Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Interview with a third year PR student: meet Heather Woodhouse

Ever wondered what it's like to study PR at BCU? Heather Woodhouse is a current third year PR specialist on the BA (Hons) Media and Communication degree course at Birmingham City University.

Here, she shares her journey so far - and how she would tell her first year self to take a big gulp...

Tell us about your studies to date and why you chose your pathway

I’m currently in my final year at University at the height of Dissertation and Final Year Project. I entered first year as a Media and Communications Broad Course student, which essentially means you’re free to pick a variety of modules from loads of strains of Media (PR, Journalism, Events, New Media, TV, Radio). After having a dabble at a few in the first year, I chose to specialise as a PR student at the beginning of my second year, meaning I could develop my PR skills further with specific PR modules.

I was always told by a tutor whilst studying my A-Levels that I’d love PR, when at the time I only had a faint idea about what PR was about. I found it strange how a tutor at the time matched my personality and skills to PR, and how right she was - I love it!

I chose to specialise in PR when arguably I’d still only scratched the surface of what it was all about. My pathway decision was finalised when I did my first PR placement in the summer of my first year and knew it was me. I’ve loved my studies, but nothing has matched the enjoyment and education I’ve gained from work experience placements.

What was your perception of PR in the beginning? What is it now / how has it changed?

I always thought of PR as similar to being a PA, and then linking it celebrity reputation management and ‘agents’. It was only when I came to University and did placements that I learnt it was so much more than that, and so much better.

When first starting out, I heard the usual stereotypes about PR, where people perceive it as deceptive, lies, spin. Because in the first year we learnt primarily about Media Relations, that was my general initial impression of the industry and its purpose. Placements and University modules have shown that it is so much more than that. Knowing that in PR you can work on so many different things - Creative Campaigns, Internal Comms, Crisis, Social Media, Events, SEO, Digital and Content Marketing and so much more - alongside traditional Media Relations makes it such an exciting industry.

I’d say one of PR’s biggest selling points is the versatility and flexibility. I believe this aspect of PR is something that will attract more and more graduates to the field in the coming years. 

In my final year project, I’m undertaking the role of a freelance PR and working for six Birmingham charities. So far, my project has involved video creation, writing releases, gaining coverage, design work, blogging, social media scheduling and content creation, proposals, evaluations. This variety of work is something I’d expect when working full-time in PR and is indicative of the evolution of the PR industry.

What have you enjoyed most about your studies?

I’ve always enjoyed education and learning, which is something I’m committed to doing even when leaving University. The best thing about the Media and Communication degree is the flexibility it gives students. 

Many media industries require multiple cross-platform skills, and my degree is brilliant at offering and emphasising this throughout the course.

The course is realistic too, combining both theoretical and practical modules so that students are job ready when they leave. I’ve written press releases, I’ve managed a PR and Events team, I’ve created a Communications Proposal, I’ve networked, I’ve pitched to journalists and successfully gained press coverage. This, alongside required placement hours, is a great platform for building experience before you graduate. All of these things are checkboxes that you can talk about to potential employers.

What have you found challenging about PR?

PR requires a certain amount of confidence. You’ll be expected to jump out of your comfort zone, whether that’s ringing a journalist and convincing them to run your story, or approaching people at networking events that you’ve only even seen online and ensuring they remember you. Although seeming initially alien, many conversations I’ve had with industry professionals and journalists have led to great things. I’m now excited when these scenarios arise.

For a PR student starting out, it can seem scary, but get stuck it! There’s a good chance that nobody expects you to succeed on first try, but people are seeing if you have the determination and confidence to give it a go. 

Have confidence in yourself and your story.

What has most helped you in your development?

I feel pretty lucky to have grown up in the 00’s era, where we were learning about technology and social media at the same time we were learning about ourselves. This meant that we could experiment with platforms and tastes when they were in their beginnings, and didn’t have widespread impact. We became Social Media savvy at a time where we needed it most. Now, when new platforms are emerging, we’re not afraid to use them. After spending our teenage years taking part in trial and error, we’re not afraid to try new things or change direction.

What would you tell yourself if you could go back three years?

To be brave. I was offered a job at my current employment on the last day of a two-week placement with them, and made the decision to take it and quit my job at the time - all in 24 hours! I currently run their social media channels and curate all the content, which also began after I took a big gulp and approached my boss and asked to take on the role. My most successful achievements to date have been made from taking that big gulp and a leap of faith.

In contrast, I’d also tell myself to be vigilant and patient. Although sometimes a leap of faith and a big gulp does the trick - it’s important to not leap at every opportunity that comes your way. Make sure it’s right for you and it’s something you really want before taking the plunge. At the beginning of my degree, I used to throw myself at every opportunity that came my way and burn out. 

As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve realised it’s not about the amount of opportunities you take, but what you put in and gain from the opportunities that’s key.

What are your aims after university and do you have any career goals?

I’d love to get a full-time PR agency position when I finish University. The Birmingham PR scene is thriving and exciting and is something I’d love to be part of after building a profile and networking in the city. I’d happily relocate to other parts of the country if job was calling! In the future, I’d love to own my own agency or manage a team within an agency.

I have a soft spot for charity PR, which has been fuelled by my final year project. I’d be interested in working in-house for charity PR and am considering these types of positions when applying for jobs. I intend to continually work with Love Brum and the charities involved in my project in my spare time too!

Advice to students interested in public relations – why PR?

The direction your career takes can be solely based on your interests as there are so many different strains of PR. It’s one of those undercover industries too, where no-one seems to know what it is, yet so many need it. 

Whilst conversations are still being had, PR will still be needed.

PR is such an exciting and fast-paced industry, with such a variety of tasks. PR provides a buzz for those that need a drive and kick out of a career – there’s no better feeling than seeing your clients work published in the press.

Find your passion, and get stuck in. Confidence and determination are key.

Favourite PR campaign to date?

Red Bull: Stratos Space Jump:

Jaw-dropping, spine-tingling and got the world’s attention.
Brave and ballsy PR that says a lot - without saying much at all.

So, was your PR degree worth it?

Thank you to Heather for sharing her thoughts, experience and passion for PR. Follow Heather on Twitter.

If you would like to feature in a guest interview or write a post for #BCUWeArePR, get in touch.


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