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Tesco and horsemeat, the BBC and Jimmy Savile, Barclays and Libor...all companies involved in recent scandals that have hugely affected the public's perception of these organisations. It's not just corporate institutions - the Catholic Church, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius...they all have their own puppet-masters backstage, clambering to protect their professional reputations. Of course, it's not all damage control. Every brand, organisation, institution, service has a need to manage its relationships with the public. Public relations, if you will.
The Chartered Institute of PR gives us a nice definition of public relations, and being the chartered body of the whole industry, it knows its stuff: "Public relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics."
So, in a rather superficial and slightly dented nutshell - make sure people say nice things about you so that other people will like you. Lovely. Very sensible. So how does someone, or an organisation, even start to attempt this feat? Well, you may remember a post a few months ago in which I asked an experienced PR consultant to elaborate on the inner mechanisms of the PR machine. No? Read it here.
But what about starting out in the industry? What does an intern do? What can you learn in the space of a couple of weeks or months? Well, I asked those very same questions to Ayesha Ghafoor, a final-year RHUL student who spent part of last year working at a PR consultancy in Madrid. Here's what she said...
"I spent the third year of my European Studies with Spanish degree in Madrid. Besides spending my time having copious amounts of fun enjoying all that the city had to offer, I did do some work. I worked at Dédalo Comunicacion, which is a public relations consultancy specialising in corporate, financial and crisis management. Besides being a small agency in Spain, their client list is vast spanning across the globe. The firm is incredibly hands on using their experience to provide bespoke solutions to clients.
"The office was completely Spanish speaking, so keeping up and participating in conversations was a little daunting at first. But everyone was very welcoming and friendly and my Spanish was at a very good level by the time I left.
"My work was varied and interesting. I was given the task of producing a report on how Spain was portrayed in the foreign media in 2011. This involved trawling through newspaper articles in the UK, America and France. I compiled a study that broke down my findings, illustrating the number of articles written about Spain, the main themes of these and the main journalists that often reported on the country. The final document was very thorough including graphs, tables and analyses with a version in English and one in Spanish.
"Another project involved evaluating the effectiveness of a client’s use of social media and comparing this to its competitors. I regularly went through the Spanish media, reading the daily news and flagging up articles that were in some way significant to clients. I also frequently translated business documents from Spanish into English and even translated the new design of the company’s website.
"One of my most memorable days involved sitting in on a business pitch for a potential client. Being present at the meeting was a great experience and I was even given the opportunity to add to the discussion.
"To anyone wanting to pursue a career in PR – I would look at the client list of potential firms that you want to work for before applying. Dédalo’s clients are mostly comprised of corporate and financial companies, and so it would not be suited to someone interested in fashion, wanting to work in a more creative environment for example.
"All in all my ten months flew past and I had a fantastic time working in the industry and living in Madrid. It’s a great line of work for anyone that enjoys keeping up with current affairs, trends and issues, and using this information to offer intuitive advice for clients, as well as developing fantastic communication and analytical skills."