Placement experience: Editorial Assistant, Debenhams – Lisa, Creative & Media Writing

We are pleased to welcome Lisa Foote to the Creative Careers team. Lisa completed a placement at Debenhams and will be our Placement and Employability Ambassador for 2018/19. You’ll have a chance to meet Lisa and get advice from her about finding a placement over the coming year.

In the meantime, read more about Lisa’s placement.

I can’t stress enough the amazing benefits of doing a placement year. Spending a year in the industry is very different to studying your area of interest; it’s taking everything you’ve learnt and seeing how it applies in the ‘real world’.

If you’re in two minds about whether to do a placement or not, Lisa has some great advice.

Why a placement?

As a creative writing student, I have studied many forms of writing including fictional work such as short stories and poetry as well as factual pieces such as journalism and feature writing. When the opportunity arose to take a year out from studying and put my skills into a working environment, I had an open mind about having a look to see what was out there.

Whilst I loved being at University, I could see that getting a year’s experience in the field of work I am interested in would give me a massive advantage when graduating. Whilst I love my course and know I want to do something with writing, looking into placements really forced me to think exactly what I could do with these skills and what career path I’d like to take. With the help of the Creative Careers team I applied for lots of different roles including magazine work, PR and advertising.

It was only when I came across a placement opportunity at Debenhams working as an online editorial assistant that I found myself nodding to everything in the job description and thinking ‘yep, that’s what I want to do!’. I applied immediately, feeling excited that I’d found something I thought I’d be perfectly suited to do and hoped for the best. With the help and support of the Creative Careers Team I got through the various recruitment stages and had my final interview in central London in February. I was offered the placement the very next day and was so excited to start!

Moving to London

I moved to London mid-July ready for my placement to start on the 25th July. I’d say it was daunting but exciting. Luckily I knew a few people in London already but essentially I was on my own in the big city and it felt like a fresh start.

I found a place to live on Sparerooms.com and I’d recommend it to anyone who is worried about having to move to a new location. Just make sure you view the property before you commit to anything, even if that means spending money on transport. Trust me, in the long run you’ll be glad you did it as some of the properties are really well marketed and actually look completely different when you see them in person. Also, try and find out who your housemates will be if possible, you don’t want to be stuck with people you’re not going to get along with as that can make your time really stressful and you want to enjoy this year!

London Eye - Lisa Foote

Starting my placement at Debenhams

My placement was located at Debenhams’ head office which is based in Regents Place in central London. It was an extremely fast-paced and business oriented environment. My commute wasn’t too bad but adjusting to using the tubes, remembering which lines to catch and which stops to change at was a learning curve – I definitely got lost a few times during the first couple of weeks!

Within such a large company, my role of editorial assistant sat within the marketing division as part of the editorial team which was made up of an editor-in-chief, a senior editor, a junior copywriter and an editorial assistant (me!). Our team’s aim was to follow the marketing calendar which was planned according to the season, market trends and any tactical events going on in store and online and to support the top three priorities each week by creating engaging, creative content across all channels to support the business.

The editorial team’s work is published on the main Debenhams website, the blog, all social channels including Instagram and Facebook as well as marketing emails and seasonal brochures in print form. We worked closely with other teams across the business including the online merchandising team, social media team, website designers, print team, advertising and marketing coordinators.

The main planning of seasonal campaigns and articles as well as looking after and maintaining the Debenhams tone of voice was the responsibility of the editor-in-chief, whilst the execution of the content is the responsibility of the senior editor, who delegates the workload between the junior copywriter and editorial assistant.

Karlie Kloss - launch party for new Caroline Herrera fragrance
During placement I was invited to attend the launch party for the new Caroline Herrera fragrance ‘Good Girl’ where I met celebrity Karlie Kloss the face of the fragrance! This was a highlight for me and I was thrilled to be invited along by the social team – a great work perk and experience!

 

My role and responsibilities

As the editorial assistant, my job roles and responsibilities included pitching and writing blog posts, writing web copy, completing briefs for online content, choosing products for curated lists to sit on site for the customer to shop, working closely with designers and briefing them on templates, working closely with the social media team and sourcing assets and content for them to post, general admin, market research and basic financial admin including raising purchase orders for our team.

During my placement, I was able to compile a rich portfolio of published work both on the Debenhams Style Debrief hub on the main website as well as on the Debenhams blog. I was given lots of opportunity to contribute to the various channels our team’s work was communicated through, particularly on the business’ social media channels.

Best part of the job

My favourite part of the job was writing for the blog. I had regular meetings with the social media manager where I was able to pitch my ideas for articles that we could then post on Instagram and Facebook. I loved the creative control I was given with these articles. I was responsible for sourcing the assets, editing them on Photoshop and writing all of the copy.

Sometimes I had to meet challenging deadlines, particularly with reactive content. For example, I wrote a fashion round up of our fave celebrity outfits at the Met Gala ball which we wanted to post on Instagram stories the same day to ensure it was still relevant and new enough for people to read. This meant I had to turn this blog post around in a couple of hours, a challenge which I found really exciting. These blog posts went out to 180,000+ Instagram and Facebook followers.

Met Gala 2018 Screen Shot of Lisa's blog post
My blog post about the Met Gala 2018

It was a great feeling as a placement student to be trusted to take full ownership of the blog posts from start to finish. I found it really rewarding to see my initial ideas come to life and they made great pieces for my creative writing portfolio.

As well as the creative writing side of my job, I was also responsible for lots of other admin tasks including:

  • proofreading and signing off work
  • producing competitor research
  • pulling stats for the Style Debrief and blog to see how the articles performed
  • dealing with the team finance admin
  • raising purchase orders for the editor-in-chief
  • setting up new supplier’s payment details
  • checking the stock of product and availability
  • collecting samples from other divisions in the business for photoshoots.

With any new job, if you’re starting at the bottom you have to expect to do some of the less exciting jobs but with Debenhams I felt totally supported and no one took advantage of the fact I was a student or treated me any less than a valued member of the team which was fantastic.

The Benefits

I can’t stress enough the amazing benefits of doing a placement year. Spending a year in the industry is very different to studying your area of interest; it’s taking everything you’ve learnt and seeing how it applies in the ‘real world’.

You also learn other skills that University don’t teach you, like how to act in a professional environment, how to use certain systems – for me it was silly things like how to scan a file, becoming more familiar with programmes like Microsoft Excel and how to dress appropriately for the office, even things like navigating my way around the tubes in London.

It also allows you to discover things about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. You may think you want to go down a specific career path but how do you know unless you try it? Even if you find you aren’t enjoying the role as much as you’d thought, you’ve benefitted from trying it with the full support of the University behind you.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity to network. I have met so many friends through placement who are much further along in their careers than I am who I have stayed in contact with and could lead to future opportunities when I graduate.

On a personal level, I think it’s also good to take a step back from education and get some perspective on why you’re studying hard and working towards a degree. It’s easy to get caught up in the student lifestyle and deadlines you sometimes forget what the end goal is. I found it really reassuring in the business environment surrounded by colleagues who have similar degrees telling me how they found graduating and jumping on the career ladder.

Lisa Foote with friends at Debenhams
I made some fanstastic friends, here’s the editorial team all glammed up for the big office Christmas party!

 

Concerns

My biggest concern before starting placement was that I might not be treated the same as other staff because I was ‘just a student’. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. I made friends with everyone on my floor, from my team members to the head of marketing and everyone was welcoming and friendly. At the end of the day, they are there to work as normal and as long as you make a conscious effort to fit in and adhere to the rules of the workplace you’ll be just fine. I’d advise anyone nervous to just get stuck in, ask questions and offer to get hands on with as many projects as possible, the worst they can do is say no.

Skills

I have learnt so many new skills since working at Debenhams, from technical skills like using stats software and raising purchase orders to creative skills I’d learnt at University and how to apply them to my role. Debenhams is a business that wants to make money, so tailoring my creative writing skills to try and achieve targets and sell products is something I’ve learnt.

I had a really inspiring and supportive line manager who always proof-read my work and gave me tips on how to word things more effectively. I never felt patronised or belittled. All of the feedback I received was constructive and has helped me develop my writing skills.

Also, my people skills have improved. I have always been a friendly, approachable person but in big groups I sometimes felt intimidated. In such a big company in central London you’re surrounded by so many different types of people and with everyone being so friendly it was a massive confidence booster.

Debenhams away day at Emirates Stadium - Lisa Foote
During the first two months the marketing division did an away day where we were put into teams to learn about brand love. I was in the group sent to the Emirates Stadium. I’m no football fan but it was fun to try something I wouldn’t ordinarily do and it was great to get to know faces in the office who weren’t in my department.

Training

In my first week I was working with the student who previously did the placement, so essentially she was handing over the role to me. I found this really helpful as she had been in my exact position a year ago and could offer me not only professional training on the role and responsibilities, but also gave me advice and reassurance on what working at Debenhams is like for a placement student.

During my year, I also received training wherever necessary and was never expected to just get on with it without guidance or support. Everyone made me feel at ease to ask questions when I was unsure and took their time in explaining things without making me feel like a burden.

There were also some voluntary behavioural training sessions available which I was encouraged to book onto. I took classes in giving and requesting feedback, communicating assertively and building work relationships which were all on-site training courses provided by HR. I found the communicating assertively course in particular very helpful and took valuable skills and tips that I immediately started to apply in the workplace.

The Future

The placement year is something I am so happy I chose to do. It wasn’t all plain sailing and there were definitely highs and lows throughout the year but the amazing experience and training I’ve received alongside the fantastic friends and useful contacts I’ve made whilst living in the buzzing environment of central London is priceless.

It has given me much more clarity on what I’d like to do going forward in my career. It has also changed my mind on what dissertation I’d like to write in my third year. I feel like I am going to be much more productive in my third year as I am used to meeting tight deadlines during placement, being up very early (a 9am lecture seems like a lie in to me now!) and I feel my writing has developed at a much more professional level. I am going into my final year with an added determination to succeed as I have seen where my degree can take me in my career.

Lisa's last day at Debenhams
Taken on my last day, I left on a high with some friends for life feeling confident and excited for my third year and what the future holds – all thanks to my placement year!

Placement or No Placement?

Everyone’s situation is different, but if you are in two minds about doing a placement year, I would urge you to reconsider. If you are scared or nervous, that’s natural but my advice would be to just go for it! It has been so unbelievably beneficial for me and I am so thrilled that after I graduate I can start applying for jobs with a year in the industry under my belt. I’m not saying it’ll be a breeze to find employment fresh out of uni, but I feel like I have given myself the best start possible. It has been an invaluable experience and I am going to appreciate my final year even more after taking a step back to evaluate what direction I’d like to go in.

I didn’t start looking for my placement year until I was in second year but it’s never too early or late to start looking! The Creative Careers team are so approachable and helpful, I’d 100% recommend speaking to them first as they can help with applications, any nerves or queries you have, interview prep or just general career advice.

See some of Lisa’s work on the Debenhams blog.

Debenham’s new placement student from Portsmouth too

Lisa was replaced by another of our Portsmouth students in summer 2018. Kaitlin is studying Creative and Media Writing too and you can check out her posts on the Debenhams blog.

It would be fantastic if the next placement student was also from CCI. Could it be you?

 

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