"Will do PR for food" – how begging to be adopted helped one PR student stand out

By on Saturday, March 2, 2013

[Before starting, Rich here. PR student Alex Warren got in touch with his Adopt a Student campaign and, although I didn’t go to uni and so can’t know the soul-sapping drudgery that is finding placements, I thought a guest post from him would be of interest to student readers, in particular. So, here, in Alex’s words, is how he turned £6 and his undoubted cheekiness into work experience for the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Oakley.]

Times are hard for students; harder than ever before. With tuition fees hitting nine thousand a year and job markets shrinking, graduate positions aren’t easy to come by. These drastic times must call for drastic measures; you have to do whatever it takes. In my case… that meant eating out of a bin.

Ok, I should probably provide some context for that event. I wasn’t just eating out of a bin, well I was, but it was carefully planned, strategic eating out of a bin. You see, last year I was required to find a 40 week work placement as part of my Public Relations degree at Bournemouth University.

During this period the university put on regular talks providing job-seeking advice; talks which mainly involved staring at page after page of example CVs. It was staring at these identical Times New Roman CVs which made me realise …I was bored. But that boredom wasn’t the full extent of my realisation. I started to think, if these bore me, imagine how bored the average employer must be! They all look the same, they all sound the same, they’re just 900 words of self-praising, cringe-worthy, narcissism.

I couldn’t help but think how the average CV was so anti everything the PR industry stood for. Just like PR, landing a new job is all about building a reputation. It’s about promoting yourself, just as you would any other product or service… “Alex Warren – Public Relations Student”, buy now while stocks last!

This is how we need to start seeing the job seeking process. When selling a product, nobody would just email customers with a long list of positive attributes, they’d develop a strategy, create a campaign, start building a dialogue. It was this disillusionment with traditional CVs which inspired me to create “The Adopt A Student Campaign”.

Adopt A Student was designed to mimic the format of a traditional charity appeal. It relied on a microsite, email campaigns, social media and local press. I also created a spoofed video appeal, calling for business owners across the UK to ‘adopt’ me. This video was accompanied by the tagline “we never likes to put a healthy student down” and showed footage of me wandering the streets, sleeping on textbooks, and yes… eating out of a bin.

In the end the campaign cost me around £6 to do (yes, six pounds!). I built the website myself (hosted on a free .co.nr domain), filmed and edited the video (with a friends camera), wrote and distributed the various press releases and promoted the twitter campaign using a trial version of TweetAdder. All I actually paid for was a pair of fingerless “hobo” gloves.

Two months later, the Adopt A Student website had gained over 10,000 hits. This was added to by 3000 video views and several thousand followers on twitter. Obviously for your typical PR campaign these numbers may sound a bit meagre; but for the average job applicant, getting your name in front of 15,000+ people is certainly a good start.

By the end of the campaign I received contact from over 25 organisations. This lead to job offers from the NHS, Blake Lapthorn Law, and a number of general consumer PR agencies. Since then I’ve worked on accounts for Sir Richard Branson, Oakley and various other big name brands. Not bad for a budget of £6!

So other than stroking my ego, what’s this blog post all about? How can this be helpful to future PR students?

I’m sure many within our industry would claim that this type of job-search is just a “stunt” or “gimmick”. In my opinion though, they’re missing the point. It’s not about putting together some meaningless stunt; it’s about showing off your genuine talents and skills.

In creating the Adopt A Student campaign I showed employers tangible evidence of what I could do; whether it was writing press releases, building websites, editing videos or just creating campaigns. These real world examples mean so much more than a list of transferable skills on a CV.

In the end it doesn’t matter what your skill set it, you should be using it to your advantage! If you’re good at events management, put together an event; if you specialise in social media, create a campaign; if you’re skilled in typography, write your CV in a nice font, anything!

Just remember, job-seeking is nothing more than building a reputation and selling a product. We use all our creativity and skills when promoting our clients, so why not do it when we promote ourselves?

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