From Marks To Cuttings

Holyrood PR Intern Programme

I REMEMBER my first year in college it took me three days to write my first press release. I perpetually edited it and eventually nervously turned it in to my professor, wishing I had more time. But now, entering my final year of University, three days is a comical luxury.

I couldn’t count how many press releases I’ve written in my lifetime. I’m not even sure how I’d estimate it. I’ve churned them out during in-class assignments, pumped out stacks of them for projects, and gotten them ripped apart by peers and pieced them back together with fewer commas, fewer words and more information.

They’ve become such a routine part of my existence as a student that I sometimes forget that they aren’t normally intended for the eyes of a professor to mark up with red pen and draw my attention to everywhere I could have done something differently.

That’s what makes internships so valuable. In the real world, no one grades my press release. That sense of achievement I feel doesn’t come from a mark, it comes from seeing something I wrote turn into a published article.

There’s something so daunting about the first mailing. Emails are inserted one after another, and are thrown out into the world without any certainty of what will happen next. Every time an email pops into the inbox, my heart fluttered. It was usually a bounceback-the email was wrong, I had misspelled someone’s name, that sort of thing. But sometimes it was a journalist asking questions, and then finally it was a media alert!

There’s something elating about that first publication, and even more thrilling if it’s word for word. My first ever published press release was about a cyber-psychology seminar at a local college, picked up by Silicon Republic during an internship I had with a small PR firm in Dublin. It was an online newspaper, so the most amazing thing was that it popped up twenty minutes after I sent them the release.

When I got the media alert, I was stunned.  Wow! Thanks Carmel Doyle!  That’s everything my client and I want said! How sweet! She, the Silicon Republic, and Cyber Crime will always have a warm place in my heart as a result. I follow her on twitter and everything (@Carmeldoyle).

But it so far, seeing something I’ve written blossom into an article hasn’t gotten old. During my internship here at Holyrood PR I’ve drafted a lot of press releases, but today was the first time one was published! The recipient of this joy is the Herald, for publishing my listing of “Sealasdair Property,” a picturesque lake-side home near Oban, where Kate Winselet filmed the final scene of her movie Enigma.  I did it!! Someone liked what I wrote!

And then I get greedy and want more.

Probably the most difficult part of writing press releases in real life as opposed to the classroom, and by far the largest distinction, is dealing with the other people involved.

In class, the releases we wrote were usually about people who had plenty of leisure time to answer my phone calls and emails within seconds. Or I knew them and could send them texts with quick questions-an informality not acceptable in the professional world. Or, if they were in class for example, since our clients weren’t real we could simply make up quotes and facts and life was easy.

I’m ashamed to admit that in all my years of writing press releases I’ve never really thought about the fact that I have to wait for other people (clients and other people I need quotes and information from) to have time for me.  My assignment is in all likelihood not first on the list of their priorities. People take vacations, people are only in the office on certain days, people have bigger and more important things to deal with than my email about a fluffy news piece.

So I wait. Then I’m pretty sure they’ve forgotten about me, so I chase them down. Then I wait again because they have in fact forgotten all about me and need time to pull some things together. Then they either follow up on their own, or I have to chase them down again-some run faster than others.

I’ve been chasing so many people around I’ve probably run a metaphorical marathon about now. And I’m only the intern!

It makes me really appreciate people who get back to me quickly, and I can promise that from now on I’ll answer emails, personal or professional as fast and as thoroughly as I possibly can.

As bad as I am at waiting patiently, it’s helped me distinguish how much of a press release I can actually write with the information about the topic and what I know about the client, and how much of a press release I truly need information from other people for.

It’s also helped direct my interview questions, and it shows me how much knowledge I actually have on the topic. If I don’t know very much, then I have time to do more research on it before the press release goes out.

Because in the real world, if someone calls and asks me a question, sure! I can set up the questioner with my client, but I feel like I should be thoroughly knowledgeable about a subject so if a journalist or someone asks me a question, I don’t have to deflect the answer.

It’s little things like this that I never learned from a text book, and it’s little things like seeing something I’ve worked on come to life that make this job so rewarding.

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