Interviews – Telecoms – Michelle Burgess

Michelle Burgess works as a public relations (PR) officer for Vodafone AirTouch Group Services. The company sponsored her through university and offered her a job once she graduated. She says PR is a growing industry – especially the telecoms sector – and offers great prospects for graduates who can write well and have good communication skills

Getting into PR

What makes a good PR?
You have to have an outgoing personality and be a good communicator. You need to be able to engage people and keep their attention and talk to them in a language they can understand.

What we do is quite technical so you have to be able to adapt yourself to talk to your audience in a way that is going to be relevant to them. You have to have good writing skills and be able to speak confidently to people on a subject and convince them you know what you are talking about. You must also be able to deal with sensitive issues confidently.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in PR?
If you are looking to go into PR I would advise doing a some kind of communications degree – journalism, marketing, PR – a discipline which has a fairly extensive writing component.

You need to get yourself in front of the right people and shine. It’s doesn’t go so much on qualifications, rather how you carry yourself and how you communicate. If you can do that well and effectively then they will see that you are the right person for the job.

Do your background research, find out about the company and how they carry out PR. It will hopefully help you make a good impression at the interview and getting past the first hurdle.

What made you choose PR?
I knew I could talk to people. I knew I could write and could be quite creative with my writing. I liked people and I liked meeting them and I didn’t just want to sit on the end of the phone all day.

Getting into Vodafone

What made you choose a career with Vodafone?
When I was 17 there was a notice on the school notice board for Vodafone sponsorships. One of the disciplines was business studies. I applied and had a scary interview and thought ‘there’s no way I’ve got that’, but I did.

From then on the company financially supported me through university and also gave me work placements throughout the group during Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. I worked in various places such as credit control and fraud and customer care which gave me a really good insight into the business as a whole.

What did you study at university?
I studied public relations at Leeds Met, which was a four-year sandwich course. I did my placement year with Vodafone. After two months working in the press office I was offered a job whether I passed or failed my degree. So I was lucky I could go back for my final year at university knowing that I had a job secured.

What’s the company culture like at Vodafone?
It’s quite relaxed, fast moving and forward thinking.

We don’t operate out of one big plush building. We are in a small market town with 67 buildings. Each of those buildings and each of department will have it’s own culture.

What kind of training does Vodafone provide?
I’ve done some PR courses in London and am also hoping to do a Chartered Institute of Marketing qualification, which the company will support me on. Vodafone also has a lot of training schemes such as presentation skills and that sort of thing, which I will look at doing as and when needed.

What are the opportunities for graduates in PR in such a fast growing company?
There were three of us in the PR department itself in 1997 – now there are 12 – just three years later. As the industry develops the need for people to publicise what we are doing will need to grow as well.

Working in Vodafone’s PR office: a typical day, highlights and career prospects

What might your typical day involve?
The day generally splits into two levels. Pro-actively trying to publicise what do as a company do – to try and get the media, be it trade, national or consumer, to cover whatever we want them to. Or re-actively where a journalist rings up and says they want to know X, Y, Z and we find the answers for them.

We pride ourselves on running a slick operation. When a journalist wants to know something they want the information as soon as possible. In a lot of places, you just get voicemail or the phone is left to ring out. Here there is always somebody there who will answer the phone. We don’t let it ring more than three rings and we’ll get back to them within the time span they give us. We are quite proud and renowned for keeping that up.

What do you find rewarding about your job?
It’s quite scary when you are speaking to a journalist and they ask you ‘how do you spell your name?’ and you think ‘Oh no, my name is going to be quoted in the newspaper’ and you think ‘what have I said?’ But on the flip side, when you see the story in the newspaper and you’ve got your company’s point across you feel quite proud to have your name associated with that.

Where do you see your long term future?
I am an ambitious person. By the time I’m 30 I would like to have a managerial position and actually run a team of people. At the rate the department is expanding that could be a possibility as long as I am performing well.

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