Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Chris Mackin, PR of the Stage Committee: "We are working incredibly hard to make the experience special for every stagiaire."

While introducing the new Stage Committee members, this time we will present you Chris MACKIN. Chris (24) is from Northern Ireland, studied French, Spanish and EU studies in Edinburgh and a few weeks ago he became the new PR man of the Stage Committee. Besides his traineeship at the DG Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency, as a member of the Stage Committee he has been dealing with sponsorship, events publicity and web presence, and European Stagiaires Journal will introduce him and explain, why he thinks that stagiaires at the Commission are a fantastic investment of sponsor's resources.

Chris Mackin,
playing the PR tunes at the Stage Committee
Why did you decide to stand as a candidate for the Stage Committee position? Did you have any specific or special intentions?

There were a few reasons for why I decided to stand for the Stage Committee. When I first arrived in Brussels I met a friend who had done the stage last year. I was asking her for advice on how to get the most out of the experience and she recommended standing for the Stage Committee. She warned me that it would drive me mad, but that it was worth it in the end. It was the first time I had heard of the Stage Committee and I really had no idea what it was about. I looked into it a little and thought to myself that it was not just something I could do, but something I would enjoy.

I've always enjoyed meeting new people and being at the heart of the action, which led me to believe that PR coordinator would be the position for me. I said on the day I stood for election that I wanted to try and maximise the sponsorship potential of the Stage as a whole, and that remains my intention. My main mission for the next few months is to try and show potential sponsors why stagiaires at the Commission are a fantastic investment of their resources.

It has only been a few weeks since the Stage Committee began its work, but what are the main plans in general as well as in the PR area?

I've briefly mentioned some of the issues for PR, but aside from that I am also working on revamping the website (which is fun as I've never done it before), designing posters and helping subcommittees with sponsorship opportunities.

The Stage Committee as a whole wants to make the social side of the stage something that all stagiaires will remember in years to come. We have a wide range of subcommittees and a group of dedicated people working incredibly hard to make this experience unforgettable. The SC is run by stagiaires, for stagiaires, and we want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable coming to us to ask questions as well as giving us constructive feedback if things aren't working out quite as they'd hoped.

How do you feel in your role as the PR guy, what has your work looked like so far?

It's been incredibly busy. I knew I would be spending a lot of time on SC work, but for the past two weeks I've averaged about 12-13 hours of work a day. One day two weeks ago three members of the SC didn't get out of the office until 00.30 am. In spite of this, the work is challenging and incredibly interesting. However, I do find that my work in the executive agency is being sacrificed by working on issues related to the SC. I'd say half my time in a day is spent on work in the agency and the other half on the Stage Committee.

There are times when I get frustrated with it, but that is inevitable. If I really need a break, I cut myself off and delve into a book or a TV series (I'm currently addicted to the Wire), and I always find that that refreshes me enough to get into SC work again. One disadvantage of PR is that with it being highly web-based (Facebook, website, forum etc.) it isn't the type of function that can be left at the office. Nevertheless, I really do enjoy it and hope that it continues like this for the next few months of the stage.

What about the Stage Committee team, what were your first impressions of them?

Ha! We're a bit of a Motley crew, aren't we? I have to admit that when I first met everyone I thought to myself 'Why the hell am I doing this?'. I worried that it would be very difficult for us to get on and work together, and I had strong opinions on some of the people in the team. My first impressions changed slightly when we had our first meeting, in which we had to decide our roles. Luckily for me there were no arguments to be held as nobody else wanted the role I had stated an interest in. But the meeting was very tough. I find that if you throw a group of people who don't know each other into a room and get them to debate something straight away, you are asking for trouble. We didn't have the chance to say 'Hey, let's have a beer before we have to make any decisions', so the inevitable outcome was tension, some strong words, strops and annoyance. Luckily, things picked up after that and I can honestly say that I really enjoy the company of everyone in the committee (most of the time). We still have arguments and get annoyed with each other, but when you have five completely different personalities working together you are not going to agree all the time. At least in this way we have wildly varying opinions on issues that can then help us make better decisions overall.

Let's talk about your personal attachment to the European Commission. What were your main reasons for applying for a traineeship, and so far, how do you like your traineeship?

Between 2004 and 2009 I was heavily involved in the 'European Youth Parliament', which is an NGO that has the aim of actively involving young people from Europe in debates about European policy. Even though I studied EU studies, I learned much more about how the EU works through my involvement with EYP. In 2007 I did my Erasmus in Brussels and lived with an EYP friend who was doing the traineeship. He seemed to be constantly socialising, meeting lots of new people, and having a great time. I decided that I wanted to do the same.

My feelings about the traineeship itself are quite positive. I enjoy the work in my unit, find the social side to be very interesting, and enjoy the fact that there is always something to do. However, I had quite high expectations of the period, which realistically are never going to be met. Therefore I can't help but feel a little disappointed that things aren't as fast paced or challenging as I expected.

I believe the whole Stage Committee has some expectations of your future work for trainees. What are your plans for the new Stage Committee? Why will your committee be better than any other in past?

My hope is that we'll be able to make the social side of the stage appealing to all stagiaires. We don't want to just focus on parties or trips abroad, we also want stagiaires to receive more from the stage on a professional level. We have some fantastic subcommittees that are working very hard on their events and we look forward to having our job fair, some conferences, discussions and visits to other institutions. As Debbie said in her interview, we want to be much more organised than the liaison committee while maintaining an approachable and relaxed atmosphere so that everyone feels they can come and talk to us if they are not happy with something. I can't say that our SC will definitely be better than all those in the past, but what I can say is that we are working incredibly hard to make the experience special for every stagiaire.

by Lucia Mrazova