Tips for PR First-Timers: Agency Pros on What They Wish They’d Known Then
July 25, 2023
As communications and English majors from coast to coast embark on their first full-time PR jobs, they’re entering a wide world of unknowns. The excitement of a new opportunity (and paycheck!) can quickly become tempered by anxiety over doing and saying just the right thing.
The good news is that many of us have walked this path before, and we’re happy to share what we have learned along the way.
I gathered tips from six of my colleagues at DLPR who represent a range of experience levels: things they would tell their past selves, tips they wish they’d known in their first job, and the best pieces of advice they’ve received from colleagues and mentors. Their wise words are as follows.
- Give yourself grace–and ask a lot of questions: “The instinct to avoid asking questions can be strong. Most of us would rather just magically perform well without bothering our smart, experienced colleagues. But whether you’ve done many internships or you have no industry experience, your first PR role will inevitably confront you with many unknowns. Ask questions and embrace your role with an eagerness to learn. Not only will it showcase your value as someone who’s willing to grow, but it will also help you cultivate a genuine interest in your work and your clients.” – Will Butler, Junior Account Executive
- Keep your connections warm: “Build strong relationships and work to maintain them. Family members, friends, former colleagues, and professors are great resources for advice and guidance, as they each have a unique perspective and your best interest in mind. Treat everyone you meet with the same amount of respect and kindness, as you never know when you may cross paths with someone in the future.” – Julia Seebode, Senior Account Executive
- Don’t undervalue your communications expertise: “As PR professionals in an agency setting, we are fortunate to work with a wide range of clients across different sectors who frequently have very niche expertise. While it can be intimidating to advise clients with such strong, specific intellectual capital—and you might feel pressure to know every in and out of a given industry—what it really comes down to is remembering that we are bringing a defined skillset to the table that many clients might not have experience with themselves. While we might not know all of the industry-specific, nitty-gritty details that our clients do, it is our job to take a broader look and position their narrative to external audiences in a concise and comprehensive way that resonates across stakeholders.” – Kendal Till, Senior Account Supervisor
- Be adaptable but stay focused: “Our job is not just to put clients on TV and connect them with print reporters; we must provide honest coaching while properly managing expectations and, at times, personality. Everyone operates in their own manner, but it is an essential part of our job to alter how we work around a client’s quirks and intricacies to provide them the best counsel possible. In order to do that, be flexible, and manage your time properly in order to provide high quality results. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” – Christian Healy, Director
- Develop a nose for the news: “Good PR is about knowing what the media are writing about in your clients’ areas of focus. So if you’re hoping to be in financial PR, that means reading The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg and watching CNBC. Dig deeper by reading trade publications in relevant industries, and subscribe to targeted newsletters. You’ll get a good feel for the types of stories your clients should be a part of, and you’ll learn to identify trends and insights for your pitches.” – Sarah Lazarus, Senior Vice President
- Give it to ‘em straight: “Always give clients your honest opinion and your best advice. A client might not want to hear that a news item isn’t media-worthy, for example, or that some action may leave them open to reputation risk. But they’re looking to us to guide them to the right outcome, so you owe it to the client to tell it straight.” – Ed Nebb, Senior Managing Director
For my part, I’d like to offer a bit of reassurance for those concerned about the future of our profession, especially given certain technological advances (*cough* generative AI). First, a study from Lightcast found that the ability to communicate is the top skill employers are requesting in job postings for new grads.
As Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School (a DLPR client) put it so eloquently in a recent TEDx Talk, ““Focus on those skills that only humans have: the skills of empathy, the skills of creativity, the skills of decision making under complex circumstances.”
“Machines only have the past, they don’t have the future,” she says. “They can’t dream as you do. They can’t imagine as you do.”
By Jade Faugno, Senior Vice President