It’s that time of year again. New students are enrolling at university and returning students are coming back older and wiser.
And, once again, we’re looking for students to appear in our weekly #ThisWeekinPR roundup under the #prstudent #bestPRblogs banner.
Each year, there’s something of a reset as students and lecturers begin all over again. This year I feel very uncertain about what might follow.
That’s because we didn’t only lose one winner, but we lost the last three winners of the contest when Orlagh Shanks (2019 and 2018 winner) and Lucy Hayall (2017) graduated in the summer. Nine out of the top ten most featured students last year are now moving on to new things. (You’ll hear from the last one standing later in this piece).
So this is a new start. Time to restate the purpose and guiding principles behind the #bestPRblogs contest and #prstudent community.
Blogging is two decades old. It predates social media. It seems a dated format compared to the ease and immediacy of social media. And yet it’s because social media is so ever-present and so ephemeral that there’s been a revived interest in long-form content. In an online world where Google and Facebook set the rules, there’s a renewed focus on owned content.
In brief, a blog (your own website) is still the best way for you to manage your personal brand online.
Yet it takes work. You need to think through the (domain) name and the relationship to your social media channels; you need to think about the visual identity; and you need to produce a flow of quality content. It’s hard work.
But the rewards are there. Not as a direct result of this contest – it has no prize other than the reward of being named ‘best PR student blogger’. But the rewards for being visible come through your attractiveness to employers and through the first hand experience you gain. So our 2018 and 2019 winner Orlagh Shanks, who’s already worked in influencer marketing for a beauty business in London, is now working in influencer marketing in New York just months on from graduating.
She knows what she’s dealing with since she’s spent years developing her blog and Instagram accounts and building her personal brand.
2015 winner Arianne Williams (now Arianne Smart) is also still blogging. She’s shared her ten top tips for your PR degree this week. She writes about the value of networking and building a personal brand:
“PR is all about reputation and it’s not just the reputation of your clients or company that you have to think about. You need to make sure that you have a good reputation too – perhaps work on your social media presence, try networking and start making your name known.” Arianne Smart.
There are alternatives to cultivating your own blog. Distinctive, quality content is what we’re looking for – and not just on personal blogs.
There’s much to be said for using professional networking site LinkedIn as your platform. You have less control over your personal brand and less ownership of your content, but it makes sense to view your content as part of a network- and community-building activity. Medium is also attractive to those who favour long-form content and who seek a ready-made community of like-minded content creators.
Podcasts are currently fashionable in media and public relations circles – but I’ve only ever listened to one PR student podcast. It was very interesting, and it made it into our weekly round-up. More would be welcome.
And the current gold standard for influencers must be a YouTube channel. Yet I’ve known few PR students cultivating their own YouTube channel, so there’s plenty of opportunity for others to explore this opportunity.
Many will welcome the chance to publish their thoughts without the burden of owning a blog. This is an opportunity provided by course blogs such as Ulster PR Student Blog and Leeds Talks PR. Others are free to set up class blogs and develop their own community of bloggers and content creators.
How to start
Everyone starts from zero. Each Twitter account has had to build up its followers and to gauge the right balance of original content creation and community-building activity by liking, sharing and other content.
If you have your own blog, you’ll want to make a start and sort out the interior design and furnish some of the rooms before inviting people round. So your starting point should be your own look and feel, and then your own content. Don’t overlook your About page – and do make it easy for visitors to follow you on your chosen social media channels and to contact you in whatever way you choose.
There’s plenty of advice available online about whether to build your site using WordPress, Wix or using some other free tool. We’re more interested in what you use your site for.
What we’re looking for
We’re looking for a selection of readable and insightful posts from students. A good standard of writing is important, but we accept that not all posts can be equally brilliant. We welcome variety. What we can’t excuse are poorly written posts because it doesn’t help you for us to bring these to the attention of experienced practitioners.
You don’t always have to write about public relations (that would make you dull), but we’re less likely to feature lifestyle posts than ones about wider issues. Money, intergenerational unfairness, climate change, politics, mental health and social media – there’s an endliess list of potential issues to address.
Above all, we’re looking for characterful writing. What do I mean by this? Your blog is your personal website, so we expect to learn something about you and to get to know you. To give you an example, the sole survivor from last year’s top ten is Niamh Murray, returning for her final year at Ulster University.
Her writing is opinionated, often very funny, and she has a distinctive tone of voice. This week, she’s discussing the reputation of her generation. She takes on the critics who claim that millennials are not investing enough for the future:
“We’re investing it in ourselves. We’re paying like £4,000-9,000 a year for a uni degree which we then spend decades paying off and can’t get a job with anyway. That’s an investment. We spend our money socialising, to keep strong emotional connections and improve our mental health. That’s an investment. We’re paying a bomb for gym memberships, dance and yoga classes (which we never go to, but the option’s there) to keep ourselves physically healthy so we’re around for longer. That’s an investment. We spend our money on things that make us happy, to help us have a better quality of life. That’s an, you’ve guessed it, i n v e s t m e n t.” Niamh Murray.
This repetition of investment is a well-established rhetorical device. It’s widely practised in speech writing, but it’s unusual in a student blog post. So it’s likely to appear in Friday’s roundup (unless she writes another post that replaces it).
That’s about it for the rules. We’re looking for a selection of posts each week from undergraduates and postgraduates at different universities across the UK. Students can be of any nationality, but should be currently studying here. We limit each student to one post per week.
You don’t even have to be studying public relations. Those studying English Literature or Journalism, say, often come to gravitate towards public relations and digital marketing because they’re such interesting areas, and because they provide good opportunities and attractive salaries for bright graduates. So if you self-identify as a PR student, that’s good enough for me!
Will we know you’re out there?
You may have a beautifully-designed blog. You may have published several well-crafted articles. But what does this gain you if no one knows it’s there? You also need to learn some lessons in self-promotion.
Banging on about ‘me, me, me’ is not a good way to win friends and influence people. So you’ll need to learn when and how to share your posts to best effect. It’s a valuable lesson because this is just the sort of content creation, relationship building and promotional activity that’s often involved in junior public relations roles.
If you’ve been able to build a community of followers from scratch, then this is valuable experience you can apply in the workplace. Businesses and brands also seek to use content to build followers and engage their communities.
Good ways to attract attention to your post are to share it on social media using relevant hashtags. The one relating to our contest is #prstudent. You can also use images on Twitter to tag people: a subtle way to bring your content to their attention.
Your first steps
No one has become a writer without first being an avid reader. If you still don’t know what to write about, then a good starting point is our Friday #ThisWeekinPR roundup. There’s a variety each week, but some names keep on appearing. They’re good people to follow. You can learn from their posts, you can learn from their engagement on social media, and you can learn from them at industry events and on Twitter chats. As they get to know you, you can even strike up personal conversations and seek their advice.
So, to do well in #prstudent #bestPRblogs, you’ll have to be good at:
- Content creation.
- Community building
If you’re good at these three things, you’ll be good at public relations – and you’ll always be in demand. The best prize of all is a good reputation.