Tag Archives: Public Relations

Reflecting on my CCPR experience

A few weeks ago I finished classes at Centennial College’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program and it really felt like a whirlwind. Some days were extremely long, but the weeks and months flew faster than I imagined. I thought it would be useful to reflect on my experience with CCPR not only as a means to inventory my skills and experience, but also to provide a look inside the program for future students.

Why I came to CCPR

I came to the program because I knew I wanted to work for an agency and this seemed like a great way to gain the skills I wanted and eventually get my foot-in-the-door as an intern. One of the things I realized on the first day was the very different reasons why people came to this program and the different places they were coming from. As expected, most people who come to college to do a post-graduate certificate are recent University/College graduates, but there are others who had significant work experience but wanted to change their career (glad I wasn’t the only one!). I came to this program because I wanted to learn a set of specific skills that I didn’t gain in my previous work doing technical writing and marketing communications. During interviews over the previous year that were more PR-focused I realized I didn’t know enough about project management, strategic communications planning, social media monitoring, media relations or event management. I knew that Centennial’s CCPR program had classes in these subjects and being able to learn those skills in an 8 month timeframe was a great opportunity to learn quickly. For the other skills I already felt I had, it was great to have a refresher about copy editing, writing for specific audiences and learning more about graphic design. Now I feel totally ready to reach my goal of working for a PR agency.

Learning the tools of the trade

One of the most frustrating parts of job searching is reading the description of your dream job only to realize that you don’t know anything about the industry-specific tools they use. Communications jobs offer a huge array of possibilities, with some digital communications positions requiring knowledge in front-end and back-end web development, while other more creative jobs require knowing how to use most of Adobe Creative Suite or business/marketing oriented jobs require being an advanced user of excel with proficiency in quantitative analysis methods. Most of these software skills are pretty difficult to learn on your own. I wanted to know more about programs such as: CisionPoint, Google Analytics, MR2P and InDesign. While I am not an expert, I can at least use them at an intermediate level and I understand what they do. Learning new software is one of the most difficult parts of any class or job, but I am proud to say that I am pretty comfortable using these tools that I knew nothing about 8 months ago.

Getting real world experience

Looking back I am impressed with the exposure I received while working with real world clients and campaigns. College is all about hands-on learning of practical skills and CCPR provided those opportunities. Obviously for Toronto PR types, studying this discipline during the media frenzy of Rob Ford’s antics provided a pretty perfect backdrop for talking about real situations for this year, but it went well beyond that. While not every assignment was directly from a real client, the situations were drawn from current issues clients have dealt with or at least based on previous real campaigns that our instructors worked on during their PR/Communications careers.

Part of the program is also getting out into the real world and contacting professionals. Leaving the comfort of the classroom was pretty terrifying at first, but it was also absolutely necessary. I was lucky enough to interview another newly minted PR professional who was working at Edelman, and an award-winning editor of Orphan Black. Eventually I was given the opportunity to bring in people from the real world and create actual campaigns or events to meet the needs of their business or organization. Throughout my various classes I was able to work with real clients including: The Casey House, Prostate Cancer Canada, The Ontario Educational Collaborative Marketplace, Christian’s Children’s Fund of Canada, Centennial College and Stikeman Elliott LLP.

Here is a photo of my amazing Event Management group at the El Mocambo with the CEO of Casey House Stephanie Karapita.

Hearts in Harmony event at El Mocambo for Casey House

                                          Hearts in Harmony event at El Mocambo supporting Casey House

I won an award of recognition from Christian Children’s Fund of Canada for helping spread the word about their Free From Violence Campaign on social media. If you’re reading this PLEASE add your name to the petition to make ending violence and exploitation of children a priority for the United Nations. http://freefromviolence.org/take-action/

Me with the CCFC Communications Team

                                                          Me with the CCFC Communications Team

Advice for incoming students

  1. Network – Networking isn’t even optional anymore, it is an absolute necessity. No matter what your chosen career path or profession, it is extremely important to have connections to important and influential people in your industry. Join the IABC or CPRS and go to their events. Volunteer your time with local events or charities. If you meet an interesting guest-speaker in class or a former student, add them on LinkedIn. Go to agency open houses. As a student you’re in a place where people want to help you out because they began their career the same way. Do whatever you can to build your network because this is the perfect time to do it.
  2. Go to class – This program is only eight months long and it will go by very quickly. Since it’s a condensed program the days can be very long and it’s tempting to skip a class here or there once you’re feeling burnt out. Don’t. It is important that you go to class and absorb everything you can. You’re paying for it after all.
  3. Build a portfolio – The assignments you’re doing on a weekly basis aren’t just something to be submitted for grades and forgotten about. What you are learning and creating in these classes apply to directly to the real world. If you work hard and create/write something fantastic, wear it as a badge of honour and show it off during future interviews.
  4. Befriend your instructors – You spend every day listening and taking notes from real professionals from your field. In the case of Centennial you may be lucky enough to be learning from someone with a lifetime of experience as a consultant, director or executive in the industry you want to join. These are the types of professionals you wouldn’t normally have access to as a junior member of a company or agency, so take advantage of the opportunity.
  5. Take initiative – Beyond your normal classes and work different opportunities will come up for school-wide projects, volunteer opportunities or maybe even part-time jobs. Take initiative to be involved in or help out with any opportunity that comes your way. It will make you stand out from your peers.
  6. Set a goal – Although the world of public relations and communications offers many different types of careers and opportunities, it never hurts to plan ahead. Your classes will give you exposure to media relations, event planning, strategic communications, social media management and all sorts of disciplines that are related to specific jobs. Figure out what type of work you like and what type of sector you want to work for in your future. It’s great to get a head start on this before you begin applying for internships and junior positions.
  7. Stay positive – The world of public relations in Toronto is pretty small, interconnected and highly competitive. That last part is true of an industry in the last half-decade. Never before have so many highly educated young people had such a difficult time finding a job, let alone their dream job. The whole experience of searching for a job or an internship can be physically and emotionally taxing. Work hard, network, advertise yourself and most importantly: stay positive. Negativity is contagious and counter-productive.

Of course classes are the easy part. Now comes the real hard work of breaking into the industry. Stay tuned to this blog as next week I will be reporting from the trenches.

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An Awarding Career

Cannes-Lions-2014-Logo1It is no secret that the goal of this journey back to college is to finally end up where I’ve always wanted to be: a respected creative/communications agency. I say agency without too much definition because they come in many different forms that are currently colliding. There are agencies that define themselves as: advertising, creative, marketing, public relations, government relations, strategic communications, branding and probably even more that I am unfamiliar with. At this point, it doesn’t matter too much what type of agency I end up.

I desire to work for an agency because I like the idea of working in a dynamic environment. After working previously in a corporate environment where you are usually writing about the same products to the same audience, I want to be able to work for different clients. I understand the environment is challenging, but it also sounds exciting and extremely rewarding. One thing I didn’t realize about the industry is that in addition to being rewarding, it’s also awarding.

I follow many different agencies on twitter so I can keep up-to-date with what they’re doing. This past month twitter has been dominated by award galas from different organizations.

And of course right now the most exciting of all the awards ceremonies is being held in the gorgeous French Riviera: The Cannes Loins festival for creativity. This is really a mecca for creativity where advertisers, public relations agencies, artists, musicians, celebrities, tech superstars and all the finest creative types get together. I yearn to go one day. Not just to spend a week in beautiful south France though. I mean where else can you find Richard Edelman, Kanye West and Sheryl Sandberg at the same conference? Perhaps at South by Southwest as it evolves into a similar sort of party/conference/gala, but that still doesn’t have the same cachet as Cannes, and honestly I’d like to go to both. My twitter feed for the past few days has been tantalizing me as Edelman, Ketchum, JWT, Ogilvy + Mather, Leo Burnett and the like keep me up to date on everything awesome going on.

My point is not that I yearn to hob-knob with celebrities (though who doesn’t?), but that I like that aspect of the industry celebrating each other’s work. There are plenty of careers out there that provide no recognition beyond a nice pat-on-the-back from management for a job well done. The fact that creative types routinely submit their work for awards provides an opportunity to give some exposure to the agency and their work, but also to provide some sense of fulfillment and appreciation for the people who create these award-winning campaigns. It must be a great feeling to be recognized amongst your immediate peers, as well as the industry as a whole.

I don’t know how I’ll get to Cannes just yet, but it’s nice to have goals. In the meantime I look forward to breaking into a rewarding and awarding career.

An Office of One’s Own

Office block at night with interior lights

Since I am currently a PR student, I have lots of homework and assignments in addition to my lectures. I often try to spend time in the library between classes to get ahead on my homework, but the results have been pretty dismal. I really don’t get that much done when I am sitting in the library. The general atmosphere of a library just doesn’t seem conducive to work. That is especially true when the library has other students who are talking to each other or watching videos on their smart phones. To really get work done, I need to be at home in my room.   I don’t usually work in total silence; in fact I almost always prefer to have music playing or at least the TV on in the background with something easy to ignore until it calls for my attention (news or sports). There is something different about having distractions that I have chosen, versus others that come uninvited. Of course one day I’d like to have my own office, not just a computer and desk in my bed room.

The idea of having an office isn’t just something I want for my home own day, but something that I desire in my place of work as well. Until the last few years where offices have changed significantly, the so-called “corner office” was something to aspire to. If you worked hard enough, you graduated from the communal space of the cubicle farm, to the private space to call your own. From there, you could maybe be lucky enough to end up in the C-suite, a separate space entirely where the offices are larger and provide insolation from everybody else. In those days the office space was a reflection of the hierarchy of the company, but things are changing.

My own experience

In my previous jobs I have worked in cubicles. I have often lamented the monotony of working in a cubicle farm. The experience makes it feel as though the company is specifically trying to destroy the morale of workers by putting them in a space that is as boring and drab as possible. An endless maze of identical squares and rectangles with minor distinguishing features between them is uninviting to say the least. Maybe I will live to regret feeling that way, as companies from every sector of the economy are trying to make their real estate more attractive to a new generation of employees. Cubicles are disappearing and open-concept is the new norm.

While I really enjoy the idea of having an office that creates a communal space with (supposed) flattened hierarchies, I am somewhat nervous about the prevalence of open concept spaces. Isn’t the idea of having everybody exposed to each other somehow damaging to creativity and quality work? It seems difficult to balance the need for open communications while also promoting a quiet and appropriate space for creativity and work.

It’s difficult to have all the good parts, without any of the bad. I like that Technology companies have led the way in transforming the office landscape. A communal kitchen, coffee corners, ping pong tables, cocktail hour? Yes please, sign me up! However the idea of knowing that I may never have an office to call my own is disappointing. I think plenty of people watch Mad Men yearn for the opportunity to have their own office in that 1960’s style. It’s not just the scotch bar next to the desk; it’s the comfort of having a little living room inside of your greater work space.

Like most office workers, I do want to work in a space that is inviting, friendly and generally some place I would like to spend my days (and occasional evenings/nights). One element that I find so attractive about the PR/Advertising industry is their ability to create and promote their own work places. When working previously I would google these organizations and become jealous of their amazing websites and offices. I like that the offices of major firms and boutique agencies have all of the forward-thinking elements of a technology company, with the professional sheen that a client service industry like law or finance demands.

A Tale of Two Offices

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to visit two great Public Relations agencies that I am interested in working for: Edelman and Strategic Objectives. Though they are both celebrated agencies with impressive histories, accolades and clients, they were also very different in how their office space was organized. Of course they are also very different companies in terms of clients and the breadth of services, so I am sure that makes a difference, but both were alluring.

Edelman’s Toronto office a very attractive and contemporary (in fact it was featured in the Globe and Mail when it was re-done). The energy and vibrancy of their office is very inviting and reflects the demeanor of their employees. Because this open house for PR students had students from multiple schools, we were a rather large group and we didn’t get the opportunity to actually tour the office. We were there for an information session and some schmoozing. Despite not getting a tour, I tried my best to get a good look at my surroundings. Their work space was totally open concept, with everybody on the same level and no barrier between them. Coming from a cubicle farm myself, I am eager to experience that type of environment for work. It gave the impression that there was constant communication and collaborating between employees, which was also emphasized by the presenters.

Beyond that, they also had a great common area which happened to be full of an assortment of fruit, cheeses, meats as well as champagne, wine and beer. It just happened to be Thursday at 4:00 p.m. when our session ended, which is Edelman’s own “foursies” time, where all employees get together to eat, drink and discuss their work. I can’t say for certain that Edelman is poppin’ bottles every Thursday at 4, but they went out of their way to give us that impression. I sincerely want Thursdays to end on that sort of high note.

In contrast to Edelman, Strategic Objectives had more of a traditional feel to it. For our visit at Strategic there were only about 30 of us, so we were able to get a bit of a tour rather than just attend an information session. The office had the same clean and inviting style, but with a major difference: cubicles and offices. Due to the smaller nature of Strategic Objectives, the cubicles and offices felt more welcoming since their space is too small to be considered a “cubicle farm”.   I liked that the office was quiet and the workers seemed to have their own little private spaces to work at. The silence was a little surprising compared to the ambient buzz of Edelman, but at the same time I feel that their space might be more conducive to creative pursuits. The lobby of Strategic Objectives is literally littered with trophies, awards and plaques, so clearly they are doing something right in terms of their office environment.

Strategic Objectives also gave us a nice little information session where they showed off some of their recent client work. They were also kind enough to give us some professional advice on writing and media pitching. Though they did less schmoozing, I did come home with some expensive organic fair trade chocolate and a box of Froot Loops, so I felt adequately seduced.

On offices and productivity

I’ll end this post with a bit of interesting information that I learned from a recent CBC documentary called Office Land that looks at the changing world of office spaces. Specifically it looks at how the offices of Silicon Valley’s technology companies have transformed the office spaces around the world. The host interviews corporate real estate types, technology company office workers, professors and those who study how the office space impacts performance. Some interested tidbits from the documentary included:

  • In 1994 the average office work had 90 square feet of space
  • Today the average office work has 75 square feet of space
  • 62% of Americans in 2009 said that a better looking office meant better performing employees

And most surprisingly:

  • For every 3 minutes a worker is disturbed or distracted, it takes 23 minutes to get back on track

And lastly, research by Gensler from offices that changed from 2008 to this year:

  • Saw a 6% drop in employee performance
  • Employees said they spent 20% less time collaborating.