In March, I was a third-year student staring graduation in the eye with a feeling of dread and uncertainty about what came next. Today, after ten weeks interning with Pagoda, I will be donning my graduation cap feeling confident and excited about what the future holds.
Being a political obsessive, I knew that I wanted to work within the broad field of politics, but I was unsure of what different roles were available and how to go about applying for these. I had stumbled upon public affairs and thought that it seemed to fit with my interests, so I reached out to various firms in an attempt to learn more about the industry and how I could enter it.
Colin McFarlane, Pagoda’ Public Affairs director, responded to my email and offered to meet me over a coffee to discuss the field and his experience of navigating the world of politics and public affairs. Over our chat, Colin offered some sage advice, and I left with a much clearer understanding of how I could go about starting my career. Better still was when he called me a few weeks later to tell me that Pagoda had a vacancy for an intern, and asked if I would be interested in taking on the role.
Of course, this was a dream opportunity for me, and I gladly accepted his offer. I was yet to finish the last of the assignments required for my university degree and I knew that combining an internship with finishing a degree would be a difficult task, but I simply couldn’t pass on the opportunity to gain invaluable experience of working in public affairs.
In hindsight, this also gave me one of the most valuable lessons of my internship; the importance of putting yourself out there and meeting people. The terms ‘networking’ and ‘connections’ are often thrown around with little consideration, but my coffee meeting turning into a ten-week internship is strong evidence of how important they are.
Whilst the ten-weeks I was with Pagoda flew by, I managed to pack in an interesting variety of work. My main daily task was compiling political monitoring reports for our clients. In these reports I would keep clients up-to-date with any relevant developments in the world of government and politics and recommend how they might respond. This included things like answering a government consultation, developing key messaging on an issue to share with MSPs, or considering changing policies to better align with government aims.
In writing these monitoring reports I enjoyed using the political analysis skills I had learnt from my degree in a real life scenario, and I found it particularly interesting viewing these through a slightly different lens to consider the practical impact of politics and policymaking on businesses and organisations. It was also nice that I could justify my usual weekly routine of watching Prime Minister’s Questions as being necessary for work purposes, rather than just for my own enjoyment!
Other bits of work that I particularly enjoyed were drafting an opinion piece on the importance of rehabilitation services in healthcare, writing a briefing document based on a client’s key policy needs to send to Members of the House of Lords ahead of a debate on neurological conditions, and helping research and strategies for new client pitches. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the work I was able to do, but it gives a snapshot of the mix of tasks that I was involved in.
I was also given latitude to go slightly off piste into the PR team, doing things like researching what influencers could be relevant for a consumer PR campaign on cycling in Scotland and looking into what events might be good anchors for a campaign on increasing participation in golf, which helped push me out of my comfort zone and develop new skills.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about my internship was the fact that I never once felt like an intern. This is not to say that I didn’t receive copious amounts of support, but rather, that I was treated as an equal and valued member of the team. This made the work I was doing feel very rewarding, and gave me confidence to use my initiative to solve problems and engage with clients.
I was really lucky that I was able to be physically present in the office during my internship, which would not have been the case even just a few months ago. This made it much easier to ask questions on pieces of work I was doing, and therefore much easier to learn. It also meant that I could pick up on what other people in the office were working on, which gave me a much rounder picture of what a good public affairs/PR agency does.
Overall, my internship gave me an appreciation of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to keep our system of representative democracy operating. Public affairs is a vital way of facilitating engagement between government and external stakeholders; ensuring that government policies are most effective and thus better able to deliver on the needs of society.
As I head to London to take the next steps in my career, I know that my time at Pagoda has left me well equipped with the skills needed to succeed in the world of politics and public affairs, and that I now have opportunities available to me that I never would have had before.
I will certainly miss the bustle of the Pagoda office, and I will always be grateful that I started my career with such a skilled and welcoming team.