Name, title and how long you’ve been at Whiteoaks
Ella Thompson, Account Director. Have been with Whiteoaks for just over 2 years.
In your current role, what does a typical day look like?
One of the main things that I really like about PR is that no two days are the same. Working on a variety of different clients and campaigns means that my activities can change from day-to-day. However, a typical day could include a mix of things like client meetings, team management, time spent on planning and strategy for client campaigns or briefing in and proofing content.
How did you get into PR?
My first exposure into PR was on my placement year at university. I did a sandwich course and as part of this had to complete a year placement which I decided to do at Hewlett-Packard. It was primarily a B2B marketing role, working in the Personal Systems Group, however, an element of the role also involved working with the PR agency on the strategy and supporting on media events. After this, I realised I wanted to learn more about PR, so I completed a 5-week placement at a local PR agency, supporting on areas including coverage monitoring and clipping, features searching and campaign research. After trying both in-house and agency, I realised I liked the buzz and team vibe of agencies, so when I completed my degree in 2011 I embarked on my career in a London PR agency.
What did you study and how has it helped you grow your career?
I studied PR at Bournemouth University. I didn’t really know what PR was when I started the course, I just knew I wanted to do something media related and after reading the prospectus decided to do either PR or marketing. The PR course sounded more varied and interesting so I decided to go with that, but it probably wasn’t until the end of my first year that I really understood what it was. The course itself was really helpful for my career. As well as teaching the theory of PR, it also included a large practical element and gave me a chance to get involved in a lot of different projects from events, to advertising and marketing, to web design and writing. It certainly paved the way for a career in PR and meant when I did start my first permanent role in 2011, I was able to hit the ground running and pick things up really quickly.
I kind of touched on this earlier, but for me the main thing is the variety that PR brings. This is not only in terms of working with different clients and exposure to different sectors and experiences, but also the breadth of different activities involved in the role. From presenting, to clients, to writing and proofing content, media pitching, managing social media and participating in new business pitches, I feel like I’m always learning and as someone who tends to get bored quite quickly, that keeps me interested and engaged. I also love writing, but knew I didn’t want to do journalism. PR provides me with the opportunity to still get involved in that content creation element, but alongside a host of other aspects too. I’m also quite a social person and the good thing about PR is there’s also a strong social element – you’re always meeting new people, whether it’s journalists, clients or new business prospects.
What is the best part of your day?
For me, the best part of my day is when there’s a breaking news story to respond to. I still get that buzz of excitement when a story breaks and you see a good opportunity for your client to get involved. The problem is, you never know when this is going to happen so you have to always act fast. But there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to quickly turn around a response or pitch and secure a top tier opportunity for clients.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into PR as a career?
The best piece of advice that I would give to anyone considering a career in PR is what was given to me at university which is “if you are considering a career in PR then you need to accept that it won’t be a 9-5 job”. That doesn’t mean you can expect to be working long hours all the time, but the nature of agency work and a career in PR and marketing is that there will be peaks and troughs in campaigns, so you need to be prepared to have to work flexible hours from time-to-time.
I would also advise anyone thinking about a career in PR to try out work experience first. There are so many opportunities out there and just spending some time in an agency before committing to a permanent role provides good insight into what agency life is like, the culture and what you can expect from a career in PR.
Finally, it may sound obvious, but you also need to be aware of what’s happening in the news and media – including social media. Ensuring content and campaigns are timely, topical and relevant is key to success in PR so you need to always have your finger on the pulse as to what’s happening in the media and industry.
What do you like most about your current role?
For me, there are two things I like most about my role and that’s the variety and the team. I like that no two days are the same and that I can get involved in a whole host of different campaigns and projects. I also enjoy working in a team – I have also tried in-house roles and whilst they too do have their benefits, it can be lonely when you’re the only one in the PR / comms department and the rest of the business doesn’t understand the value of PR. Working in an agency, everyone is singing from the same song sheet. Everyone understands PR and we worth together to meet objectives and campaigns. You always have a team to support you and it is really rewarding when the team comes together to achieve great results.
What has been your funniest / quirkiest moment in PR?
There’s certainly been a few. I think one of my funniest was when I was doing the PR for one of the government’s driverless vehicle projects in the UK. As part of the project, we had a minister come to visit the vehicle and I took some photos of the minister and our CEO in front of the vehicle to share on social media. The problem was the vehicle doors had “TEST VEHICLE” written across them and where the executives were standing meant they blocked out a couple of letters in the middle spelling out something completely different…. I didn’t realise until all the comments on social media started flooding in. Luckily the CEO saw the funny side.
If you didn’t work in PR, what would your idea job be?
I have always thought I would like to do something crime-based. Like an analyst or something for the police, MI5 or national crime agency. It’s probably because of my love for programmes like 24 and Homeland, but I am quite analytical and would love to do something that can really make a difference to the world.