It’s a tough economy and even the PR industry can be affected by layoffs. If you have started your career recently, you will want to strengthen your standing and show your value to your company. Here are a few tips I can offer based on observations from ten years, three agencies, two economic busts, and one company merger.
I’m well-aware of the benefits of having a specialty and building your personal brand based on that specialty. Many experienced PR professionals are known for one thing that they do really, really well. If you’ve just started your PR career, and you’ve found that you are particularly good at something, now is not the time to hone on that one thing. Now is the time to diversify your skill sets and expand. Whether it’s the processes and tactics (pitching, writing, reporting) or industries (telecomm, digital media, hardware), you want to be exposed to as many different experiences as you can. If you are being pigeonholed into doing one thing very often (briefing sheets, anyone?), fight for more. If you find that you only have clients in one specific industry, push for additional clients in other fields.
Later on, this will make it easier on your managers to pick you for various clients. Furthermore, you’ll secure your standing in your company as an employee who can be called on to do anything and whose skill sets are flexible enough to tackle any challenge.
Find a PR Idol
Mentors are important. Wherever you work, even if it’s informal, you need to find a mentor. Even better, try to find two or three. You need inspiration. If you can’t identify anyone at your company that you want to aspire to, then it’s time to leave.
The most important aspect of mentors is how they affect and drive your passion for the job. You want to be surrounded by people you respect and people who you think you can learn from. Also note that you don’t have to only aspire to people more senior than you are. There are plenty of people at my agency who have less PR experience, but whom I admire because of the various qualities they offer.
In our careers, it’s important to have guides. PR agencies are defined by the people and these people guide the next generation of PR professionals. Do you have a guide?
This is the perfect time for junior personnel to take advantage of your company’s professional development funds. Later on in your career, the demands of clients make it difficult to balance professional development with billable work. Junior personnel typically don’t have the same level of demands and have more flexibility to take training courses or go to PR conferences. My advice is to participate in as much of these as possible. They’re fun and they’re great places to practice networking. Additionally, sometimes you need to supplement your office training in case your agency doesn’t have personnel for specific competencies that you are interested in.
Watch your hours
Now is not the time to hyper-scrutinize the hours you spend on the job, but there’s a certain level of awareness that you need to have. Too much “admin” time should be a concern and you should proactively address it. Your managers may know your value beyond the hours stated in a report; however, think about what your CFO sees. Find a way to contribute to the bottom line (read: revenue-generating activities) and make sure it’s reflected in the hours that you log.
This brings me to the tough issues of “intangible” hours spent on the things that make an office a happy environment. Social events and activities are great and I’m a big advocate for it – I’ve run the Horn Group Fantasy Football League for three years. Plus, nothing is more impressive than seeing someone get the job done and still have time to have fun. However, know your balance. Rarely do these un-billable hours translate into promotions and career advancement. Spend time on what interests you, but make sure that your time reflects the value you deliver to your agency’s clients.
Build a portfolio
It’s never too early to start building your PR portfolio. Open up a folder, print out some results and get going. Results can be anything from press releases you initiated, small clips you’ve gotten in local newspapers or even detailed email from managers complimenting you on recent work. Log everything because the best problem to have later on is having too much to include in your portfolio.
Beyond having a personal record of successes, you may need to use your portfolio internally at some point. Turnover is part of every agency and there may be a time when the managers you work with are no longer there. To some extent, you need to take more responsibility and ownership of tracking your career progress. You can’t control what happens to other people, but you can control how you document and track your own career.
Be nice… to everyone
You have to be professional in the workplace to everyone (colleagues, clients and reporters), but you don’t always have to be nice. I say you should be both. This is obvious, but it’s important to point out why and how it would impact you. You never know where anybody will end up. Colleagues move on and you are bound to encounter them at another company down the line, whether it’s with another agency, another client, or a potential business prospect. People will remember you and you’d better hope they remember the good stuff. Of course, you can hope that people don’t remember you at all, and I’d make the argument that this is even worse. Who wants to work with an unknown?
Reporters will also remember you. If you email and call someone enough times, chances are, they’ll recognize your name. Reporters move around and you never know where they’ll end up. As you advance in your career, you’re going to developing new relationships and you’d want to cultivate and keep those as much as you can. Later on, when a reporter you know goes from “Tier Three Outlet” to “Tier One Media,” you’ll be glad you kept in touch.
Now go out and conquer
These tips should help you build a solid foundation for your career. The rest is up to you. If you have anything else you’ve learned that you’d like to contribute, please feel free to share with the rest of us. Career development is a constant process and we can all use the tips.