If you are one of my housemates from university you might want to stop here as you will have heard this all before. As they will know, and you are about to, I have done 2 summer seasons for Neilson Active Holiday’s. One in Sardinia and the other in Croatia where I worked as a tennis coach. I have played tennis from a very young age, and been coaching as a side job since I was 17 (when I came to the realisation I wasn’t going to Wimbledon anytime soon), but I love it now as much as I did then. So when the opportunity to work abroad for Neilson came along I was excited. Nervous, but excited. In fact I was incredibly nervous. It was a step into the unknown for me, but…
Hands down it was the best experience I’ve ever had.
(I cannot stress that enough).
However, when writing my CV one of things I have been apprehensive about is whether to include my tennis coaching. I worry that people may just see it as “an experience” or “a holiday”, and to some degree it was. We are constantly told that we should back up our skills and make or experiences relevant to what we are applying for, but when talking about PR it feels hard to vocalise the invaluable skills I learned from that experience. That is why I wanted to write a piece about my tennis coaching, what it has taught me and how it is translatable into PR and my philosophy.
Guaranteed this may seem to be an obvious point, but clear communication is vital to success. You could deliver the best coaching tips, but if people can’t understand them then what is the point. Playing tennis from a young age has given me a good knowledge of the game, but just because a point seems obvious to me, doesn’t mean it will be obvious to someone else. You need to put yourself in their shoes to try to understand how they will receive the message. My best example of this is trying to play tennis left handed where I quickly found out that while my twin brother may be ambidextrous, I am definitely not. The other coaches quite enjoyed watching me struggle, but it made the point to me that people read, interpret and learn information differently.
It is the same in PR, and whilst a piece of communication you make may seem clear to you, does not guarantee it will be interpreted the way you envisaged. In fact that really is a big problem for PR practitioners, to anchor the message. The now infamous Burger King tweet this week (8th March 2021) is maybe the best example of this problem. Whilst the “women belong in the kitchen” tweet may have been designed to show their attempts to empower women to work in the restaurant industry as part of International Women’s Day, to say the response has been poor would be an understatement. Instead of the light-hearted, positive response they were seemingly expecting, they are now responding to claims of misogyny and online ridicule.
Communication has to be targeted to the specific group
Everyone is different, and if you try to communicate the same way to everyone it won’t work. You can carry out a lesson as you would to anyone else: same drills, same technical points, same energy, but what will work for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
A specific series of lessons came to mind when I thought of this point where I taught a 16 year old guy who was a bit socially anxious. If I had gone about my lessons with him in the same manner as some of my other lessons they wouldn’t have been as successful. I had lessons with him everyday for 2 weeks, and while the first lesson was a bit slow, by our last lesson he opened up and we were joking, usually at my expense as an Arsenal fan, for most of the hour.
They were my favourite lessons of that season, and strengthen my ability to be adaptable. To clearly identify what my client was looking to gain from their time with me. By remoulding my teaching style and presentation he was able to get what he wanted out of the lessons, while still having fun, and I was still able to communicate my knowledge.
It is exactly the same in PR. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, too often in PR press releases are sent to a premade list of journalists without actually thinking about who we are sending it too. Effective communication needs to target the right people. Sure you could do it the easy way, be a bit lazy and get a moderate amount of engagement, but by putting more effort in you can tailor the message to your stakeholders, and get a better response from them.
Connecting with people
Every week at Neilson new guests arrive and the ones from the week before leave. You get to meet so many different and amazing people, but it means the dynamics of the sessions change from week to week. However, one of the things I loved about being a tennis coach is that, because it is a sociable sport, you really got to know guests quite well. I have been able to make connections from my time coaching that I have followed up and maintained outside of resort, socially and professionally. In fact, one my head coaches met an employee for a company he now works for through his work as a tennis coach on season.
This social ability translates into the PR industry, and indeed the general job market, as we rely on connections to get to new places and open up avenues in their jobs. The point is that making personal connections with people is incredibly valuable, and you should go beyond just connecting with someone, but create a relationship with them (formal or informal).
Most importantly have fun.
I know it is incredibly cheesy, but if you don’t have fun with what you do then it will show in your work. My summer seasons were the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I would like to think that the amount of fun I had on them was evident to the guests. In a sense, the joy I felt gave me the energy to work hard, and has made me realise that the primary motive for me is to do something I believe in.
In one of our MAsterclasses at Newcastle University last week, Anne Gregory, a professor of corporate communications at the University of Huddersfield, talked about the importance of empathy in communication. Towards the end of her guest lecture she talked about AI and how one of the areas it struggles with, and will continue to struggle with, is its contextual intelligence. AI simply lacks empathy and emotion. Our personalities are what make us stand out, but are importantly what makes the messages we communicate believable or not.
With Covid-19 we have never been so interconnected, but at the same time disconnected from one another. We have the tools to connect, but it can sometimes feel we aren’t really connected with the people we have met. Interaction through social media channels can somewhat dilute the personality and fun of an individual, and so if you have been triggered by Zoom and breakout rooms, like me, your actual physical interaction will be much less. So if you haven’t talked to one of your friends recently, drop them a message or give them a call. I know I need to do that more. Just don’t set up a Zoom quiz…
To reiterate, working on a summer season with Neilson Holidays was the best decision I have ever made.
(Just in case you missed it).
I would do it again in a heartbeat and would recommend everyone to do it. If I could genuinely rank the different elements of my CV, in terms of what has had the greatest impact on me, my time tennis coaching with Neilson would come on top every time. I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities I have had, but my time with the company has made me more confident in my own abilities, as well as more socially confident. I have connected with so many amazing people from my time there, and I can’t wait to see them in person again.
To be honest I’m not sure I can fully put into words how invaluable my time with Neilson was, but what I do know is I look forward to more times like those… and a game of Fives.