Dana Fowles is currently a PR Assistant at Twofour, the award-winning TV production company behind the Channel 4 Educating strand. After graduating she also worked in publishing.
You graduated in 2014 with a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Manchester. What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building your career?
Dana: Oh God, it was definitely a rollercoaster. It can be exciting, it can be terrifying… You’ve been in education all your life and suddenly there's no plan for the next few years - anything can happen!
I moved back home to Plymouth after graduation and took full-time hours at the nursery I’d worked at during uni holidays. Shortly afterwards I got an entry-level publishing job in Stroud. The editing and proofreading practice I got there was great, but the production side of publishing wasn’t for me. I knew I’d prefer a communications role where my writing skills would be used more. The PR Assistant vacancy came up at Twofour, and that was it - back to Plym (where our HQ is).
I’ve always wanted a media career. When I started uni, I thought I wanted to work in women’s magazines, but by final year I was having a bit of a young-life crisis and wasn’t sure that was right for me anymore. With the amount of time I’ve spent Tweeting and Facebooking about The Apprentice over the years, I should have guessed that TV PR would be a good fit!
Some people would argue that your English Literature degree does not seem like the immediately relevant qualification through which to pursue a media career. You've written on this issue before - could you recap for us why you think your degree was useful in your career in PR?
Dana: I suppose a Television or PR degree would seem like a more direct route, but English degrees come with so many transferable skills despite the bad press! Writing and communication skills are the two most important things I came away with; I use them every day without fail.
Exams and essays encourage you to hone your own personal style and communicate ideas clearly and concisely to deadlines. Obviously they’re pretty formal and it’s also good to develop your own informal style (reading lots of mags can help with that), but, generally speaking, English students are well equipped when it comes to getting the tone and message right - and making sure the spelling and grammar is impeccable! As a PR, that’s so important; any copy you produce reflects on the company positively or negatively. It’s like being the voice for the brand.
Seminars are great for building verbal communication strengths. They’re all about expressing your ideas and opinions, listening to what others have to say and responding. That’s handy in any job, but PRs need to come up with creative new ideas for things like social media, and form good working relationships internally and externally.
You have been working at Twofour as a PR Assistant since January 2015. Tell us more about what you do. Did anything surprise you about your current role when you started?
Dana: PR get all of the fun bits! It’s about creating conversation around our shows, so social media is a big part of my role. The hilarious Ibiza Weekender was airing on ITV2 when I first started and I had a great time making memes for the Twitter feed…
Like I said, my writing skills are used constantly, which I love. I can be working on anything from press releases and show billings to award entries. I also get to look after the intranet, our internal communications platform.
I was (pleasantly) surprised when I found out that I'd get to watch some of our programmes at my desk. In hindsight it makes perfect sense; it’s a vital part of getting our campaigns right. Nevertheless, watching TV at work has got to be the best perk ever!
There are 12 companies in the Twofour Group and because we work across most of them, it’s surprising how many random facts you pick up. Carol Klein’s Plant Odysseys (Oxford Scientific Films, BBC Two) taught me that roses have an inbuilt chemical warfare system - beautiful and resilient. I was banging on about that for ages. I’m not sure everyone shared my enthusiasm, but you never know what might come up in a pub quiz…
Thinking back to your University days from 2011 until 2014, what advice would you give to your younger, student self, or to anyone else who is looking to work in a role similar to yours?
Dana: Getting involved in student media is one of the best things I ever did. At Manchester we had The Mancunion student newspaper, Fuse FM and Fuse TV. My current manager liked the fact that I was Lifestyle Editor at The Mancunion.
For entry-level TV PR, you need to watch TV, read magazines and love all things social media. Keep up to date with the industry, focus on CV presentation and always, always tailor your applications to the role and company! Research is key. Reading up on how to write applications and hone your interview skills helps a lot too. There are plenty of great books out there, but you can also access really useful content online.
Don’t panic if you can’t afford to spend months interning for free. I had various part-time jobs at uni and was never in a position to just plonk myself in London and work for nothing over the summer. Even though none of those positions were directly linked to my current role, I learnt valuable skills in all of them. Any experience increases your employability and puts you in good stead when it comes to getting a graduate job. Just make sure you have that extra string to your bow - a blog or something.
And never listen to anyone who tells you that the media is ‘too competitive’ – someone has to get the job and why shouldn’t that someone be you?!
You can follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaFowles