Soil Association – July 2017 

My first placement of the summer was at the Soil Association based opposite the Bear Pitt in Bristol. I worked in the Press Office as an intern where I was delegated a number of tasks.

My daily tasks

The role of a Press Officer is to check news coverage on a daily basis. This is done by using a program called Precise, whereby the user selects a number of publications and keywords to be picked up during a search. From here you can select if the organisation has ‘influenced’ the article and then add it to a database category. In this case it would be adding the article to one of the Soil Association’s campaigns, for example Innovative Farmers of the Organic BOOM Awards.

It is then hugely important to distribute these articles to other members of the team and other people involved with the Soil Association.

The next step would be to check national newspaper coverage such as The Telegraph and The Guardian. Relevant news would be sent out to other members of the Press Team in order to be categorised for future use.

These tasks would often take up most of the morning and early afternoon depending on how much Soil Association coverage there was.

Throughout the weeks I was delegated other tasks such as working on the Organic Newsletter which was published weekly. This involved breaking down the weekly news into a bite size platform for members to read and be informed of up and coming features in the media.

I also started to work on the Food For Life Served Here (FFLSH) Summer Guide. This was another part of the organisation where schools and cafes/restaurants could be awarded Soil Association certification for the food being served.

This was broken down into bronze, silver and gold awards. Bronze would be awarded by changing the nutritional content of recipes, for example lowering saturated fats or sugars. This would be visible for other customers to see and learn from. Gold and silver awards would involve more dedication to achieve. There would need to be a high percentage of organic foods on the shopping list to be used in the menu.

I started writing a summer guide aimed at parents and where to take the kids of the summer holidays. From here there would be a focus on promoting these Food For Life verified restaurants and cafe from around the country. In this case there was particular reference on National Trust sites where the FFLSH award is held at many food establishments.

The Soil Association’s BOOM Awards took place during my placement in Borough Market, London. Me and another volunteer Liam were given the task to highlight the judges’ comments to be issued at the awards and for other journalists to use if need be.

Near the end of my 4 weeks I also worked on content for one of the campaigns called Organic September. Working closely with an external PR agency we were asked to gather case studies for some of the BOOM Award winners that were particularly interesting. This involved browsing each companies’s website and gather as much information as possible. To gather richer data we also made a phone call to each company to ask for specific information.

Finally, I was also given a task to complete for the Policy team. This was to do more case studies for BOOM winners but to highlight the local MP’s of the constituency where the BOOM winner was situated. These case study summaries would be used in letters ready to send to the MPs – pointing out the importance of organic food and promoting this company.

Concluding my placement, I was given an exit interview to discuss my thoughts on the position and how to improve the experience of future Press Volunteers.

What I was good at

Following the meeting it was clear that I was enthusiastic and always keen to take on news tasks. I was also keen in terms of coming in early before shifts and starting the daily coverage. My team skills involving other volunteers was also highlighter as a good skill. I was also told by one of the press officers that I used my initiative which was also good to see. Another big plus for myself was being able to work to a deadline which one of the press officers said I was compete with.

What I struggled with

Being the way I am, I’ve always taken criticism to heart no matter who constructive it may be. My lack of experience was always going to be a big negative for myself but at the end of the day that’s why you’re there, to get experience!

One of the plus points involving my initiative was also a minor downfall in the eyes of the other Press Officers. The reason for this was that I tended to go off on a tangent without asking whether that was the right thing to do. Perhaps that is my predominant retail background where I’ve always had freedom to get the job done where I judge to be acceptable. In this case it was ignoring chain of command and authority. In regards to the Organic Newsletter, I emailed a draft copy to the press manager instead of to one of the press officers to send up to first. A small error but it was things like that that tended to bring me down during the placement.

I also sent an email out to a council member about one of the cafe being a FFLSH candidate – this in tern came back to the press manager which didn’t come back to me in an overly positive light!

Even though I communicated well with other volunteers, I should have been more talkative with members of the Press Team and updated them of my progress throughout the day.

But all in all, I enjoyed the experience and most definitely learnt a lot to help me progress in the future.

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