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From Politics to Zombies, press releases to photo ops, this is the life of the Head of News, Alice Oliver at University of Derby.

While some of us wait years for that final day to come, when we leave uni and enter the real world, some people go back and work within the university setting using their key skills, knowledge and flair to entice the freshman into their world. Alice Oliver is that person. With passion for her job and a list of achievements that make me wish I had done more, we spoke to Alice about what her job role truly entails and how she got there.

alice oliverName: Alice Oliver

Job Title: Head of News

Company: University of Derby

What does your job role entail?

I manage the team which looks after media relations and internal communications on behalf of the University. We write press releases, features, articles and arrange photo ops and interviews for media, all with the aim of increasing awareness of our organisation to potential students and stakeholders. We also produce a weekly digital newsletter for staff and manage the front end of the staff intranet.

Describe your working day or week?

Incredibly varied! Most days of the week we’ll get requests from media for an expert in any topic, from politics to zombies (yes, really), and put them forward for interview. To increase these requests and opportunities we’re in the middle of a project promoting our academic experts to media which involved the production of a hard-copy guide, a web version and an app, which is currently in development. We also put together a mini hamper with goodies made locally in Derbyshire to send to our key media contacts which have gone down really well.

We’re now planning for A level results day in August (also known as ‘clearing’ – one of the busiest days in the year for any university) and making sure that we have got a steady flow of positive news stories about Derby going out around that time.

We work really closely with Marketing colleagues and academics across the University to hunt down great stories about our students and their successes so spend a lot of time following those up, interviewing them and arranging photographs to package the story up for media.

What key skills do you need to do your job?

Common sense, good writing skills, diplomacy and the ability to keep your head when all around are losing theirs!

What made you decide to go for this job role?

I’d become self-employed after being made redundant from the civil service but was looking for an in-house role where I could use the skills I’d honed over the course of my career in various parts of the public sector. Higher Education gave me a new challenge and, having grown up in Derbyshire, I relished the opportunity to work in my home county for once and be able to shout about how great it is here!

Best part of your job?

Without a doubt it’s the people, from my immediate team to colleagues across the wider University. It’s also incredibly satisfying when you get that win-win situation where you’ve given a journalist a great story to fill their page which also leads to some outstanding media coverage for your organisation.

Worst part of your job?

I genuinely adore what I do – I love to be busy and don’t even mind the rare occasions when we have a ‘crisis’ which causes us to drop everything and refocus. The only frustration is that there’s never enough time to do everything you want to!

Most memorable moment at work?

At the University, it would be planting ceramic poppies in the moat at the Tower of London which formed part of the installation commemorating the First World War, created by one of our Derby Alumni, arts graduate Paul Cummins. To play even a tiny part in such an historical event was truly an honour.

In my previous role in civil service comms it would have to be working on secondment to Number 10 Downing Street. I never tired of walking through that front door and every day was a revelation.

If I’m choosing a course to study, what type of course suits this job best?

To take you straight in then probably a degree in Public Relations which is how I got started, but any kind of communications or English qualifications will also give you the basic skills you need.

Does work experience really help you to get the dream job?

Definitely. I took a year out from my course (at Leeds Metropolitan University, now Leeds Beckett) to work in the press office at West Yorkshire Police. I also spent the following summer at a local PR agency and learnt as much in those placements as I did in the other three years studying – you really need to put into practice the theories that you’re learning because that’s when it all clicks. Taking the time to do placements shows future employers that you’re going to be able to hit the ground running and that you’re serious about working in the industry.

Give us a tip on how to steal your job.

Get work experience wherever you can, ask lots of questions, take the initiative, be organised, never miss an opportunity, know how to talk to people and be a good negotiator. This is an industry where you need to make friends with as many people as possible if you want to get ahead.

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