Yesterday evening I was at 59 (Huddersfield) Squadron Air Cadets.

In the debate, Eva asked me about my commitment to getting the CIPR more “out there” and doing things not in London (I’m paraphrasing here, I really can’t watch myself). I’ve done a lot of volunteer work over the last 14 years, so I’m used to giving up evenings and weekends to go travelling to far-off and strange lands. At one point I was volunteering with four different groups *and* holding down my day job. That was a bit excessive, I’ll admit. Just the two now.

My point is that working – assuming I manage to get a new job – and flying the flag for the Chartered Institute around the UK does not worry me.

First steps

Photo: Me, ready to fly.
Me, ready to fly. I suffer from motion sickness. You can guess the rest.

Admittedly, I don’t do much around Squadron these days, though I am notionally Communications Officer (web, releases, etc. – not radio!). But in a way this is where I apprenticed.

I started doing ‘proper’ public relations at Metro around the same time I joined the Squadron. Being new to the job there was only so much I could do, so much I’d be trusted with on my own – it’s the same the world over.

My job was Adjutant but, since I was working in a PR team I took that on as well. I bought a small digital camera (Casio Exilim S2, since you ask) to take accompanying photos, battered out a release every few weeks and watched the column inches pour in. And the new cadets, who had read about us in the Huddersfield Examiner.

This is where I learned my trade and where I got my first award nomination – Best In-House Team in the Fifth Estate’s 15th Anniversary Awards. Us versus Breakthrough Breast Cancer, I seem to recall. We were never going to win, but we were the only ones voluntary – none of us were paid to do this. There’s a photo somewhere of me with Gill Dandy, who is also one of my nominees this year.

It was also where I got my second award nomination, this time in the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire PRide Awards.

Spreading my wings

Still with the Squadron, I started volunteering with Leeds United Ladies. I was only there to build them a web site but soon turned my hand to writing match previews and reports (which latterly ended up running in the Yorkshire Evening Post), recording and editing videos, producing the matchday programme, organising external photographers as well as taking our own. And collecting awards this time, not just nominations.

It’s very easy to ask “what’s in it for me?” when asked to help out – and we usually mean money, kudos, awards, the tangible things. But my volunteering efforts were a win-win-win-win for me, work, Squadron and the Ladies.

I got to practice my skills and learn new skills which I might not be able to in my workplace. There was a cross-pollination of ideas: the Ladies started tweeting and live texting (which we’d started to do at work), Metro started recording short videos (which I was doing with the Ladies). And the coverage they got was in excess of what they might have expected, thanks to me taking a professional approach to my work.

Never assume you’ve learned all that there is. Never assume that a relatively small effort won’t make a big difference. Be professional all the time (and especially when you don’t want to be) because that’s what the job requires. Professional public relations practice is as much an attitude and state of mind as it is a qualification.