Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Learning by Work Experience: Taking baby steps towards that fabled first job

Back in autumn 2010, it hit me like a tonne of bricks that the cosy cocoon of university life was starting to fray at the edges. The cycle of going out, sleeping in, and general sofa-dwelling, punctuated by the occasional lecture or exam, was a seductive lifestyle, but the expiry date was looming ever nearer. By summer 2011, I’d be a graduate, catapulted willy-nilly into the world of work.

Making a choice

Luckily, by the beginning of my final year, I’d realised the path I wanted my postgraduate career to take. Never one of the ‘jocks’ at uni, I had always ticked the extracurricular box with journalistic and publicity roles.

As it dawned on me that Facebook and Twitter could be more than just effective revision-avoidance, I started to experiment with social media as a tool to promote the student publications and societies I was involved with. Factoring in my interest in current affairs, it was definitely media and communications for me.

Ditching the ‘Friends’ reruns

The next step was to turn off E4, break off the long-term relationship with the sofa and get some experience in the industry. I managed to bag 6 months of part-time experience as a content writer at a digital marketing agency in Lichfield, learning the tricks of the SEO trade.

The chance to develop a promotional campaign with a social media focus came in the form of the B-Hive competition for aspiring media professionals. Challenged with a brief to promote Birmingham as a centre of gourmet dining, I went for a combination of traditional advertising, website, Facebook and Twitter platforms, all reinforcing the city’s diverse cuisine as the key proposition: ‘Where Will You Eat Next?’

A finger in the digital pie

The B-Hive judges saw fit to hand me the Digital Media top prize, which was four two week placements at some of the best digital agencies in the West Midlands region. Getting involved with their work has been a great way to get to grips with how the industry is harnessing the social media beast and unlocking its marketing potential.

Getting into PR

At the Public Relations agencies I’ve spent time in, I’ve been lucky enough to work on two Royal Wedding campaigns, welcome guests at a champagne reception, write press releases aimed at national papers and call up any number of journalists (with varying degrees of success, ranging from great coverage to an angry click and a dialling tone halfway through the sell-in).

Although traditionally concerned with the print and broadcast media, the public relations industry seems to be swiftly moving into the online and social media space to engage with audiences here as well. As a PR intern I’ve been involved with reaching out to bloggers, interacting with online communities and writing content that will resonate online. The integration of old and new media, plus the variety of clients and sectors covered, makes a PR agency like Willoughby an exciting place to be.

To the old adage, ‘Experience is the best teacher,’ I’d add that it’s also the best job coach. Real-life experience is the perfect way to learn how the creative industries work. It’s also an important career asset in a sector that values what you’ve done just as much as what you’ve studied, if not more.


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