Meet the PRofessionals | Deb Sharratt, Deb Sharratt Communications

Welcome to the first instalment of my 'Meet the PRofessionals' series on this blog, see what I did there? I'm interviewing some amazing PR professionals from around the country to share their experience, opinions on the industry and words of wisdom - so keep your eyes peeled each week for new additions. The first time round, my PRofessional in the spotlight is Deb Sharratt.

What is 'Meet the PRofessionals'? 

When I started studying PR I often found it difficult to find how other people got into the industry and have always found it interesting when speaking to professionals that everyone takes their own path, it tends to be that no two people got into the industry the same way.

That's why I wanted to start this series, that I'll hopefully be posting a new addition to each week. A space where we can be inspired to learn and be successful like these people. I have asked those important questions to gain an insight into the industry of how these PRofessionals got to where they are today, and how as a PR student we can emulate their success.

Also, if you're reading this and in the PR industry please do get in touch! I'd absolutely love to hear from you and I'm sure many other students would benefit from the advice you have to share. But for now, let's get into it...

Meet the PRofessional: Deb Sharratt  

Deb Sharratt is founder and owner of Deb Sharratt Communications, an award-winning PR practitioner who also has her own blog and media space, My Boys Club, which is an integral part of the business. Deb is also a CIPR Council Member, PR lecturer and Vice-Chair of CIPR North East, and the 2018 winner of the 'Outstanding Independent Practitioner' category at the CIPR North East PRide Awards. With her extensive CV and years of PR knowledge I can't think of anyone better to launch this 'Meet the PRofessionals' series.

1. How did you get started in PR? 

I studied Media, Culture & Society as an undergraduate, however I then trained as a probation officer before a change in career and my first PR job was as Fundraising & PR Officer for Children North East. However as a student I'd been an elected student union officer on a platform of communicating and campaigning at the University of Birmingham, and spent lots of my spare time at University on the entertainments committee booking and promoting events, so I guess it was my destiny! I then took a professional PR qualification whilst working at Children North East.

2. What is your current job title and what do you love about your job?

I'm an independent PR Practitioner and have four different work strands. I work alone, but also with colleagues as an associate for other agencies. I teach at Newcastle University and Sunderland University and also professional CIPR qualifications for nesma; and I write a family lifestyle, travel and food blog.

What I have always loved about PR is the flexibility and unpredictability of everyday. And that through PR you can support an organisation, business or individual to achieve their objectives and contribute to their purpose, and really make a difference. I also love the many different people I get to meet, life is about relationships and PR is definitely a job where you get to develop relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.

3. Why did you choose a career in PR? 

Thirty years ago I don't think I really 'chose' a PR career. It wasn't mentioned as a career at school, it wasn't an academic subject that could be studied easily, there wasn't much written about PR as an industry outside of London, and when it was the focus was very much on media relations. I chose the role at Children North East because I liked what the charity stood for, its values and thought I could help them to achieve what they were trying to do. This approach has influenced my career ever since.

4. What does your daily routine look like? 

No two days are the same I know that. If I don't have any urgent work or an appointment or meeting before 10.30am I try and swim after taking my kids to school, but I will have already checked the news, emails and social media before and after breakfast.The rest of the day is a combination of planning, research, meetings, phone calls, admin and evaluation unless I am teaching. I take a break, if possible, when my children finish school and then I'm happy to work into the early evening or attend evening events. I set my own hours and this works for me, but you do have to be very organised and disciplined to work independently.

5. Can you describe your job in three words? 

Communication. Challenging. Creative.

6.  Who has been your biggest role model in your career so far and why? 

I think you always learn a lot from your first employer. At Children North East my boss was the CEO and was very inspirational in relation to what she had achieved but she always put people first, listened to and guided people no matter who they were.

7. What type of person thrives at your organisation? 

Me! But someone who is willing to learn, share, grow and is organised and disciplined but also willing to help others to be the same. More interested in the collective success than individual egos.

8. What are three must-haves that are crucial for you to get the job done?

A professional approach, knowledge, skills and expertise and a willingness to really listen.

9. What is the most memorable or meaningful moment in your career so far? 

Winning Independent PR Practitioner in the CIPR PRide Awards in the North East for the second time in 2018 was a very special moment. Working independently can be difficult and challenging but recognition from your industry and peers is a very welcome confidence boost. But equally so is also the moment when you step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Personal development however achieved is meaningful and memorable.

10. What do you wish more people understood about the PR industry? 

That PR really can make a difference. That it is not just about writing a press release or a tweet. That it is integral to the business or organisation and has a worth and value to society as a whole.

11. And finally, what advice would you give to a PR student like myself that is looking for a foot in the door in the PR industry?

  1. Have conversations and ask questions both in person and in the virtual world.
  2. Take advantage of technology and learn how to use it for good not evil.
  3. Expand your networks and reach outside of your own bubble, to further your understanding and knowledge.
  4. Always have a willingness to learn. Read books, watch and listen to video, podcasts to help you form your own opinions about things - don't rely on what someone else says.
  5. Challenge yourself and step outside of your comfort zone. 
  6. Offer your opinion when appropriate but also learn how to listen.
  7. Join the CIPR - and not just join but participate - you really do get back out what you put in.
  8. Know your own values and try to live up to them. 
  9. Learn from mistakes but don't punish yourself.
  10. And finally above all else be kind.

Thanks for your time Deb – you're one of the reasons this blog was born and you’ve shared some great advice to go forward with! 

PR Lessons you can learn from your younger self

Family days really are the best sort of days, every single week without fail we'll go and visit both sets of grandparents but today has been especially family orientated, it's been one of those days where the parents get out the old *usually embarrassing* photo albums and even some videos of my childhood, which has been lovely to sit and reminisce on. But today has got me thinking, I worried a lot less as a child, you're care-free and without the responsibilities of uni, work and the only social life you had to worry about was the kids at the soft play. Here are some of the things we can learn about PR from our younger selves:

We couldn't do a post about child me without a throwback photo now could we! 

Don't be scared to try new things 

So what if it doesn't work out the first time? You'll never know until you try and that doesn't mean it should stop us trying new things. There always has to be someone who does something for the first time, whether it be a new strategy or a campaign idea, speak up! Especially if you think something is not going right or could be done better then say so - don't just watch your team fail in silence and then lay blame.

Be creative

So what if that toilet roll tube isn't an aeroplane/rocket? We can sure make it be one. Using your imagination is key in PR but some practitioners forget this in favour of old habits and the same routine. It's cliché to say, but remember to think outside the box, creative solutions are our thing.

Dream BIG and don't limit yourself

Following on from being creative, make sure you use your imagination, we can always do what we put our minds too. 'I want to be an astronaut! A singer! A fireman! A doctor!' These are all things we hear little kids say and they're all possible. We are never too old to dream a new dream, why not create something that's never been done before? What's the point of building a lego tower three blocks high? Personally, I want my tower to break through the ceiling. As they say, go big or go home.

Look at things from a different perspective

Things look a lot less scary when you're three. You're in your own bubble and this got me thinking a lot about public opinion, it's so important to put yourself in other people's shoes when working in PR and tailoring any campaign work and key messages.

Be honest

Kids always say it how it is no matter how awkward they might make situations... but it's an important trait to have! Take responsibility for your actions. Don't beat around the bush. Don't care so much about what other people think. Also, be honest about yourself, there is a very very thin line between creatively promoting yourself and completely lying about your experience. Make the most of your achievements but don’t lose perspective. Writing a food blog, is not the same as having professional catering experience. Honesty is always the best policy and especially in the working world, it only takes a phone call or two to quickly reveal the truth!

Ask questions

Kids want to know everything. Whether it's in regards to their surroundings, what someone has told them, or what they are watching on TV. They have extremely curious souls and are always pondering, so why stop when you grow up? Just because you've graduated, or settled into a career, doesn't mean you need to stop learning, you never know what could come from it! As they say, every day's a school day!

Just go for it 

Kids really have no sense of fear. Do now, worry later was very much my thinking as a child according to my mam and that's really a lesson we can really take into our PR lives. If you're not brave enough to go for the big campaigns, jobs or clients you might find that your PR world stays very small.

Brands Get Mushy for Valentine's Day 2019 ❤️

Valentine's day is one of my favourite times of year when it comes to PR campaigns, it's a date that every brand gets on board with (or should be) and has brought out some brands best work. However, in my opinion, the build up to Valentine's Day 2019 hasn't been as 'extra' as last years, think Greggs' Valentine's 2018 campaign. As you probably already know the big day falls this Thursday so I've highlighted my favourite 2019 brand contributions to the annual celebration of love (so far)... 

Marks & Spencer's Love Sausage

This has been widely spoke about across national media for obvious reasons, because of course what says romance more than a giant, heart-shaped, bacon-wrapped sausage? The £5 sausage is "lightly truffled" and M&S suggest you serve it with two fried eggs in the middle. 

The usually conservative brand announced the launch in a tweet, and the people of the internet judging by its replies were both shocked and appalled by the retailer's bold innuendo that's certainly got people talking! This special offer has been so popular online that they've now sold out in most stores across the country and people were asking for a vegan opinion - so M&S introduced their heart-beet burger! Made with roasted beetroot and sweet onions, there really is something for everyone this Valentines over at M&S.

KFC's Popcorn Chicken Flower Bouquet & Colonel Sanders Rug competition

KFC really have went all out this valentine's in an attempt to stand out from their competitors from chicken bouquets to a Colonel Sanders bear rug! They've already supplied the scented candles, so it only makes sense for KFC to have partnered with Reddit to host a competition to giveaway a Colonel Sanders Rug to complete the 'perfect' Valentine's Day night. (See below, it's actually quite scary)

To enter the competition, fans simply need to pick one of three ways to play, including a 'photoshop battle' where competitors must transform the image of the Colonel Sanders rug "into a humorous, outlandish or romantic digital masterpiece" - I bet they get some interesting entries! The Valentine's Day prize package also sounds like a dream, it includes two fried chicken onesies, a gift card for a two for a year, and a yearly subscription to an online streaming service - completing the perfect KFC Valentine's night in!

Roses are red, violets are blue, here's some flowers with fried chicken in them too...? The one day a year you are encouraged to show your favourite person just how much they mean to you and according to KFC, nothing says true love quite like a bouquet of chicken! Another way KFC are celebrating the occasion is by revealing the "Bouquet de Poulet", featuring luxurious red roses, intertwined with Hot Wings, Popcorn Chicken and tender Fillets - all in one infamous KFC bucket! Sadly, these aren't available in stores but it's encouraged to buy your loved one some roses and why not add some KFC chicken... right? 

Aunt Bessies Heart-Shaped Yorkshire Puddings 

This is a great idea if you ask me, the way to a girl's heart is most definitely though a Sunday dinner and why not add some extra looove with a heart-shaped Yorkshire! Aunt Bessies have decided to make a limited edition version of their classic treat for Valentine's Day, so you can jazz up your romantic roast this Thursday. It's the same 1995 recipe as the original and they'll be available until March - spreading the love throughout the full month of February! These come in a pack of 6 and cost just £1.50, which is a steal when you think of the usual prices of Valentine's products.

Poundland's Engagement Rings

As you've probably heard by now, Poundland have started selling engagement rings just in time for Valentine's Day - it's a much cleaner bit of promotion than the brands previous campaign with the naughty elf! They announced their new 'bling' engagement rings a few weeks ago, which are all silver (stainless steel) and feature a gemstone of some kind. These Poundland rings have of-course had the entire country talking with even Piers Morgan "proposing" to Susanna Reid live on Good Morning Britain last week.

All at just £1, Poundland have said that this is the perfect 'placeholder' and that these Valentine's Day gifts give people the perfect opportunity to propose 'before the need to invest in the real rock', which if you ask me is a really sweet idea!

Morrisons' Rainbow LGBTQ+ Roses

If you're looking for a valentine's gift that's a little different to the traditional, Morrisons have launched rainbow roses, and they're seriously pretty! As part of the Morrisons' The Best range, the Rainbow Roses were released on February 11th and they come in partnership with LGBTQ+ youth homeless charity The Albert Kennedy Trust. Each limited edition rose costs £4, with 50p from each sales being donated to the charity, Morrisons really have hit two birds with one stone with this amazing charitable collaboration.

Name a cockroach after your Ex - Hemsley Conservation Centre

Okay, this is an amazing idea and a bit of a different way to go about a Valentine's Day promotion! I'd never heard of Hemsley Conservation Centre until this week and I can guarantee thousands of people around the country will be the same. Just in time for Valentine's Day, the centre launched a campaign where you can name one of the cockroaches after an ex-partner - ideal for those still feeling bitter after a break up! People have the opportunity to pick and name a cockroach after whoever they consider appropriate - and it costs just £1.50 for the pleasure of doing so!

The name will be displayed at the exhibit, so you can always pop in to visit the insect version of your ex-partner to say hi and see how they're doing. Also, if you take part, you'll be sent a gift certificate as a keepsake - but the name won't feature on it as the centre doesn't want to 'fuel fires'. But you can of-course add their name to the comments section as a reminder of why breaking up was really a good thing!

Royal Mail Romantic Post Boxes 

Royal Mail have been celebrating Valentine's Day by decorating some post-boxes around the country with romantic quotes from famous English authors. Especially in an age of social media and online messaging, Royal Mail are doing something different and are hoping to rekindle the joy for the handwritten love letter this Valentine's Day. Romantic quotes from works by John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Robert Burns and many more will be decorated on red postboxes in locations across the country including London, Lichfield and Dorset.

Heinz Ketchup Caviar

If you've ever been to a really fancy restaurant and wanted to ask the waiter for ketchup but felt the shame, Heinz have the answer for you this Valentine's Day! They've launched the first ever Ketchup Caviar, conveniently debuting just before Valentine's Day, it's exactly what it sounds like: ketchup, shaped like caviar. No fish eggs included, just a way to make your burger look extra pretty this Valentine's. Unfortunately, there's only 150 pots available, as they're also celebrating the brand being 150 years old!

Those were my highlights of the Valentine's Day campaigns so far... What's the most memorable Valentine's day campaign you can think of? I'm definitely looking forward to see what Greggs get up to this year... Let me know below!

Beth x

You're Hired! 5 PR Lessons we can all learn from The Apprentice

Each year, Lord Sugar's rigorous employment process puts a very predictable range of candidates through a similarly foreseeable range of tasks to decide who to ultimately hire at the end. They'll all come up with a self-assured statement to introduce themselves to the world before the programme ends as this is their shot, with one contestant this year even claiming "I am the Beyonce of Business". We're now 2 episodes into this years series of the Apprentice, with the third airing tonight, and we've already seen the candidates create a kids comic book, find items in Malta and tonight they'll be making donuts (the task of dreams!). Watching the 16 (now 14) candidates trying their best to make a good impression while fighting for survival is very entertaining, but is also brilliant for picking up some dos and dont's for your own career. Here are 5 tips I've come across so far:

1. Have confidence - but don't oversell!

Confidence is a good thing, of course. But there is such a thing as too much. Be assertive, not intolerable. It's important to have confidence in yourself and have conviction in what you say - embellishing facts mean you have a lot further to fall when people discover the truth! Especially in PR - it is essential that any news shared is accurate and factual - making up tales to boost a story may seem a good idea in the moment to gather initial interest but could have massive negative connotations in the long run. 

2. Be nice!

It's not a dog eat dog world, but no one ever said you were going to get anywhere by stepping on other people's toes. Until the end, the Apprentice is essentially team based and if you don't pull your weight, you won't be coming back to the board room. This is also a reminder in daily life, too. Be nice to those you work and associate with because you never know when you might need them as a connection!

3. Admit mistakes

Admit it when you've made a mistake. Especially when you're being filmed and your mistake is being broadcast for everyone to see, there's no running from it. Admit it, learn from it and move on - it's what makes us human!

4. Speak Up

If you think something is not going right or could be done better then say so - don't just watch your team fail in silence and then lay blame. Make sure you put your point across but accept it if the team decides to go in a different direction to the one you think is best. On The Apprentice, we see candidates fired for claiming (after the event) that they would have done things differently. It's important to contribute your opinion while there's still a chance to influence the outcome. However, if you can't convince the other team members that your idea is a good one then take it on the nose! Sometimes you have to admit defeat and just continue to be a great team player regardless.

5. Don't Lie

At all! This happens every single year on the Apprentice where someone gets caught out with the little white lies on their CV or throughout the tasks, there is a very, very thin line between creatively promoting yourself and completely lying about your experience. Make the most of your achievements but don't lose perspective. Writing a food blog, not the same as having a professional catering experience. Honesty is always the best policy and especially in the working world, it only takes a phone call or two to quickly reveal the truth.

Have you been watching the Apprentice? What advice would you give the candidates to include their personal PR? Let me know below!

Beth x

Beauty and the Influencer Beast

The beauty industry is ever-changing alongside the growing amount of social media influencers. YouTubers and Instagram stars have quickly become the only voice that really matters for consumers in the beauty industry. The amount of beauty-related content created by influencers is increasing exponentially, and the industry is seeing more growth than ever before the further we get into 2019.

In 2018, beauty-related content generated more than 169 billion views - with popular types of videos including tutorials, DIY videos, reviews and make-up haul videos produced by beauty 'vloggers'. YouTube is the perfect platform for brands to get involved in because it allows them to get their products out there in full, videos allow influencers to visually display how products can be used, with what to put them with and to they're able discuss the benefits. Influencers through YouTube serve to millions of people as a credible source of information as when looking to buy new products, consumers want a trusted recommendation and what's better than seeing someone physically using the product you're about to buy? A beauty influencer with a large following is bound to be knowledgeable on the industry and should offer their audience with a reliable opinion.

The amount of 'brand x influencer' palettes, lip sticks and full ranges of make-up coming out now are more than ever before. Brands teaming up with YouTubers is the perfect way to reach younger consumers, who make up the largest section of beauty consumers. According to the Office for National Statistics, young women aged 16-24 are the most likely to buy make-up. Brands are noticing the huge impact of social media influencers and have since adopted their PR and marketing strategies to reach younger consumers through social media.

YouTube videos are the earned media that today's make-up brands need to survive. These channels that are posting regular content with reviews and tutorials are providing consumers with real, *mostly* unbiased opinions that they want before making a purchase decision. If an influencer doesn't like a product, they tell you! More often than not a poor product can be as talked about as a great product so it's often a risk for any beauty brand, it's essentially allowing consumers to ignore advertisements for new products and base their decisions on other people's opinions!

Paid media is also increasingly a major part of Instagram and YouTube with the laws and regulations of disclosing the payment being ever-changing for influencers. This happens with beauty sponsoring videos, where the influencer is asked to use and promote a new product, or they are sending them new products for free to review. This is one thing that I always forget online, that these people are more often than not now, getting these products for free and even promoting said products for a fee.

YouTube and Instagram have really changed the game and revolutionised word-of-mouth communication, where we can now search a specific trend, brand or product and instantly have thousands of posts, photos and videos showing me the pros and cons of the product, and how to use it! Online we have access to thousands of opinions of people of all different ages, skin types, genders, countries, makeup artists, now any opinion a consumer could possibly need can be found with the click of a button.

I'm currently following over 30-40 Instagram and YouTube influencers who are far more influential on my makeup decisions than any traditional advert. Ultimately, Urban Decay and L'Oreal might promise a 'perfect finish' with their new foundations, but until Hannah Renée or NikkieTutorials tell me it's amazing, I won't be convinced!

Beth x

HOW TO | Make the most out of your PR internship/placement

Over summer 2018 I completed a 3 months digital marketing/pr placement and found it was so much more than a summer job or something else to put on my CV, it was the perfect opportunity for growth in the field and to discover what 9-5 work was really about! Make sure you take full advantage of everything they have to offer, and you'll learn valuable skills to make you an employee everyone wants to hire! Below are 5 ways to make the most out of your PR internship.

1. Take it seriously

At the end of my placement months I was offered further freelance work while going back to university to study my masters. Potential employers could be using an internship as a trial run of what you can do and what they expect from you. Give it everything you've got, just like you would if you'd got hired full-time. Whether the internship is paid or not, having the experience will give you the edge over another candidate with the same degree.

2. Ask questions

A placement is the perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn from professionals in the field. The more questions the better if you ask me, there is something about asking questions that I know people are afraid of. Whether it be because they're afraid of asking a stupid question (no such thing), or just in general. You're not always going to know the answer to every question you have and being surrounded by PR professionals and employees with more experience in the field is the perfect opportunity to use it as a learning experience. People usually love talking about themselves and their achievements and I have always found it really interesting when talking to people in the industry about how they got into the field and why they choose to do it - usually a great ice breaker too!

3. Keep a record of everything you do

An internship is the perfect opportunity to not only get experience in the field you want to work in, but also to build a portfolio. Anything you do whether it be a social media campaign, any published press releases, blog posts or any other samples of work be sure to keep it to start building your portfolio.

4. Get Feedback

Setting up meetings along your internship with your supervisor where possible or just ask when you're unsure on something, it's the perfect opportunity to get some constructive criticism and improve your own work. In a busy working environment where meetings aren't possible, a final meeting at the end of your internship is the perfect way to work out your overall strengths and weaknesses.

5. Stay Connected and get a reference!

They often say it's not about what you know, it's about who. You never know when a connection will come in handy, so stay in touch as best you can! You won't be texting your manager every day, but there are plenty of other ways to stay in touch after your internship! You could connect on LinkedIn, the perfect place to professionally connect and coworkers can endorse you for skills you exhibited during your internship or give you public recommendations. Engaging in other social media like Facebook and Twitter is also another option for a less formal manner. It's great to check in every once in a while to maintain your network.

Also, if you've done well during your internship there's no reason you won't get a letter of recommendation! Most supervisors will offer to be a reference, but it's still good to stay connected. That way, you'll have a stronger relationship and they'll be able to tailor the recommendation to the specific role you're applying for in the future.

When it comes to furthering your time at university or even college there is no better way than putting yourself out there and getting some experience in the field you eventually want to work in. It's the perfect learning experience - have you completed any internships that landed you full-time work? Let me know below!

Beth x