I never expected that being a CIPR student rep could be such a big turning point in one’s career. Yet my CIPR student event has already started to open doors in the industry.
From Russia with languages
Having obtained an MA in translation and an MA in PR from the Nizhny Novgorod State Linguistic University in Russia, I decided straight away that translation was not for me. I wanted to be the key player and neither interpreting nor translation allow one to fully engage their creativity and initiative to the full potential.
It took me more than three years to come to realise that I wanted to get involved with PR. So, having compared all London’s CIPR-accredited courses I chose London Met (LMU) as the one offering the best combination of subjects and studying hours. Being able to carry on working full-time was crucial for me to support myself and MA in Communications Management taught at LMU offered classes on weekday evenings allowing me to finish work in Barbican and go to their Jewry Street building in Aldgate in just half an hour.
Being elected CIPR student rep for LMU in October 2009 meant I had to organise an event to promote CIPR membership and equip me with some real-world industry experience. We had no strict guidelines as to the structure, theme or time of the event. Only the budget was clear: just £50.
I chose to conduct an internship contest allowing my fellow students to secure unpaid one-month internships with potential extension into a paid role long before they graduate. In my opinion, this format would allow three agencies to observe 15 MA and BA PR students working in groups and students would be able to choose an agency based on the way PROs sell them.
According to the plan, PROs were to introduce their agencies, set out the internship terms and present their briefs. The students then were to split into three groups to tackle an assignment and the practitioners were to judge them on creativity, ability to work in a team, strategic thinking and other professional and individual qualities. The awards ceremony was to take place at a champagne reception in a nearby restaurant.
Without any events management experience I knew straight away I’d need to write a plan and stick to it, accepting help from anyone in the field. To be honest, I did not even know where to start, so I started by booking a room at the university’s Moorgate Campus through corporate events officer Ann Willis who has proven to be an invaluable asset to my project team.
She arranged IT equipment, refreshments, LMU-labelled tablecloths and more importantly put me through to the key staff at the university who assisted with publishing the event details on the university website, assembling corporate LMU goodie bags etc.
Interest in the event
By direct approach I found and interviewed the agencies, viewed and set the layout for the contest room, approached and chose the graphic designer and the three photographers, the reception venue and had the pre-event press release published in Behind the Spin and Profile Extra.
This generated further interest in the event and I have since been approached by the publisher of Communicate magazine Andrew Thomas who offered a free annual subscription and a free admission to their next five conferences to one winner of the contest. The published poster triggered interest amongst students from other universities and I received more than 30 CVs from students from all over the country including 10 from my own group.
As I only had £50 budget for the event I contacted the selected restaurant to quote for a set menu and charged the missing difference as a registration fee to the students (£7 per person) which covered food and drinks.
Despite all sorts of obstacles and difficulties on the way, the contest has been a total success.
The judges were so impressed with the high calibre and quality of work of the students that the agencies (Lansons, PHA Media and Phoenix) offered more than just one internship each.
Communicate magazine extended their offer of free admission to their five next conferences to all the three super interns of the contest increasing the sponsorship amount to £7,500.
The university suggested I should organize this contest annually. I have even received a few job offers which was a bit overwhelming as I am still writing my dissertation and will not be able to look into it in more detail until September.
The event has won silver at London Met Student Achievement Awards 2009-2010. I have also translated the press release into Russian and sent it out to key Russian PR magazines and online publications and had it published in Communications Management, a feature article was published in Public Relations 26 and an interview in Marketolog and PR in Russia.
My letter and press release with photographs have been published on my university’s official website and in the local newspaper in my home town of Lysva in the Perm region where I used to work as a young correspondent when I was at school.
Before the event I had a few people asking me what was in it for me if it was not even offering an internship for me and I kept saying that the experience meant much more than a work placement. But having finished the event, I can now admit that apart from the great experience of working with such widely recognized and highly valued institutions as CIPR and LMU, I have met and made use of high-flying PR practitioners and university staff and have been exposed to even more offers.