Through Rare Recruitment, an organisation that connects people from diverse backgrounds with opportunities at leading companies, I was given the chance to apply for an internship at Fishburn Hedges (FH) as part of the first Rare/FH scheme. Coincidently, FH was the first PR company that I ever took an interest in, having attended an open day in January earlier this year.
There are many stereotypes bandied around that are seemingly representative of a PR professional. Three come to mind - the "bitchy" PR girl, the slick PR executive and the ruthless aspirational PR go-getter. Would I be walking into a dog-eat-dog working environment with each team member out for themselves? In fact when I arrived at the firm, there was no hierarchy visible to the naked eye - to Michel Foucault's chagrin, no Bentham-inspired Panopticon-like structure in sight. Trainees sit next to directors, who in turn sit next to consultants as there was no centralised hierarchy.
To put things another way (and apologies if I lose you briefly): if the office environment was a football formation it would not employ a disciplined and rigid 4-4-2 formation, akin to Otto Rehhagel's European Championship winning Greek side. Rather, the office would be in the mould of Rinus Michel's 70s and 80s Dutch side, total football at its best. There was no "elbows out"-centre forward screaming for service, but rather the environment resembled a formation which I can only describe as 4-6-0. Flexibility and trust seemed to be the order of the day as employees are here to work hard and play hard. They are hired in the knowledge and trust that they will get the job done, without any supervision.
My first week at FH was filled with induction workshops training me in various facets of PR and aspects of FH culture. Following a meeting with my assigned mentor, I was given a tour of the deceptively large building in which I shook at least 100 hands and attempted to remember just as many names.
My first few days were spent researching the client accounts I was placed on. I came across interesting concepts such as "nudge theory," the idea that through nudging an inherently lazy society, a government could change public behaviour. The most famous account of this refers to a Dutch toilet in which the number of men missing the urinals was reduced by painting a fly (the nudge) inside the basin - men couldn't help but take aim.
I have been assigned to three clients with global reputations in varying sectors and for the two months I will be a fully fledged member of the team. I was particularly keen to be given responsibility and take on any task given to me. Students frantically jump from internship to internship, playing the graduate game in an attempt to bulk-up their CV, when in reality it's the experience and the skills gained which are most important. There's only so much you can learn from reading blogs or day-in-the-life biographies. Real knowledge can only come from first-hand experience.
What drew me to PR was the opportunity to be creative. I wanted to come up with unique ideas, empathise with a target audience, deliver a client's objectives and ultimately implement a successful campaign. As such, I was initially of the belief that I only wanted to work in consumer PR. Writing now at the end of the first week, I have learnt that PR, regardless of the specialism, was one and the same. The bottom line for a client was to manage reputation, generate coverage and therefore deliver objectives.
Over the course of my first week I was involved in client meetings and was part of teams that planned to set up stakeholder dinners, launch micro-sites, hold focus groups, put together consumer indexes, facilitate creative brainstorm sessions, draw together media lists and most importantly sell in stories to newspapers. The Holy Grail for all PR professionals is to achieve coverage for their clients and I felt ready to immerse myself in all that the firm had to offer. But first I need to learn my craft, stick to rivers and lakes as opposed to waterfalls.
I was tasked with putting together media lists, researching client competitors and drafting up case studies, whilst observing the actions of my colleagues around me. I watched some team members cultivate good working relationships with journalists and no doubt this would be useful the next time a relevant campaign needed press coverage.
During my first week I have enjoyed being trained on Gorkana, which lists all the personal information, interests and contact details of journalist, bloggers and radio personalities across the whole of the UK. Another highlight was the "FH Beta" workshop on the importance of social media and all things digital to businesses. The world around us is changing, and PR companies need to ensure that clients are aware of the challenges they face and the need to approach stakeholders and consumers in innovative ways.
Over the coming weeks in these posts I hope to deliver more insights, less footballing analogies and with any luck, come to some fascinating conclusions.