Today I graduated. No mortar board and gown in sight, for this was a virtual graduation from Squared Online, the digital marketing leadership course developed by Google. I have been studying this course since January and it was a completely different experience to my first degree in French and German back in 2000.
I got into PR because to be able to communicate in a different language, you need to be a good communicator full stop. You need to be confident at speaking to different audiences, you need to be able to make yourself understood. So, I started my career in PR in 2000 and found that I was actually pretty good at it. I could craft key messages for clients on complex subjects and make them simple to understand; I could identify the relevant audiences and best media to reach them; I could organise events; I could work alongside the ad agencies to deliver an integrated campaign. So far so old school. Social media was still in its infancy and traditional media still ruled.
Two children and one redundancy later I re-joined agency life at Muckle Media and it was clear that things had moved on and that I was in danger of being past my shelf-life. Since 2014 I have been constantly challenging myself to adapt to the ever-changing environment in which PR professionals need to operate. I have forced myself to create a website and corresponding social media channels, I have volunteered to do all the things that are out of my comfort zone and I have got millennials teaching me new things (thank you Eilidh Marshall and Katie Mackenzie). But my biggest challenge was “volunteering” for Squared Online back in December which we had identified as a significant training opportunity for one of the team who could then share that learning with the wider group. (Helen: “It really should be a member of the senior team shouldn’t it?” Nathalie: “Yes, not sure I can do it with a three month old baby…” Helen: “I’ll do it, it will be good for me….”)
So as the excitement of Christmas passed and my eldest daughter went back to school so did I. Every Thursday at noon or 7pm I have participated in my live classes with tutors and fellow ‘squares’ from all over the world. I have attempted to do all my pre-class and post class homework and I have worked collaboratively and virtually with groups of relative strangers on topics I knew nothing about.
What have I learnt?
I have learnt that the old adage ‘you get out what you put in’ is completely true. Doing a virtual course like this when you are a working parent is a juggling act. But then I think to myself if I had done this course in my thirties, I would have got even less out of it because digital marketing was a completely different ballgame then! I am now revisiting topics that I feel are most relevant to me and where I would benefit from more knowledge.
I have learnt that the other old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ isn’t true. Whilst I would still not claim to be an expert in programmatic advertising or RLSAs or analytics, I at least have an understanding of what they are and know where to go if I were to make this recommendation for a client.
In our final live class, our graduation, today, we were given four takeaways: network, opinion, more than one truth and passions.
Network: I was part of the January 2017 cohort which I think numbered nearly 500 people. I did three assignments with two different groups over Whatsapp, Google Hangouts and Skype where we used tools like Trello and Google Docs. The weekly classes ran in the morning, at noon or in the evening so I met different people each time. During those classes we were often split up to do whiteboard activity. So I now know people with a shared interest all over the world and have certainly met people I respect and will stay in touch with. There is an active Google+ group and I am still in communication with Group 42 on Whatsapp. I plan to stay in touch with my ‘fellow squares’.
Opinion: We were told today to have an opinion and say what you believe. Weirdly, as friends and colleagues will attest, this is never normally problem for me. Yet, my group failed the second assignment and my instinct told me we would but I went for the sticking plaster, don’t hurt anyone’s feelings approach and made token amends – this was an error of judgement.
More than one truth: Whilst being confident to voice your opinion, be humble enough to listen and accept those of others. I think that is true of life in general anyway but certainly was tested with so much virtual collaborative group work during the course.
Passions: Know what they are and harness them to make a difference. This is an interesting one and arguably the rise of digital has made it easier for all of us to have a voice -the challenge is to put it to good use.
So, thank you Google and my fellow squares, and my colleagues who have supported me as I battled with the content and time commitment. I’m off to celebrate and that won’t be virtual, sorry Google, there’s a limit!