Applying for a comms job

27 Mar

I’ve had the privilege of helping to interview a number of candidates recently to work in various communications roles in the department I work for at the University of Bath. I’ve sifted through literally hundreds of application forms, filtering out those we want to shortlist and interview. Throughout the process I’ve been surprised at some common mistakes that communications professionals seem to make when they’re looking for a new job, so thought I’d share some tips here on how to make sure your initial application form is really top-notch.

Be up to date

Show you know the current news agenda. This is really really important for a comms officer – you need to enjoy being connected to the wider world. Demonstrate that you have a daily routine that includes consuming the morning news and breaking news headlines throughout the day – whether this is through news channels, websites, apps or social media. If possible, show cases where you’ve responded to the current news agenda to profile your clients or organisation positively.

Use digital

I wouldn’t employ someone in a communications or PR role who couldn’t demonstrate their use of a full range of communication channels – both off and online. I would usually look for evidence of this in an application form, so make it very clear and share direct links to your profiles or a personal website listing them. I’d only actively look for someone’s digital footprint if I really, really liked the sound of their experience – but that would depend on how busy I was and how many applications I had to get through!

An applicant who could show me that they actively used platforms like (but not limited to) Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn would be the minimum I’d look for. Active use – so for example the targeting of communications to specific audiences through, lets say, Google+ communities and LinkedIn groups, would excite me. I’d almost certainly want to meet you and interview you. And a blog or personal website that showed me your writing style would certainly be valuable too.

Be social

If you’ve worked in communications and you’re telling me you have experience, I’ll expect you to have contacts. I’m not just talking connections on LinkedIn here – I mean real-life contacts you can pick up the phone to and ask favours of. These might not be in the exact sector I’m hiring you for, but nevertheless, they tell me you’re able to build relationships with industry leaders, opinion formers, decision makers and within the press. Tell me about your network. Tell me what audiences your previous comms have targeted, the channels you used, the connections you made, how you maintained these and influenced them, and what the results were.

Sound like you care

You’d be surprised how many applications I’ve seen from people who sound very disinterested. Sometimes they get the name of our institution wrong, the name of the role wrong, or clearly haven’t read the job description. Other times, they just don’t come across as someone who is excited by the opportunity, really wants the job and has ideas for how they’d do it well. When you apply for a job, don’t just tell us what you’ve achieved, tell us what you’d like to do if you got the role – what experience and contacts might you bring to us that will help you do well in the role?

Don’t assume

Just because you tell us you have five years press office experience, don’t assume we’ll think that is relevant experience. You need to tell us what you’ve done during those five years to develop in your role. You might have spent five years placing a weekly press release in the local newsletter, whereas we want someone who can regularly target national and international outlets. If you have had a career break, tell us why – don’t leave us guessing. Tell us how you kept your skills up to date. Detail is key – what did you do, where were you, what did you achieve, what did you learn, how do you keep developing?

Speak to us

And last but not least, don’t guess what the employer wants. The strongest applications I’ve seen are from people who have contacted us and asked about the role, found out more about what our problem is and the sort of person we need to solve it. However, make sure you have some real questions to ask – think before you call about what you want to know. Picking up the phone is the best way to do this, but an email would be better than nothing.

These are just a few tips, and while I’ve tried to keep the advice broad, you’d obviously need to adapt your application based on the role you were going for! Do you have any additional advice to add to this? Feel free to share tips (or horror stories!) in the comments section below – I’d love to see them :-)

Great evening at Menu Gordon Jones

24 May

It was my birthday this week, so to celebrate we went to Menu Gordon Jones in Bearflat, Bath. Its had some fantastic reviews since it opened in

The meal started with a fantastic cauliflower soup, served with beautifully fresh warm bread presented in brown paper bags, clipped together at the top. This was followed by a dish with seagull egg and asparagus, really yummy and not something I’d tried before!

The fish course was sea bass which will always be a winner in my book – I love sea bass, but to try it served with black pudding was quite different and made it a far more exciting dish.

This was followed with a meat course of slow-cooked venison, which, as another diner commented, had almost the texture of liver it was so tender. Served on a bed of creamy mashed potato, this was pretty much perfection.

Before dessert we were served a sweetcorn sorbet, which was dulcified with a berry compote. It was great to try the sorbet, but for me it wasn’t quite refreshing enough ahead of the heavy (but heavenly) salted chocolate torte that followed.

All in all, we had a really fabulous evening and the surprise menu didn’t fail to excite the taste buds. I’d love to go back again, apparently the ingredients change every day as Chef cooks seasonal produce which is bought locally.

Seagull egg for dinner? Don't mind if I do!

Seagull egg for dinner? Don't mind if I do!

Sensory technology in use at Three Ways School

15 May

Yesterday I visited Luke Woodbury at Three Ways School in Bath. Three Ways School caters for 165 children aged from 3 – 19 years of age with a wide range of Special Educational Needs.

I mentioned Luke in a previous blog post about the SPARKies awards – he had won an award for the best use of technology having impressed judges with the work he was doing in the Three Ways sensory lab.

Luke is a programmer with a background in music, but has now turned his skills to teaching and is developing material aimed at enhancing teaching and engaging students with the curriculum.

Luke gave us a tour of the sensory lab and showed us some of the lessons he has developed content for – from bringing Jack and the Beanstalk to life to creating peaceful under-the-sea scenes, Luke’s passion and creativity are immediately apparent.

What Luke needs now is some voluntary help from the local community. He could do with people with design skills to help him polish some of the material he has already developed, and also to create new content for lessons.

You can read more about Luke and watch videos of work he has done with the students on his website, and if you feel that you could get involved and help him out I know he’d be thrilled to hear from you.


The SPARKies awards

22 Mar

Last night I ran Bath’s first tech awards – the SPARKies!

The ceremony was held at Komedia in Bath, and I had a month to put it together. We had over 100 award entries across 11 categories, and nearly 300 people attended the ceremony – so sorting out the table plan was possibly the hardest thing I have ever organised!

We had some fantastic winners (and really good runners up too) – with Picochip stealing the show by winning three categories. A highlight from the evening for me was the winner of our category for ‘the use of technology for doing good’ – which went to Luke Woodbury at Three Ways School. Luke is a programmer and he runs the sensory lab at the school, working with children with disabilities to enhance their learning experiences.

The awards were great fun with live drawing by Nat Al-Tahhan, comedy by the fantastic Jarred Christmas and our little mascot Sprk-12 popping up all over the place. The staff at Komedia were fantastic and everyone who attended seemed to have a great time.

Heres to next year and The SPARKies 2013!

Sprk-12 popped up throughout the night!

Getting involved with Bath’s first Digital Festival

16 Mar

March has been very exciting – and busy – as I’ve been part of the team helping to put together Bath’s first Digital Festival.

The Festival is a collection of around thirty different events, taking place at venues across the city from 15th – 25th March. From coding sessions for school children through to a hack day, and from international digital entertainment conference X Media Lab to the inaugural event of Bath’s new debating society, there really is something for everyone.

I have been putting together the SPARKies awards ceremony (as part of Bath Spark) which has been eye opening. Working in PR, my previous experience of awards ceremonies has all been in a sector which loves to blow its own trumpet. The SPARKies, on the other hand, recognise excellence in the digital sector which is much quieter about its achievements and some of the entries are really fantastic.

The whole week has been put together and curated by the amazing Mike Ellis, Founder of Thirty8 Digital. In 2011 he founded The Big M conference in Bath, and every month he runs BathCamp, so taking on the Festival as well as all of that deserves applause.

If you would like to know a bit more about the Festival and the events taking place, have a look at the website designed by Bath’s very own fantastic web design company Storm Consultancy.

Marcomms and science: speaking to the Guardian

6 Feb

I have been interviewed by the Guardian again recently, this time about getting the outcomes of research heard in the media. I focused on the work I do with scientists and engineers, making often very complex research comprehensible to a lay audience without ‘dumbing it down’.

To see the full piece, visit the Guardian website here.

I’m starting a company!

3 Jan

In December I made the decision to go part-time at the University of Bath and to spend my spare time starting up a PR and marketing company.

It has been a busy few months – I’ve chosen a name, ‘Pepper’, mainly because it is easy to spell and say, and was one of the few names which wasn’t already taken for a communications company.

I found a fantastic accountant – Robin Harper in Bristol – who has made the whole process of registering as a limited company very straightforward. Now I am working on a website with Storm Consultancy, and the fantastic Rik Penny at Ripe Digital has sorted me out with great business cards.

Now I am just getting started with my first client – Bath Digital Festival. Its going to be an interesting first project as this is the first year for the Festival, so the whole team will be learning as we go along, but I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.

Oh – and if you need any PR or marketing, do get in touch!

Plotting stakeholders

14 Dec

I did a little project last night, plotting the stakeholders of an organisation in Bath. I thought it might be of interest to companies locally (and it looked quite pretty) so I’ve posted it up here.

Do you know exactly who your stakeholders are? Do you revisit your organisation’s understanding of its stakeholder regularly? Do you regularly communicate with your stakeholders, and if so, how?

Simple stakeholder mapping for a Bath-based organisation (Click to enlarge)

Simple stakeholder mapping for a Bath-based organisation (Click to enlarge)

Bath with a visiting American

4 Dec

Last weekend I was excited to host my good University friend Savannah here in Bath during a whistle-stop tour in which she was visiting people across the country on a one-week trip from New York.

Obviously I wanted to make sure the best bit of her holiday was the part spent here in the lovely city of Bath, but she wasn’t going to make that easy for me having visited twice before and ‘done’ all the typical sights and museums.

Savannah and I in Bath

Savannah and I in Bath

Its funny how having a visitor can make you look at things differently isn’t it? I was somewhat keen to stay away from the Christmas market, having felt that it was full of touristy tat and overpriced rubbish, but Savannah was keen so we had a look around and I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how many nice Christmas gifts we were able to get for a fairly reasonable price. I guess, though, that we were pretty lucky in missing the masses of crowds that generally make the market unbearable.

After a visit to the market we went to the Spa, which I was really keen to do having only been once before. Unfortunately Savannah had come to the UK via Reykjavik in Iceland, where she bathed in natural, open air hot springs, somewhat putting our baths to shame!

Sally Lunn's - where the welcome is always warm and the buns always tasty.

Sally Lunn's - where the welcome is always warm and the buns always tasty.

My newly negative feel about the baths was further exacerbated by a very crowded rooftop Royal Bath, lots of sand and dirt in the downstairs Minerva Bath, and a ridiculous locker system that seemed to be utterly confusing everyone. The lifts between floors were really slow so we ended up plodding up and down the stairs, freezing cold, trying to find the different pools. In all, it didn’t feel like an up-market, relaxing experience and I was pretty disappointed.

However Sally Lunn’s redeemed the day with a very warm welcome, a suitably old and impressive mini-museum, and lovely fresh cream teas. It was just what we needed as the day grew dark.

Our day was completed with a fun evening out, starting with cocktails at Door 34, followed by a visit to my favourite venue of the moment, the chic and lovely Opium where I got to introduce Savannah to some of my lovely Bath friends. All in all we had a great day – and as its now my turn I better get saving for my tickets to New York!

Evaluating networks: Twitter activity of 1994 Group universities

28 Sep

Hi there! I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the different social networks I work with. I’m interested in how I can determine how effective my networks are in reaching my target audiences, and how I can use evaluation to improve my communications through these channels.

Evaluation is a constant headache for anyone working in marketing or communications, with the evaluation of social networks possibly the hardest to carry out.

And as increasingly more time and resource is put into online communications, proving that the investment is effective is essential.

Soon, as press officers, we’ll be asked to justify our decision to focus on these communication channels, and we have to be ahead of the game and ready to demonstrate the value of our online networks.

I had some time on my hands so I decided to follow the lead of Brian Kelly, who recently wrote a great blog post on the Twitter use of Russell Group universities. I have replicated his analysis for the 1994 Group, to see what I think of this method of evaluation. I’ve only used Klout so far (as it took forever), but I’ll try to do a PeerIndex comparison soon.

Klout measures influence online by analysing Twitter metrics, giving you a Klout Score.  The Klout website explains each score with the following:

  • The Klout Score is the measurement of your overall online influence. The scores range from 1-100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence.
  • Amplification Probability is how much you influence people. When you post a message, how many people respond to it or spread it further? If people often act upon your content you have a high Amplification score.
  • The True Reach is the number of people you influence. Klout filters out spam and bots and focuses on the people who are acting on your content. When you post a message, these people tend to respond or share it.
  • Network Influence indicates the influence of the people in your True Reach. How often do top Influencers share and respond to your content? When they do so, they are increasing your Network score.

For the purpose of this I’m taking the word of the company and assuming that Klout really does what it says it does. Although a critique of each of these evaluation services might make an interesting blog post some day…

So here are the results (ordered alphabetically):


1994 Group university's Twitter Klout scores

1994 Group university's Twitter Klout scores

         (Admin update (4/12/11): Due to a glitch I was unable to produce a score for Queen Mary at the time this table was created. I’ve been informed that the current Klout score for Queen Mary, University of London is 49. Its true reach is 946; amplification probability is 15 and network influence is 19. - thanks to Emma Lowry for letting me know.)

Where there isn’t a huge budget and a couple of spare staff, tools like Klout offer a quick insight to how social networks might be performing. However, while a score based on an evaluation of Twitter metrics can look appealing, these tools certainly have limitations.

While your Klout score might be able to show how many opportunities for influence you have within your network, you can’t assume that every tweet you post is read by your complete ‘true reach’, or even that your ‘true reach’ represents the target audience you want to communicate with. Likewise, while tweets might be read, if the purpose of your communications is to elicit a response you need to carry out further analysis to determine whether the reader acted upon the information you shared with them.

For that, a much more sophisticated evaluation is required, along with a much larger budget and much more time.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, and if you have any ideas for evaluating social networks then I’m all ears. What are other press officers doing to determine how effective their communications through these channels are, and how are you using the results of your evaluation?