Happy End

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MA PR Class of 2012 – 2013 – University of Westminster – London. March 2013.

Lectures are over. Presentations are done. Essays have all been submitted. We are committed. Only the dissertation lurks in the dark, no doubt it’s got to be stark!

~ Anton Zhelev, 2013

28 March was the last day of school for me. I came to London on 13 September 2012 with not much besides a lot of hope and excitement. I spent 2 months living like a nomad from place to place, staying at friends, relatives, ex-boyfriends of relatives, weirdos and psychos.

I started my academic journey at Westminster on 20 September and a mere 6 months later, I have finished everything but the dissertation required to graduate with a Master’s degree in PR.

I have learnt a great deal during the course.

How to write press releases and design newsletters during the Media Relations course.

What are the latest trends and age-old issues in PR during the Understanding PR course.

How to plan, design and run a PR campaign during the PR Campaigns course.

How to write a PR brief, manage reputation and analyse stakeholders during the Corporate  Communications course.

How to carry out social media monitoring and design a social media campaign during the New Media course.

What are the key theories, concepts and debates in PR and communication during the Theory & Issues course.

I learnt knowledge and I learnt practice.

I was introduced to concepts by honourable guest lecturers with decades of experience and careers that I can, sadly, only dream about.

My head dazzled with ideas and my brain desperately hungered for patterns as I listened to Pam Williams and Michaela O’Brien explain elaborate theories and push our minds to their limits with “inceptions” that even Leonardo DiCaprio would struggle to depict.

But above all, I grew to cherish my classmates. The Chinese who would always surprise us with unbelievable stories about PR and communication in China, the trendy Norwegians who would always  greet me with smile and talk to me about Content Creation and Content Curation as I met them in the library, the English ever so elusive and intricate to me and my indelicate ways, the Spanish who fascinated me with their straightforwardness and ambitious temper. And of course the guys – Stefan and Lucas – with whom I spent countless hours laughing away at Internet memes and dissecting the world from angles worthy of TED talks.

The biggest treasure I found in London during a course on PR, was ironically or not, the communication with these wonderful talented people with whom I will hopefully soon share the title Master of Arts in Public Relations.

The Presentation Skills Myth

Is it groundless confidence that allows Kees Moeliker to march onto stage with a dead duck in hand?

In a world of YouTube and TED talks, there is virtually no excuse for delivering a bad presentation.

Both websites provide an insurmountable number of well-directed, high-definition clips of smart people giving uniquely styled presentations on topics ranging from the Big Bang to baby food, covering anything that you can think of in between.

So why is it that we begin to stutter, sweat and laugh uncomfortably when we face the audience? It could be that you have absorbed a toxic amount of coffee prior to taking the podium – which is often my case – but more often than not it is a simple case of stage fright.

If I had to wager, I would say that there are as many publications, documentaries and books on the subject of stage fright as there are videos on TED, but what if that is not the main reason why presentations sometimes go wrong?

On the technical side of things, PowerPoint has become the norm a while ago, and recently there have even been newcomers contesting Microsoft’s domination on the stage.

Above all, communication professionals have to be prepared for any eventuality and maintain a convincing face no matter the circumstances. And that is what I think is the single most important factor in presentation-giving.

Knowledge.

Knowledge of the subject at hand, knowledge of the context, knowledge of the factors challenging your statements, knowledge of today’s headlines, knowledge of the supporting technology.

Of course things like a rich vocabulary, a sense of humor and an engaging presentation style to go with it, tend to contribute a great deal, but none of these can cover for poor preparation.

Recently, I have found myself going to presentations with a bare bones PPT file featuring nothing but pictures and a few words here and there. And before getting drawn into a debate about words vs. no words on PowerPoint slides, I will only say that the feeling of being unconstrained by what is on the screen, is matched only by the nodding heads of your audience as they focus on what you say and how you say it, rather than the text on the video wall.

It is my belief that this kind of environment is only achievable if your preparation is 100% spot-on.

Knowledge suppresses all the little annoying feelings that a presenter is prone to experiencing on the stage. Confidence gets a much needed boost, time suddenly becomes available for jokes and anecdotes, technology seizes to be central and presentation style begins to feel natural, rather than rehearsed.

And if there is one thing that could potentially overshadow even knowledge, it must be practice. Together, these two preconditions form the backbone of a good presentation.

So put a smile on, learn everything that is to be learnt and head to the auditorium with as little burden as possible. With time, anyone can be as good as a talk show host, even without the autocue.

Read more about the guy with the dead duck here. It’s quite the story.

Visit to Britain’s Ministry of Defence Part II

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Welcome back to the curious story of the MOD’s Comms department!

Continued from Part I.

As we finally got to talking Communication, we were introduced to the MOD’s social media strategy, which turned out to be quite extensive with a maintained presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and Blogs. Here, we were reminded of the importance of content – something that has already been said to us during classes. The MOD has a specialised branch that deals with photography and when you give a photographer a full-time job to take pictures of military life, you apparently create an endless source of branded content that fuels your Facebook Timeline and Flickr accounts. And when that fuel supplies national pride and army recruits, you know that your Comms department is doing its job well. Definitely something to think about for any organisation trying to establish effective communications.

As time went by, I realised that these people were too humble to admit how good they truly were. I started noticing patterns in their communication strategy that they wouldn’t necessarily say were there – behind their social media activity, I saw a clear effort for Brand Management, Content Creation and Content Curation. Of course, they also talked about engagement and how great content is the one supreme prerequisite for that, but they never clearly articulated that they indeed try to segment their target audience when exercising “Personnel Support” (a form of internal communications in the army). Of course, they mentioned Public Relations and Crisis Management, but they never named celebrity endorsement when they talked to us about Prince William’s pictures behind the controls of an RAF helicopter. The list of things the MOD was involved in – stated or not – went on and on in my notepad – Recruitment Marketing, Traditional Media, Reputation Management, Merchandising, Employee Blogs, Viral Videos, even Crossmedia – these people were real professionals, and the Communication nerd in me was getting overly excited at how dedicated and good they were. They had thought everything through – use Twitter to inform, Facebook to engage, Pinterest and Storify to integrate, blogs to enrich, YouTube and traditional media to reach – it was all just too good to be true.

And then…

I raised my hand and tried to congratulate them by veiling my excitement with a question about intent and direction in their communication efforts and strategic thinking.

In an anti-climax fashion, I was met with a lengthy answer about the MOD’s dealings with the media and an example of that by their PR chief.

I guess he forgot that we were PR students ourselves, but then again… Once a PR, always a PR.

Visit to Britain’s Ministry of Defence Part I

A majestic reminder from imperial times, this building instills nothing but respect.

For my first post, I would like to go back to the first semester of my Master’s course at Westminster.

Our course leader Pam Williams organised for our entire class to visit Britain’s Ministry of Defence, and in particular, their Comms department. We gathered at 10 o’clock on a sunny October morning at a spot next to the giant building of the MOD, untainted by its gargantuan shadow where we could enjoy the last days of sun before the dreadful British winter descended on London. And before you think of “Winter is coming” jokes, let me tell you this – winter in London matches that of Westeros pretty well, minus the frozen zombies.

As our class gathered in the sun, I grew curious of the building and impatient to get in. That is when I took the picture above. I thought to myself “I need to capture this building. It symbolises everything that my vivid mind imagined about Britain’s military might throughout the centuries as I read the history books in school.” I’m glad I took that picture – it will always remind me of my stay in London, and why I cherish it so much.

Anyway, half an hour passed before we finally got to getting in. The accreditation was quick, but nothing could prepare us for the weapon screening – we entered a sound-proof chamber in groups of 5 while the others were waiting on both ends watching us getting anxious inside while some invisible device was clearly scanning us. I will never forget that strange feeling of claustrophobia coupled with unspoken intimidation and inexplicable panic as our hosts closed the chamber and we started asking ourselves what we’re supposed to do now.

Thankfully, when we finally sat down in the conference room, the MOD’s communication team made every effort to make us feel at home. We were greeted by 3 members – the media chief, the social media officer and a representative of the military assigned to the team.

First, they introduced us to some administrative developments at the institution which I personally found quite interesting – they talked about convergence and digitalisation of government services, and in particular the idea of bringing every branch of government under one digital umbrella – gov.uk. This site already exists, but apparently the process of turning it into one huge integrated platform that combines all government services, is an ongoing process. The UK is a very innovative and modern country, and I was not surprised to learn that they are taking the concept of “digital government” very serious.

Read Part II here.