As a PR student I’m required to complete work placements to gain experience in the PR industry and to gather work for my portfolio.
So far I am on my second placement at Epilepsy Action, a UK charity that organises fundraising, campaigns and ultimately helps people who are affected by epilepsy. My first placement was at a Leeds PR agency, where I worked one day a week for about three months.
During my time at both placements I have noticed quite a few differences in how everything works. Friends and colleagues keep asking me the same questions: ‘which is better?’ ‘which is easier?’ and at first I wasn’t really sure about my answers since I’ve enjoyed my time at both placements and found both experiences very worthwhile. So I decided to draw up a list of the main differences to see whether I could finally answer these questions.
Here’s my analysis of my agency work experience.
Variety of clients and tasks
Opportunity to work with big clients and budgets
Journalists are not always cooperative – and can be quite rude
Lots of admin tasks
Here’s what I thought of my time with the charity.
The feeling of helping a good cause
The chance to acquire specialised knowledge and help with fundraising events
Journalists are more receptive to stories
Working with minimal or no budget for PR
From my list it’s not immediately clear which is better. Personally, though, I prefer concentrating on one issue instead of being spread around doing different pieces of work for different clients all day. I feel that I can work a lot better and achieve better results if I am free to focus on one topic. However, many people would like working with the big name clients and enjoy spreading themselves around different work all day.
My experience at the agency was that they had a lot of clients, so they had a lot of the similar jobs to give me. These included: ringing journalists for forward features lists, creating media mailing lists, and finding cuttings in newspapers. This meant that I was doing a lot of the same things all day (but for different clients) which became a bit boring for me. I prefer to just focus on one client (the charity) and do all the different pieces of work that come along whatever they may be.
At the agency, it seemed quite hard to ‘sell in’ stories to the media. It was quite a battle to get them to listen and even more of a struggle to actually get them to use what you’re offering them. At the charity, it seems a lot easier to get the media to listen and also to get them to use what you’re giving them.
Another difference I noticed was that at both placements there were campaigns running for which they were trying to get celebrity involvement. Celebrities seem to be a lot like the media in the sense that they appeared a lot more willing to help the charity than they were to help at the agency when it was for a commercial company. So it seems to be easier to get celebrities on board if you’re a charity than an agency.
A Day in the life of…
In order to help my comparison between the two situations I decided to run through the common events in a day at the PR agency and at the charity.
9am: Arrive at work and switch on computer
9.10am: Check and respond to emails
9.30am: Select a daily newspaper and check for mentions of any of our clients, competitors and look for any interesting PR stories
10am: Meeting with colleagues to discuss stories in the day’s newspapers and plans for the day
11am Brainstorm with colleagues over a proposal for new business and ideas for existing clients over the next year
12 noon: Type up results of brainstorm
12.30pm: Type up a PR plan for the year for a client
2pm: Write a press release
2.45pm: Tea break
3pm: Phone a journalist to ‘sell in’ a story
4pm: Create list of councillors and celebrities for lobbying proposal
5pm: Leave office, turn answer phone on and computer off
8.30am: Arrive at work and check news for any mentions of epilepsy of Epilepsy Action
9am: Read emails and respond as required. Check to-do list and prioritise what needs doing
10am: Attend photocall with Bradford Bulls for Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K
11am: Proof-read press releases, internal comms documents etc before being issued
12 noon: Read government consultation and decide whether to respond
1pm: Meeting to discuss National Epilepsy Week 2009
2pm: Write a PR plan for upcoming campaign
3pm: Write campaign supporters’ newsletter
4pm: Radio interview with local radio station about Bradford 10K
4.15pm: Draft media pack for International league against epilepsy (ILAE) centenary
5.30pm: Plan to-do list for tomorrow, go home.
So there are many things that are common to both agency and the charity: checking the news, writing press releases and PR plans for example. I think these would be typical of any PR situation as the news is very important regardless of whether you are a profit-making business or a charity, as are press releases and writing PR plans.
The main differences in the day would be that at the charity there’s a lot of emphasis on government bodies and any stories that come out about the government that might affect people with epilepsy (for example if they are proposing to change the law surrounding epilepsy drugs then Epilepsy Action would obviously have something to say about that and might want to launch a campaign to try and stop the government doing so). At the agency, however, we did not really look into too many government stories as it is unlikely that they are going to affect the business other than obviously financial ones such as the VAT reduction.
After looking at my experiences at the agency and the charity, my preference would have to be with the charity as I like the fact that everything is geared towards helping people and focusing on just one client as opposed to a mix like at the agency. But I can equally see why others would prefer the variety of an agency placement.