#PlacementProfile: Orlagh Shanks | PR & Influencer Marketing Assistant

Orlagh Shanks

Hello. Welcome to the final post in my newest blog series, where I have been documenting the thoughts of placement students as far and wide as I can. Each week I have had a profile of a current placement student giving their thoughts on searching for placements, the competitiveness, how they found the process and what they think of their placement they are currently undertaking. And most importantly, they give their verdict on whether they think a year in industry is worthwhile.

This week’s interview is with me. Who better to end with, right? I know I’ve posted tons about my placement with the roundups and different advice articles, but this will be an in-depth look into what I really think of placements, including my own. I am currently the PR & Influencer Marketing Assistant for Coty Luxury and will be finishing next week, 13 months since I started. I attend Liverpool John Moores University where I study on the Business and Public Relations course. Sorry it’s late, but it you follow me on Instagram (I’m forever plugging my Insta aren’t I?) then you’ll know how busy I’ve been this week with a Marc Jacobs event happening this weekend at Somerset House.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of the amazing gals that took part in my series. I know the questions were painfully long, hence why I’m putting myself through the same ordeal. Hopefully you, the reader, gain something from all the previous interviews and perhaps this one. If you have any questions or thoughts about any of the #PlacementProfiles, my email inbox is always open as is the comment section below.

This has been a great series, and I really hope the interviews have helped a lot of you gain insight into what placements are really like and what we think of them.

Below are my thoughts on placement life:

The application process

OC: Is a year-long placement compulsory on your course?

OS: A placement year was not compulsory on my course, but the option was available. This was the main reason I chose this particular course, as I knew from the outset when choosing university courses that I wanted to either work or go abroad for a year during my degree.

I chose to do one because to me, nothing compares to having actual experience. And I knew that when I come to graduate, having a year’s work experience would hopefully give me a great advantage.

How did you find applying for placements; Did you apply for many? Was there a team at your university to help with placement searching? What websites/resources did you use for your search?

There weren’t that many on my course applying for placements, but I knew that I would be competing against the rest of the UK. I was open to moving anywhere within England or to Dublin so I think that gave me a lot more options compared to people who were limited to one area.

People had told me to get in as early as I could so I started looking in August, but realised this was a bit too early and that most placement applications opened in September/October. I was concerned when other students started to get interviews and responses and I didn’t, but being honest, my process wasn’t very stressful and I secured a placement extremely quickly. I was actually the first in the LJMU Business School to secure one, which was a huge relief that I didn’t have the worry of trying to find one while continuing through my second year studies.

How did you find applying for placements? 

I applied for as many as I could. The way I looked at it, the more chances I gave myself, hopefully the better chance I would have of achieving one. I was open to working in any industry; fashion, beauty, cars, even corporate communications. I knew I would obviously be way more interested in the first two but I knew that I would be given the right one that would be best for my future career and one that I would perform well in. Coty were the first to get back to me and the first and only Assessment Centre that I attended. I also had a few phone interviews with some other companies and I noticed that with every phone interview I was doing, the more confident I was getting and the easier it was becoming.

The Employability Support Unit at John Moores were amazing. Rosemary and Nikki in particular took great care with the students, arranging meetings and going through my CV, my Cover Letters and also going through mock interviews and mock presentations. I couldn’t fault the ESU on anything. Their door was always open if you had a question or needed advice. They had a Facebook page where they would post placement opportunities for all areas of business, and without them I may not had the confidence to perform so well in my Assessment Centre at Coty.

Aside from the ESU, I used indeed.co.uk to look for vacancies.

What would be your advice to students who are looking for placements themselves?

I would suggest to definitely start looking early around September/October as the big companies start applications then. But also start early so that you can hopefully secure one as early as possible so that you can focus on your second year studies as it would be extremely difficult come March/April while trying to finish the uni year and also still looking for placements.

I would try and keep your options open as much as possible. In terms of area, job role and sector. If you can, be open to moving location, trying something different to your course but not something polar opposite. For example you may be doing a PR degree but don’t be put off applying for Marketing roles. Apply for as many as possible, but ones that you can see yourself doing. If you genuinely have an interest or passion for the job, it will come through in your application.

Make use of the university support if it is available. They’re only there to help you. And of course, there are some helpful articles on my site that may be of use if you’re looking for placements : PR Advice

Is there anything you would advise them not to do?

I could just go the opposite route of the above question and say ‘Don’t leave it too late and don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,’ but that wouldn’t be of much help.

Don’t use the same Cover Letter for every application. You need to make it personal and specific to the role that you’re applying to. It may take a lot of time and seem like a bore, but it really will pay off.

Don’t sell yourself short. You need them to know that you’re the right person for the job and the only person for the job. No one can do it better than you. Shout about the experience you already have, the achievements you’ve made, what you do in your spare time etc.

The one thing I always remember when going to an interview is that they aren’t only looking at how capable you are at the job or how well you think you can do it, they’re mostly thinking ‘Will this person fit in with our team/company for the next 12 months?’ ‘Is this someone we can work with, have a laugh with, but also be serious and work hard?’ When going for an interview, don’t be overly formal so that your personality doesn’t shine through, be 50/50. Be serious about what you can do, how determined you are etc. but also read the room and read your interviewers to see what kinds of people they are and if you could even see yourself working with them for the next 12 months.

Don’t forget, it’s the next year of your life you have to think about. You don’t want to be miserable and hate your job just so you can have one year’s work experience on your CV. Be mindful to also choose the job that’s right for you.

Coty Christmas

With the company you are on placement with now, what was their application process like and what did it entail?

I firstly applied with my CV and Cover Letter and then received a phonecall out of the blue (I was on work experience at the time and had to take the phonecall in the bathroom with no notes to hand about the business) which was like a mini-interview. At the end of the phonecall I was asked to come down to London for the Assessment Centre. I immediately got butterflies in my stomach (I had only ever been to London once in my life) and knew this had to be a good sign.

I then attended the Assessment Centre where I was up against two other people for the PR role – I had made it to the final three! There were a lot of other applicants there for other roles and I looked around at them and heard how eloquently they spoke and knew I didn’t stand a chance. One of the girls I was up against even had her own online business. But I gave myself a mental kick and said I may as well give it my best shot, I came all this way. Plus who’s to say I couldn’t be the best person for the job? I wanted this as much as anyone and this was the only shot I was going to have at it.

I had to give a presentation with two of the IM Managers I now work with, but I’m not the best speaker in the world especially with an accent like a Lurgan one, so it was a challenge to say the least, but I tried to speak as clearly as possible. I thought it went quite well and they seemed to like me. I then had to do a group exercise followed by a Math/English/Excel test. We also met the current interns and were able to ask them a lot of questions. It was then time for home, and I only had to wait three days before finding out I had got the job.  

How do you think completing a year in industry will give you an advantage when applying to jobs over those that haven’t? (If you think this is the case)

I honestly think when it comes to a career in PR, nothing beats experience in the industry. If I could go back, I may not even have went to university. I definitely think PR is a job in which you can work your way up with experience as it’s mostly about contacts, on the job learning and how to deal with people and maintaining relationships.

However, I would say this for the PR industry I am in now. Also how things are changing with Influencer Marketing – something we don’t learn about at university. But if I was to go into Corporate Communications, Crisis Communications or wanted to go into Marketing or HR, I would definitely need my degree for that. I also wouldn’t give up the past three years that I’ve had as they have without a doubt been the best of my life. I’m not ready to leave university just yet!

I definitely think having a year’s experience will benefit me. I’ve already worked in the industry, I already have contacts, I know the different aspects of a PR role, even small things like coverage reports, emailing journalists, raising invoices, organising events. You can’t get that from a university degree alone. I think hopefully it will be easier for me to get a job when I graduate, having competed the year in industry and a lot of roles ask for a year’s experience when applying.

Had you interned anywhere before your placement? If so, what job role, how long for and what were the main roles?

I had interned at quite a few places before my placement. When I was doing my A Levels, I interned at a PR agency in Belfast, during reading week of my second year I interned at another agency in Liverpool, before starting my placement I interned for four weeks at a talent management company in Liverpool and also moved to London a few weeks early to intern for a week at a fashion agency in London. While I was studying during my second year, I also worked twice a week at an insurance company in an Internal Communications role. So you could say I already had a little bit of experience before starting.

However, most of my experience had been at PR agencies, where I was now going in-house into a global organisation. Working for the insurance company in Liverpool gave me that knowledge of how to act/dress/work in a formal office environment. The PR agencies prepared me for the PR jobs I would be doing, along with the event side of things and the working with models/products and magazines.

On the job

How did you feel when you first started your placement year? Were you nervous/excited?

When it came to starting at Coty, I wasn’t overly nervous, more excited to get started. I had walked in to so many new companies before that first days aren’t really a horror for me anymore, more of an excitement. I definitely felt more prepared because I already had the previous experience behind me.

I did feel a little out of place, wondering how on earth I had managed to talk my way into a job like this in London, but here I was, ready to face the next 12 months head on and eager to be the best PR intern Coty had ever seen. Honestly.

Compare your feelings of how you started with how you feel now. Do you feel like your job is second-nature? Or do you feel like you are still learning?

When all of us interns first started, I remember it being information overload and I would go home exhausted from trying to take in so much. On the first day without the previous interns, I remember all of us sat around the tables at lunch petrified, thinking we’d never be able to do the job as well as our predecessors or ever be as competent as they were. But I would say it took us all around five or six months to be comfortable with everything.

Obviously there are still times when I’m learning new things, new processes and new information and if I wasn’t, I would be questioning myself. In my job I want to keep learning new things, new ways of doing things, be given more responsibility, anything for ways for me to develop and gain new skills.

For all the basics, I am fully competent in. The biggest thing I struggle with is probably time management. Working over all 21 Luxury brands can get a bit hectic at times with launches happening at the same times, send outs to do, coverage reports due, pre-series piling up, magazines coming in left, right and centre and having to keep on top of social media. There are days when my inbox is quiet and I can get a lot of things done, but there are days when my inbox gets neglected as I’m up doing a million and one things. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love how busy it is. During this whole year, I don’t remember one time that I looked at the clock and said ‘Ugh, it’s only 3pm’, it’s usually ‘Oh crap, it’s 6.30pm and I’m still here’ – time seems to be on overdrive when I’m at work.

gq awards

Have you been able to experience other roles within the company?

Not in a way that I’ve been put in the position of another role. But I think choosing to spend a year working in-house rather than in an agency was definitely the best decision.

Even though I’m in my PR role, I’m working with Marketing, Sales, E-comm and Visual Merchandising. Having the other interns working within these roles gives me great insight into what it is they do and how it differs from my role. It’s also great to see how everything works together and to experience a successful campaign with every department aligned with the same plan.

What’s been the highlight of your placement year?

I know you’re expecting me to say the BRITs After-Party or the GQ Men of the Year Awards, or something along those lines but neither of those have been my biggest highlight. I mean being with touching distance of Ed Westwick and attending the same party as him was up there, but it’s just one of the many perks that occurred during my placement year.

My best highlight would be actually realising that I can do PR and I can do it well. When it comes to choosing between traditional PR and Influencer Marketing, I much prefer traditional PR. The influencer world is vast and unpredictable. It’s still relatively new and uncertain. Traditional PR is also going down the uncertain route with magazines closing on a daily basis, but there is nothing that compares to seeing your product in print, all because you put it forward. It’s there because of you.

About two/thirds of the way in of my placement year, I was given my own project, my own launches to campaign. I came up with the titles I would send to, how I would send to them, the follow-up emails and my own influencer lists.

I gained a lot of social coverage as I targeted a lot of the right people who I knew would use the products, but best of all I secured coverage in Vogue, ELLE and Tatler to name but a small few. I got coverage in VOGUE!!

That was probably the most fulfilling and satisfying part of my placement. The reassurance that I can actually do PR and am quite good at it. There’s no need to drop out of my university course just yet or consider a career change!

What’s been the biggest learning curve?

The biggest learning curve was probably learning not to stress over the small things. As the girls say, this is PR, not ER. We’re dealing with fragrances, not someone’s life. Things will go wrong and there will be crises but they are not the end of the world. You just have to go through it the best way you can, pick yourself up and start again.

There is no point in stressing and wasting energy worrying about something trivial. We recently had a lesson about resilience. You need to think, ‘Will this still bother me in six months’ time?’ ‘On a scale of 1-10 (10 being near-death), how much of a problem really is this?’

Placements – are they worth it?

Since you’ve been putting your degree into practice, do you think you’ve made the right decision with the course you’ve chosen? Could you see yourself in a similar job once you graduate?

10000%. When I first started my degree, I didn’t really even know what PR was, but from what I had read, seen in movies and on TV, it looked like a very glam career choice. And this year that has been proven to be true. Dependent on which sector you wish to work in of course, you can make your career as glam and boujee as you wish it to be.

I will definitely be continuing on with a career in PR. However, will that be in the beauty industry? I’m unsure. I want to try my hand at all sectors. I don’t want to settle or a career in beauty straight away as I might find I enjoy the music industry or celebrity or fashion industry better, and I might even perform better in these sectors.

Whatever sector or industry I find myself in, it will definitely be in PR or Influencer Marketing.

Overall, do you think a year in industry is beneficial and prepares students for life post-graduation? Would you recommend it?

Yes, yes and yes. It definitely prepares you for like post-graduation. You know what kind of job you want, you have the experience to back up what you say you can do and you are better prepared to start into working life.

I would 100% recommend it, as in my opinion there is nothing better than on-the-job experience compared to classroom learning. It also lets you grow and develop as a person.

Now that you’ve almost finished your placement year, if you could go back to second year when you were in the application process, would you still choose the same company and role?

One thousand percent yes. I couldn’t imagine myself in any other placement. The whole year itself has been surreal. I landed the job I always dreamed of, the only negative being it lasted for 12 months and wasn’t a permanent fixture.

I always say, ‘What’s for you, won’t pass you’ and this placement was obviously meant for me. I’ve met so many great people and worked with even more great people. I’ve been to events I never imagined I would, even in my most far-out dreams.

One thing I will take away from my placement is the knowledge that I can make it if I work hard enough and want it hard enough. Never, ever did I imagine I would be working for brands like Gucci, Hugo Boss or Burberry. Never did I imagine I would be invited to the BRIT Awards After-Party and fist-pump Craig David. Never did I see myself eating across from Dan Edgar and speaking to the cast of TOWIE and accepting an award from Amanda Holden all in one night. Never did I see myself saying ‘Hello’ to Dougie from McFly and attending two events with him within the space of two months. I will never forget my first ever red carpet moment at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, my first celebrity party where I danced next to Vanessa from the Saturdays, took a photo with David Haye and stood in the smoking area with Liam Gallagher. I dreamt of a life like this when I was younger, but never thought it would be possible. But this year I’ve learnt that it is, and I’m going to work my ass off to get back to this lifestyle once I finish university.

I’ve got the taste for it and I don’t want it to end.  

Last question – Do you feel more motivated to go into final year or are you feeling apprehensive?

I am so excited to move back to Liverpool for final year. Liverpool is my favourite place in the world (I haven’t much to compare it to) and my final year will go in even quicker than this placement year has, which is terrifying.

I’m excited to go back so that I can make the most of it and make it a year to remember. I’m ready to be a student one last time and get the grade that I need. I’m dreading the thought of essays, dissertations and being broke, but I’ll get through all of that.

But the thing I’m fearful of most is having to decide what I’m going to do once university ends. Life begins!!

obsessed

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