Posted by: PR@leedsmet | June 28, 2011

In the beginning

Terry Gilligan (BA 1994) tells us he was probably the first person to be accepted onto the new PR degree course at what was then Leeds Polytechnic. He’s still in Leeds, working as an account director for Ptarmigan Bell Pottinger.

Winners: Terry Gilligan (left) with Adam Burns and Nathan Lane

“I’m pretty sure I was the first person to be accepted onto the course ever. I walked into Leeds Business School in Queen Square the day the posters about the PR degree went up having become disillusioned with my Design course.

“I went along and had a chat with Clive Keen and he convinced me this experimental course was a fantastic opportunity. He was instrumental in getting the degree off the ground and was a figurehead for the first two years. Yet he didn’t strike me as a PR type.

“Alison Theaker was my course tutor in year one and I still keep in touch with her through the miracle of Facebook. I thought she was very grounded. I’m from a working class background and from Leeds and she identified with somebody like me who was trying to better himself. There were about 55 or 60 of us in that first year, but guys were very thin on the ground.

“Shirley Harrison was very good, very hands on. She did some great crisis comms teaching, relating this to the recent Hillsborough disaster.

“I remember going in for a weekly placement at BBC Radio Leeds, being part of the press office team. From a very early stage in the degree, they encouraged us to gain practical experience to balance the theory. Once we’d gained established placement links, it made it easier for students in future years.

“There wasn’t much reading matter around at the time but I’ve always kept my textbook: Jefkins. That’s the one I really remember.

Who was on the course with you?

“John Gardner now runs Beyond PR in Sheffield. Rob Skinner was my best mate on the course, and he still works in PR.

How did you deal with the ‘Mickey Mouse’ jibes?

“A lot of it was rooted in jealousy. The facilities impressed me: we had our own PR Studio, and other students thought we had preferential treatment.

On today’s PR students

“The calibre and confidence of the students we see now is impressive. They keep me on my toes. We were trained in the more traditional methods, but there’s so much more to learn now. They bring added skills and can give things back to us. When I was doing my placement year I wasn’t expected to bring in my own business. I think this is a good indication of how far we’ve come.

“For me, the course gave me that necessary theoretical background. But the onus was on the individual to experience what was happening in an evolving industry. Some students were happy to drift along doing their set timetabled hours. I used to spend double that working things out.

“The opportunities in the industry are immense; it’s an entrepreneurial and ideas-based course. It’s important to have this breadth of knowledge and experience. The course taught you the whole shooting match and provided a range of career paths. I would encourage my kids to do it – though they struggle to understand what I do.”

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