For the past two weeks I’ve been doing work experience in the Debenhams Press office. It was a complete change of pace for me, to go from working from home on my own to having to ask “Is there anything do to?” every 5 minutes. The hour commute was also a bit of a shock to the system, as was talking to actual people, all day! But I did learn a lot about how the press office in a global company like Debenhams operates.
There was a massive range in the things I was asked to do. As it was between seasons (the end of autumn/winter and the start of spring/summer) lots of samples which had been sent to press needed to be sorted and returned to their agency who deal with product placement.
There’s a special programme designed for managing where all the samples are at any given time called Augure which I was using alot. Journalists will e-mail the press office telling them the types of pieces they’re looking to feature and then the press office will pick out pieces which fit the brief and send them over, not before I checked them out on Augure so we can keep track of them. People from magazines and TV programmes will also go into the Oxford Street store to pick things out and I’d also check them out on Augure. After a few trips back and forth to the store it didn’t seem quite as fascinating as the first time but carrying the heavy bags definately kept me fit!
One of the most interesting parts of my two weeks was possibly going to the press event for the launch of Diamond, Julien Macdonald’s youth range to go along with his other slightly older range in Debenhams, Star. The event was organised by another agency Debenhams use and involved letting journalists know about the launch of the range, a swanky bar, giving them cocktails (which were very nice btw!) and a goodie bag . There were a few models wearing the items and Julien Macdonald made an appearance and had his photo taken so all in all it was very interesting.
The press office is primarily concerned with news generation as opposed to product placement (an agency does this), media monitoring (an agency sends across all coverage) or social media (another agency) so the press assistants were always looking for ways they can get interesting stories into the press. Whilst I was there they were working on a release about the increase in popularity of shapewear for men, it was interesting to see the story go from a press release and into coverage in a few of the newspapers and online over night.
An AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) was then calculated based on the readership of the newspaper and the size and position of the article to work out how much the piece would be worth. I’m not sure how “scientific” this AVE business is but I gather it’s a standard in the PR world (although a quick google tells me there are some people who question the value of this measurement, and from where I’m standing it does sound a bit wishy washy.)
Other things I did in my two weeks involved pulling out interesting and relevant stories from the newspapers and magazines every day, writing drafts of biographies about some of the designers at Debenhams, a bit of data entry, collecting samples from the buyers and fulfilling image requests which came into the press office e-mail account.
I’d’ve liked to have found out a bit more about how the social media side of things works (like the “voice” they use and the types of guidelines they stick to when representing Debenhams online) but this is dealt with by an agency as opposed to in house. I also noticed that whilst they have more than 30,000 followers on Facebook and 6,800 on Twitter, their Klout score is 48. Comparing this to the charity I work on the social media for, we have a higher Klout score but just 500 fans on Facebook and around 1,300 on Twitter. Food for thought…
Overall I had an excellent time at Debenhams and it was well worth the two weeks I spent there. I learnt a great deal about how the press office for a large company works and was working with a lovely team of people. Plus I didn’t do any photocopying or make any cups of tea, all in all I’m very pleased I did it and hopefully I’ll be able to use the experienced I gained here in the not so distant future!