Dreaming of being a dancer, going to University was not part of the plan for Salford-born Sophie Smith. One life-changing back operation later, she had to reconsider her options. On the verge of moving to Kent to complete a course at a drama school, she changed her mind at the last minute.
So instead of training to take centre stage, Sophie found herself learning how to shine the spotlight elsewhere. She says the course gave her an excellent grounding in what was needed to succeed in PR.
I learned how important team work is and how vital it is to be able to work both alone and in different groups, with people you might not have met or worked with before.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I can see now how developed the Public Relations course was and how much it’s continued to develop since I’ve left. A hands on ‘real life campaign’ assignment gave me brilliant experience and I know Paula Keaveney (Lecturer in Public Relations in the Department of Media at Edge Hill) and the tutors there have taken previous feedback on board to make the course even better.
Knowing that no amount of studying can fully prepare you for the working world, Sophie put her skills into practice by gaining some work experience with the Communications team at Aintree University Hospital and then a small PR business in Manchester.
She credits the course at Edge Hill, which helped make the transition from University to her first graduate job, working for Manchester-based Brazen PR, as smooth as possible.
Graduating with a first gave me more confidence in my abilities and the PR course itself gave me tools that I have carried on into my job now.
In the world of public relations, every day can be different which is one the most appealing realities of the job for Sophie.
We normally start the morning by scanning papers for PR stories and tearing out anything relevant for our clients and circulating it to the whole agency. For accounts where we manage the social media, we check the pages three times a day and respond to any queries, complaints, or comments.
After the news monitoring, a major part of Sophie’s role involves creating, planning and coordinating PR campaigns, which makes for an action-packed schedule.
We come together to think of ideas for new pitches or new campaigns. I’ll then write them up and put a presentation together. For many clients, we have regular conference calls or face-to-face meetings. I sit down with executives in the morning and after lunch, we’ll discuss actions for both the day and the week – such as ideas and hooks for new coverage opportunities. If we’re launching a product or have a special campaign taking place, we’ll also have consumer events, media events, stunts, or media visits to organise.
With so much going on in just one day, the workload might seem overwhelming for the faint-hearted, but for Sophie it’s a challenge she relishes.
It’s very high-pressured and the workload is tough. But the pride from achieving brilliant things definitely outweighs this. You’re absolutely never bored, because there’s always so much going on – time goes too fast if anything.
Even at this early stage of her career, Sophie’s knack for coming up with novel ideas and stunts has brought her industry-wide recognition. Last year she helped organise a Guinness World Record attempt for the ‘World’s Largest Beach Ball’ on Blackpool beach, while managing the ‘Blackpool’s Back’ campaign to re-position the town as a family-friendly destination.
It was tough to pull off but we succeeded in the end. We got blanket national coverage and won a gold and a silver award for it at this year’s CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) North West Awards.
Sophie says that her biggest personal success was the ambitious ‘#PRLife’ project, which involved her and a colleague living in the office for a week, eating, washing and sleeping using only products made by Brazen’s clients.
It was sort of a social experiment, proving we could ‘live and breathe’ our jobs for a week. We could only survive on anything our clients produced and could only leave the office to go to one of our clients’ establishments.
With savvy use of social media, the stunt generated a significant buzz in the PR world and resulted in both Sophie and her colleague being shortlisted for the Outstanding Young Communicator Award by the CIPR.
I’m still beaming about this now! I think this will be my proudest career moment for a good while.
Despite her success, Sophie has remembered those who helped her along the way and has kept in touch with her tutor Paula Keaveney. “She was really supportive when I was shortlisted for the award. I was invited to a special seminar one evening, which my friend and I agreed was one of the best we’ve been to.”
For any students considering a career in PR, Sophie says that the most crucial thing is to get as much experience as you can.
It’s invaluable and if you can do it whilst you’re still at University – even better! Get used to making calls and being confident with new people as this will only make life easier when you start working in the ‘real world’ too.