Spend week in US to kick off big project, been looking forward to this since May. I’ve kept things ticking over in the summer but made sure the decks were completely clear for this big kick off. I’m sensible like that.

Week 2
Return all geared up, spend a week organizing myself and putting systems and processes into place. File every last mail both ‘in’ and ‘sent’ so I can access everything easily once project is live.

Week 3
Monday: News from the US. Project cancelled for internal reasons, no notice, no warning. Spend day feeling a bit numb… I have no work. I check contract, there is no provision for cancellation at this level. Christmas is cancelled.

Rest of week: Tempted to spend rest of week navel gazing. But navel gazing doesn’t pay the bills, so tell myself to buck up and see this as an opportunity to work with new people doing new things. Spend rest of week reaching out to industry contacts and worthy causes to see if I can earn my keep or at least be useful. Submit super competitive quotes, agree some freebies. Garner enough interest to keep myself busy for the next month or so.

Week 4
Monday: News from the US. There’s been a rethink, Project resurrected! Tra la la Christmas is back on. But now diary looks a bit messy what with the other commitments I’ve taken on and what if those not so super competitive quotes come through now? Tempted to go for a long walk, it’s all been a bit emotional. But realise I’m now effectively a week behind schedule on the big US project, so better just get my head down and stay focused.

Tuesday: Beloved vntagelaptop crashes, no notice, no warning. I take it to local repair shop, “All the docs are backed up,” I say with a touch of swagger, I am after all a sensible freelancer. “I just need you to restore mail.” How hard can that be? My IT team at the agency could fix things like this in ten minutes. “I’ll wait.” I say, casually flicking open a copy of PR Week that I’ve had the foresight to bring with me.

The repair man slowly and carefully explains that Outlook does not live in the ether like Gmail or Hotmail it lives on the laptop, the very dead laptop.

I was aghast!

He went on to explain the raw data from the mail service provider will come through on to a new PC, not this one, obvs, but my profile is gone and with it, sent mails, appointments and contacts…

I gather up my traitorous laptop, my tattered dignity and slink out of the shop.

Wednesday: OK, still no need to panic I’m a sensible freelancer and I have gadget insurance bought especially for such an eventuality. Nice gadget insurance man says of course they can and will help me. They’ll post me a claim form, I must post it back, once they have that they will arrange collection of my laptop and try to repair it, if they conclude it cannot be repaired then they will go about sourcing a replacement to the value of a whopping £300.

Wow and in that time I could make myself a chocolate tea pot too, I’m sure that will be equally bloody helpful.

Thursday: Don’t have time to source an on line bargain, go to high street and pay lots and lots for a new laptop, whose price doubles by the time I’ve bought all the stuff I need to make it ‘go’. I can pick it up tomorrow.

Friday: Pick up sexy new laptop, and fire up Outlook – there in one very bulging ‘in box’ are all the emails I have ever received since going solo. But I have been severely humbled and for this unwieldy mercy I am truly grateful. Spend my birthday weekend working through ‘inbox ’reclaiming contacts and filing so I can have a clean start for Monday. Don’t sleep so good, as now two weeks behind on several projects. ( Er yes the stupid priced job did come in.)

Week 5
Monday: Printer breaks. Is it my aura?

Tuesday: New mail – Would I like to head up a big, new and exciting project, already a month behind, very labour intensive with very tight deadlines oh and it’s really rather lucrative? Hell YES!

This morning: Smart phone implodes. I fear I may be heading same way.

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Ten tips for going freelance

18/07/2011

It’s been six months since Sam Howard turned freelance. If you are contemplating ‘the big leap’ here are her early days tips, while the pain of learning them is still fresh:

the cat can stay but the table and the chair are going to have to go

1) Take a break before you begin: Contrary to what I was advised, I recommend you do not quit your day job on a Thursday and start your first contract on the Friday. I think I would have been more able to absorb the culture shock if I had allowed a month in between. Ideally a couple of weeks of doing NOTHING, after 22 plus years of ‘real’ work, I guess I could have cut myself some slack there. And then the next few weeks can be spent sorting out behind the scenes stuff and not just the paperwork but the basics like a comfy chair, stationary etc.

2) Apply some discipline to the financials: To quote Jessie J ‘it’s not about the money’. I knew that from the get go, but it’s quite tricky to unhook your real worth from your ‘take home’. Let it go, you are not your agency day rate or your old job title. You are so much more and being a freelancer gives you the space to explore it. But to avoid the feast or famine syndrome that everyone warns you about, set up a separate bank account, tip some cash in to it to ease yourself in, say three months of a notional wage. You’ll have enough to adjust to, without worrying about money from day one. Keep all your business outgoings and income in this one account, from this you can transfer an appropriate amount for tax into a savings account and also pull a regular wage so you can continue to budget as you did when you were employed.

3) Don’t underestimate how long tasks are going to take:One of the biggest shockers I found was that there was no one to whom I could delegate. I was so delighted that the decision making process was now instantaneous, but all the time savings made on that side were swallowed up by the implementation process now that it was just me to execute. I had to relearn skills I had abandoned years ago, like formatting, attention to detail, spelling…

4) Get out and talk to people: My first project was initially difficult and intense, that compounded with no team support or general water cooler chitchat meant I did feel overwhelmed at first. I quickly made a point of meeting an industry mate at least a couple of times a week to help keep my own trials and tribulations in context.

5) Dress the part: After a few months of looking like Bridget Jones in the throes of a messy divorce, I smartened up. For me the standard that works best is to dress as if you have a mild crush on the postman. Oh and you’ll have to schedule some regular exercise too, if you’re gonna have a chance with that postman.

6) Don’t be mean with yourself: I wish now I hadn’t bought a basic printer, trotting off to newsagents to pay for photocopies or coloured printouts, pains me man, it pains me. Also my dining room table is not the right height for a desk and sooner or later I am going to have to come to terms with this.

7) Find your natural rhythm: After so many years working Monday to Friday 9- 5 it’s natural to feel obliged to keep it up, but being a freelancer you can set your own rhythm. Mine follows the sun, if it’s sunny I do less, if it’s not I do more. Family commitments not withstanding, I’m happy to work in the evenings or weekends, if it means that when the sun comes out I can potter in the garden, keeping a squinty eye on the emails. Let go of the guilt. As long as you get the work done and it delivers above, beyond and ahead of your client expectations, then really you can please yourself when and how you do it.

8) Stay in the loop: Now you’re not part of the company chatter, you need to put extra effort into keeping up with what the industry is talking about and what’s trending. Make time in your daily schedule to read, comment and connect. Also go to conferences, training seminar’s etc, not just to network but to actually learn and assimilate.

9) Try to hold out for interesting projects:This has to be a huge plus of going freelance, work for people you like, take remits you enjoy. This is pay back for all those years of doing tasks to which you were painfully unsuited and having to work with people that normally you’d cross the street to avoid. You’ll end up doing such a great job you can easily widen the remit and referrals will surely follow.

10) Finally enjoy being nice to people! When you go freelance there are no power battles to win, no points to prove, no office politics to survive, you can just hang up your battered old ego and be nice. It feels great, really! And who knew people could be so responsive when you show some genuine consideration for their day and their challenges? Certainly not I.

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Ten tips for securing a PR internship

17/06/2011

Sam Howard on one of her pet subjects:I nternships are a contentious issue. Pay them? We are getting better at this but if the intern’s work isn’t billable, then where does the funding come from? Don’t pay them and risk being branded as a slave trader? Auction them? Surely not, but they do go for £3k a pop at a Tory Fundraiser. That can’t be right can it, jobs for the boys and all that? 

furry hats – hardly ever a good idea

Over the years I’ve hired my fair share of interns. I like to do it, feels good to give someone a break, they seem to enjoy it, and it gives me so much genuine pleasure to watch my protégés go on to bigger and better things. Now, I work with the Taylor Bennett Foundation coaching its interns and also with USC Annenberg, where I head up the post grad London  internship programme. This batch of placements began about a month ago and I’m happy to report that without exception the students are delighted with their learning experience and thriving under the guardianship and care of their sponsoring companies.So in this post I’m steering clear of the politics and just passing on my advice for getting on that first rung of the PR ladder, I hope it’s helpful.

1) CV building: It seems in the US there is a strong culture for CV building which I’m not sure we’ve quite caught up with here. Most of my US group’s CVs already boasted not one but several unpaid relevant internships as well as 100s of hours of community service. This demonstrated not only a basic understanding of what PR is in practice but a really strong work ethic. Doing something looks a lot better than doing nothing and doing something for somebody else for free is even better.

2) CV cleaning: This goes for any CV, not just when you are starting out, so do avoid the marketing schpeak there is no need to ‘big up’ achievements. Explain what your actual role was, rather than align your glory to the company as a whole, we don’t really expect juniors to have created global brands, but it’s a real bonus if we know you know how to put a tracker report together. Be bold, brave and honest in your CV. Us PRs do not believe the hype.

3) CV polishing: We want our interns to be able to read, write, spell, have great attention to detail and a good eye for presentation. Use your two page CV to show you are a master of all those trades. Make it work hard for you, put in hyperlinks to your work, your references, your social media profiles.

4) Sort out your social media presence: to me this is more important than the CV. The CV you crafted in isolation, the social media profile is a living breathing organism. Get yourself on LinkedIn build your connections and join your groups and get some recommendations up there as soon as you are able. As for Twitter, follow your favourite bloggers, journalists, brands and companies you would like to work for. Use Twitter to pass on latest trends and tips from the professionals retweet and reply. Same goes for Facebook, but make sure your privacy settings are where you want them.

5) Sector specific: Most of my US group not only knew that they wanted to make a career out of PR but also what sector they wanted and already had some industry grounding to underscore that. On the whole this seemed to work very well. If you are starting out, look to build your experience in pieces, want to work in fashion PR? Get a Saturday job in a high street store, organize a charity cat walk show in your college, represent a local independent store for free, don’t be despondent that you can’t get an internship at Gucci from day one, lead up to it. Therefore the flip side is if you have little or no relevant experience just yet, then you should keep your remit wide open, see each opportunity as one to learn.

6) Agency v in-house: Most of my group wanted to work agency side as they believed the faster pace would give them a more intense exposure. Again I would agree with this, although I would say the mid size and smaller agencies are often much more receptive to giving an intern a good home. Going in house seems to take longer to clear, and also you need to be sure that there is enough actual PR work for you to do, so be clear on the job description if it’s a start up or a few man crew. Be objective, a great brand name might have global recognition, but a smaller agency might give you more responsibility. Do your research, find your specialists, PRWeek can be a good place to start.

7) Timescales: Even with high calibre students and a decent address book it took some time to secure good opportunities. About half the opportunities were secured through some, albeit tenuous, link with the company. I found one internship through a friend’s wife’s bridesmaid’s then boyfriend, who didn’t even work there anymore! But actually it isn’t a case of jobs for the boys here, use social media as your slave to form connections. LinkedIn became my new best friend. While Twitter and Facebook both elicited responses in minutes when email and phone did not. Be prepared to approach at least 10 maybe 20 agencies depending on sector (and certainly not the ten biggest) before you can get to interview stage. I would also look to secure your internship a good six to eight weeks before you actually want to start. An ideal internship should be between one to three months. Anything less and I’m not sure you can learn that much, anything more should at least be paid.

8) Who to send the CV to? Whoever it is you ’know’ is the best answer, they at least will tell you who it should really go to or better still forward it for you, make sure your accompanying mail is intelligent relevant and polite. Don’t be afraid to phone up to find out who to send it to and if it’s a smaller agency do be prepared to really pitch yourself on the phone, you never know who is on the other end.

9) Payment: I’m not getting into this one but it seems the norm is to reimburse travel and lunch expenses. Some agencies do pay a minimum wage but they seem to be in a minority.

10) Interviews: Do take ‘em seriously, if you don’t want this job there are plenty of others that do. Now, I know I sound like your mum here but bear with me, dress the part, clean your shoes, wash your hair and arrive on time. It’s absolutely fine to be nervous but try and be positive too. Bring proof of your skills, written work, clips, references. Demonstrate company, sector and issue knowledge, show you are passionate about our world, prepared to do the admin but hungry for more responsibility. Answer questions honestly and ask strong questions. Enthuse and smile, the person interviewing you may well be the one who will be mentoring you so let them know up front it’s going to be a rewarding experience.

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