Q&A with a Leader of the Wolfstar Pack
This post is the fifth Q&A in a series looking at the usual topics of PR graduate jobs, employability and other hints on getting into the industry, albeit with a particular focus on social media. I’m thrilled that Amy Johnston who is an Account Manager at Wolfstar, the award-winning PR, social media, WOM and communications agency has shared some of her thoughts with us. I’d recommend signing up to their blog to get the latest thoughts from MD Stuart Bruce and the rest of the Wolfstar pack.
A bit more on Amy…she is a fellow graduate of the PR course at Leeds Met and has previously worked at Citypress PR, Waterside Communications and the Morrisons press office. Despite graduating in 2006, she has quickly risen up the ranks to a management position and last year, Amy was a finalist for the CIPR Outstanding Young Communicator award. In short, she’s doing rather well.
1. As an Account Manager, what does your role involve on a daily basis?
My role is very varied and although it sounds cheesy, no day is ever the same. Generally, the first thing I do is have a quick meeting with my team of execs and find out what we all have on for the week, it helps with priorities and deadlines especially when we’re busy. Then I’ll check my emails and RSS feeds, plus scan for any coverage for my clients.
My daily tasks change depending on what projects we’re work on, but can range from anything including blogger outreach programmes, writing social media news releases, advising on social media comments or clients’ profiles on Twitter and Facebook, selling in news stories to the media, drafting copy for blogs and websites and writing strategy documents for clients.
As we’re a growing consultancy, a big part of my job is new business. This involves spotting potential new business leads, pulling together credentials presentations, attending pitches and writing proposals.
2. What’s it like to work at Wolfstar and how does it vary from the other agencies positions you have had?
Wolfstar is a really creative and busy place to work. Our team is very varied and everyone had their own area of expertise, but we all get on really well. I work for some fantastic clients and feel there’s always the opportunity to do something totally new. Having worked in two other agencies and in-house before coming to Wolfstar the main difference is how embedded in the social media world Wolfstar is. We’re growing fast so it can sometimes be stressful, but at the same time it’s exciting and feels great when you’re involved with winning new clients for the company.
3. You studied PR at Leeds Met – do you feel that your university degree prepared you for the world of work?
I did a year placement and think this was the most valuable year of the entire degree. I learnt so much and really got a feel for what the industry was like; I’d strongly recommend all students take this opportunity. I think my final year was helpful, doing the pitch module and communications audit definitely had relevance with the world of work. I’d say my first and second year were less helpful…
4. What do Wolfstar look for in a graduate? How can a graduate stand out from the crowd?
I think it’s so difficult for graduates at the moment, PR has always been competitive but the economic climate has added even more pressure. We look for people that are being proactive and positive despite these hard times. It’s always impressive when someone who uses their initiative to get in touch or catch our eye in a unique way – like Jed did. We do Google prospective employees, so someone who has a strong personal brand, a good social presence on a blog or Twitter, always stands out.
When we meet in person there needs to be a sense of passion. It’s nice to see a spark in someone and get the impression they’re fired up and happy.
I think it is essential graduates know who we work for, what our ethos is, what’s happening in the industry as a whole etc. This information is extremely easy to find so there’s really no excuse for not knowing!
5. How important is it to have an online presence? Are there any social media platforms that PR students must be on?
The online and offline worlds are becoming so merged it’s essential students have some kind of presence. Using Google to find out more about someone is now second nature. If you have a positive presence online, you’re helping promote yourself if anyone does chose to find out more. If you’re in control of that information and making things like your CV and personal interests available, you’re already ahead of the game. Having a blog, being on Linked In and having a Twitter account are all good ways to get an idea about a person; however I wouldn’t say you have to have one. Chose the tools that are right for you, there’s no point setting up a blog if you don’t write on it!
6. Should graduates bring a portfolio to an interview? What do you think about e-portfolios?
I’d say yes. It’s always good to have a look through someone’s work in an interview and see what they’ve done in the past. I think it helps bring out people’s personalities too – you can see what their passionate about and really get beyond a few lines on CV. E-portfolios are a great way of displaying your work and can be easily attached to email covering letters. It shows initiative and that you’re proud of the work you’ve done.
7. If you were a student about to decide where to take your year placement, what advice would you give them?
Definitely do it! It really is an invaluable experience and its good fun. Make the most of your time there too. Be as proactive and helpful as you can, try to always help the team in any way, roll your sleeves up and get stuck in!
8. What are the 3 most important skills graduates need to be successful in PR?
This is a tricky one… I’d say communication skills (both externally with clients, bloggers and journalists and internally with colleagues), organisation skills (as it can be hard juggling so many responsibilities) and good writing skills. People may disagree with me there, but they would be my top three!
9. You mentioned in a recent post on the Wolfstar blog that a majority of journalists use social media to find stories. If PR practitioners pitch a story to journalists using social media, how do the traditional “story pitching” rules apply? Do journalists typically prefer one social media channel over another?
I don’t think you can really apply any rules to pitching a journalist, neither in the approach or the communication channel. Journalists and bloggers are just people, and everyone is different. The main thing is to be 100% sure what you’re selling them is relevant. If it’s for a newspaper, read the column, look at the style of the writing and what this journalist covers and ask yourself if you could see it there. For radio station, think about how the story would convey on the air, think about sound-bites or possible interviews, something to make their job easier.
When selling into TV, take into account the forward planning deadlines and be wary that everything can change on the day. If you’re approaching a blogger, make sure you’ve actually read their blog! Reference it when you approach them and make them feel like you’re genuinely interested and have something that fits. In terms of the channels I use, I try to match to theirs. If they Twitter all the time and say it’s their favourite way to communicate, I would DM them. If they email or have said in the past they prefer emails I’ll do that. Sometimes picking up the phone is the best way.
A good tip is to ask the question. The first time I sell in to someone I’ll try and ask which the best way to contact them is. Make a note of their answer and always approach them in that way. I also write little notes about journalists and bloggers so I have a point of reference next time I speak to them. For example where they live, what they’re interested in, their family etc.
10. What 3 tips would you give to someone trying to break into the PR industry?
Be proactive and positive. Do as much work as possible whether that’s paid or voluntary to get experience and also make contacts. Once you have these contacts, keep them! You never know when or where people might crop up or be able to help. Don’t be afraid to use your contacts for help or advice, most people in the industry will be happy to help a graduate trying to break into the industry.
Look after your own brand. You don’t need to become a social media whiz kid, but having simple things like a good Linked In page or e-portfolio can be really beneficial. More and more employers will use the internet to find out about potential candidate, by having your best work and an up to date CV available online you’re making this easy for them and also showing you’re organised and technically savvy.
Read! This means everything from relevant industry websites and RSS feeds to newspapers and blogs. But also when it comes to interview time, read about the company and you’re interviewers. We may be Googling you – you should do the same!
I would like to wish Amy good luck for the future and thank her for participating in this Q&A. An ever increasing number of students I speak to say they want to work for a PR agency that specialises in social media so i’m sure they will find this Q&A insightful. I’d also like to thank the students, industry colleagues and academics from all over the country who sent me the questions to put to Amy.