Q&A with High-Flying SAE
This week I have adopted a slightly different approach to the blog and carried out a guest post Q&A with Matt Churchill, Senior Account Executive at Edelman. For those looking to get into the PR industry, Matt offers a valuable insight, as well as some great tips and words of advice.
After the success of the 2010 PR Grad Schemes post which has had over 1,000 views so far, I hope this will prove just as useful for graduates and people looking to get into the industry. I will also be having a Q&A with someone working in PR HR in the not too distant future…so watch this space.
A bit of background: whilst I have known Matt for several months via Twitter, email and blog posts – I have never actually met him…until this week. You can find out more about Matt from his blog, Tweets or Linked In profile.
Right then, Matt in his own words…
I graduated from Westminster Uni with 2:1 (BA Hons) in Journalism in 2007 and alongside my part-time job in a music shop I started writing for several music blogs until I did an Internship with Zest PR from October-December 2007.
In January of 2008 I started working with Chocolate Communications, a consumer and lifestyle agency, across a range of tech, gaming and corporate clients. I then started at Edelman Digital in February 2009 working within the social media team.
I’m a purist in my approach to working digitally. As a blogger, and generally subversive type, being honest, transparent and holistic in what I do both personally and professionally, is very important to me which is what attracted me to social media.
I’m fascinated by the media and the different ways we spread messages and interact with each other, be that through PR, advertising, marketing, word of mouth and new social networking platforms, and I happened to stumble into PR!
1. What did you have to do to get the job at Spook?
I saw a tweet from the team which said that Edelman Digital and Spook were looking for an Account Exec, so I messaged them and went for a chat. I then got invited back for a second more formal interview and got offered the role shortly after a third final Interview with all of the team.
Spook were an independent web design/build agency and were bought by Edelman in 2008, at which point the Edelman Digital team and Spook were thrown into together, and the start of a loving relationship was born. There’s a very definitive culture at Spook which is unlike any I’ve experienced anywhere and that was one of the major factors in moving. I can wear my hat and bright yellow shoes in client meetings, that’s all I needed!
2. Do you have a portfolio?
I don’t have a portfolio, I’ve never been to an Interview with one so I can’t really offer an opinion other than to say that it’s never been required that I bring one. I also think it depends on the culture of the company you’re speaking with – the more formal and corporate, the more likely they are to want to see something, it’s always worth asking if they would like you to bring something.
I think sending an e-portfolio in advance is a good idea – it gives them something to read and allows them a better perspective of you as a person and how you go about your work.
3. Do you feel your degree helped you to get the job?
I’m not so sure – my degree is in journalism which I hope allows me to approach PR & social media from a different perspective. I know that having a degree didn’t affect me getting an Internship which then led to my first job.
I think to be able to demonstrate a certain level of education is useful, but I’m more of the opinion that if you can get your hands dirty and get some actual experience with an internship before applying for a permanent role, it’s more valuable.
4. What does your role involve on a daily basis?
Working in social media means that I do a lot of different non-traditional PR work than someone in a different PR discipline, say B2B or Tech.
I work across a range of different clients and my role varies on each account. In the mornings I tend to do the initial rounds of monitoring, going through RSS feeds, looking at activity on Twitter, and sharing relevant news and blog posts with other members of the team.
We do a lot of monitoring and listening for clients, it’s arguably the most important aspect of the job, so I might then spend some time working on developing various taxonomies for these programmes. The use of language is an ever evolving space so we need to be on the ball when it comes to the way people are referring to things online.
There are also elements of outreach, doing the communications bit of the job, speaking with bloggers on a daily basis – this is my favourite bit of the job 🙂
Then, there’s usually a brainstorm or meeting thrown in for good measure where I’ll provide feedback on progress that’s being made.
5. How much responsibility do you have in your current role?
I’m very lucky at Edelman and Spook where I’m given a lot of responsibility. I think to try and grow in your role you need to be prepared to take on more responsibility than you might expect – the more proactive and enthusiastic you can be, the better.
I’m responsible for the day to day execution of tasks, reporting and researching. But what’s great is that the culture at Spook and Edelman is that you’re encouraged to have time to think and try and work out new ways of doing these things, and to be encouraged to share this and then develop an idea you’ve had is extremely rewarding.
6. What is it like to work within Edelman?
It’s actually pretty cool! The philosophy is great, we take a very holistic approach to communications which I think is very forward thinking. There are many agencies who seem to shy away from organically developing their business model and taking whiter than white approach to the work they do, and it’s really refreshing to work for a company who are very tightly managed, but also give you the freedom to express your opinion.
7. What made you accept the job at Spook?
The job with Edelman and Spook was the only role I’d even thought about. I was happy in my previous job, but the digital space is where I felt I could be able to contribute more effectively and provide a greater value to a team. I accepted the job because I wanted to move into digital, and despite having very little experience in that area, I was delighted that they were willing to take a risk!
8. What gave you the competitive edge to get the role at Spook?
I would like to say it’s about attitude – I went to the interviews and was totally honest about what I knew and didn’t and I think that I just happened to be the right fit for the team at that time. I was, and still am, enthusiastic about the way digital comms is developing and there’s a real opportunity for the work we’re doing to be the catalyst for institutional change within huge multinational companies.
It also helps if you’re intimately acquainted with Lolcats 😉
9. What are the 3 most important skills that graduates need to be successful in PR?
I think that there are three behaviours, rather than skills that are important:
Proactivity – You’ve got to be willing to take the initiative without being prompted, and want to develop in your role as an individual and as a team member
Enthusiasm – A want to learn and become ensconced in the space is always useful. As is the willingness to speak to people you’ve never met before about something they may never have heard of.
Organisation – You’ve got to be organised in agency work, keeping track of lots of different clients can be tricky. I’m not the most organised person in Edelman Digital and Spook, so I write everything down in a big list. It helps keep track of everything!
10. What advice would give to graduates looking to get into PR?
I think there’s three things to focus on:
Do your research, and work out where the best grad schemes or Internships are, and try working in different places if you can to get a sense of how different agencies work – remember you might find after three months that you’re not enjoying it, so it’s worth experimenting with different sectors. I thought I’d be a great music PR, but I found it very formulaic so moved into consumer PR.
Don’t be afraid of asking difficult, or seemingly easy to answer questions to people who you perceive to be unaccessible. Most of the time they’ll get back to you with an answer that will be really enlightening. There’s no harm in contacting a PR over Twitter or e-mail. If they get back to you, that’s the start of a relationship right there!
A knowledge of PR isn’t essential, but an understanding of communications overall is pretty useful, and most courses teach this. Taking the seemingly traditional route into PR means that you’re going to be up against many other grads so if you can demonstrate a good level of detailed knowledge about the media in your chosen sector (knowing all the IT trade mags for example) is just as important as knowing how to draw a process diagram and analyse how effective it is.
As well as thanking Matt for taking the time to answer this Q&A, I’d also like to thank the students from all over the UK who sent me some excellent questions to put to Matt. I hope you will find this a useful post.