We asked PR experts to tell us the best piece of advice they have ever received and the snippets of wisdom they wish to share with anyone hoping to build a successful career in PR.
1. Don’t rush into accepting a job
Jessica Pardoe, account manager at agency Source PR: “My number one piece of advice for young and new entrants to the PR industry would be to look out for potential red flags amongst employees as one bad experience, especially so early in your career, can be very damaging. There are so many agencies hiring, especially in digital, at the moment but ask yourself why. Always check what employee turnover is like, and why.”
“It’s so important in your first roles that you get adequate training at your own pace, so take care when making your employment decisions and it’s better to take more time to come to a decision than rush into something that can be damaging to you. Pay attention to social media and how companies treat their employees.”
2. Ask questions
Drew Salisbury, PR consultant at agency The PR Office: “By way of an analogy, soak it all in like a sponge soaking up water. Like many other industries, it is important to recognise that you will learn on the job and so don’t become frustrated if you don’t feel like you’re getting it from the get-go. ”
“With an inquisitive mind, you will prove your strategic value by questioning things and sharing your immediate thoughts. The ability to ask questions is one of the most important lifelong learning skills and is a quick way of identifying gaps in your knowledge of the basic workings of PR.
“At the same time, be humble and wise enough to listen carefully to what your audience wants and how those people will perceive the message that you are trying to get out. You might not like the answers at times, but we are reputation specialists and advisors and with this responsibility comes the need to ‘put yourself in your clients’ shoes’ and evaluate all possibilities judiciously. With these basic ingredients, you will most certainly put yourself in good stead for a highly enjoyable and fruitful career in the PR industry. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we work in the best industry and the possibilities for growth – both professionally and personally – enabled by the skillset that we develop have no bounds.”
3. Remember to listen
Beverley Noble, senior client manager at agency Milk & Honey PR: “Never forget that in communication, listening is equally as important as talking. It’s the same if you are talking to a client, end customer, journalist, or other PR pros. So much of our industry is based on great relationships, and those are built through listening.
“Listening is more than just hearing. You need to make an active effort to engage, understand, and consider the deeper meaning or impact. It will help you ask the important questions. If you can take a step back and ask “what matters most to them?” then it’s like having a work super power. You will get more out of every conversation by listening actively.”
4. Suggest new ideas
Jo Sensini, founding partner at agency Velvet PR: “Even though you’re new to the PR industry, enter the workplace believing that you can bring something special to the party. If you think there is a better way of doing something, say so, making sure you frame it in a positive way that doesn’t come across as dismissive or confrontational. Here at Velvet, some of the best initiatives have been triggered by something one of our junior staff has suggested.
“You have to remember, for those of us who’ve been in the industry for a number of years, it can be easy to get accustomed to a specific way of working. As a new entrant you have the advantage of being fresh to the sector and that means you can bring a unique perspective. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and voice your ideas. Any business worth its salt will love and encourage that. We’re an industry built on creativity and original thinking, so embrace your difference!”
5. Trust your instincts
Sarina Kastendiek, senior digital PR strategist at SEO agency NOVOS: “I joined the digital PR industry only about two months ago in a rather unexpected career change. I never applied for the position – it all started on LinkedIn Messaging. Two weeks later, I signed a full-time contract. “For me this came as a surprise, as I don’t have a background in the industry, nor do I have agency experience. Originally I am from Germany, and since coming to the UK, I have worked in varied roles in marketing and communications focussing on the DACH market. I am confident about my past experience, and I can help our clients that want to expand to the German market. But naturally, I was – and still am – insecure about my new role. In my first week, my manager told me to simply trust my instincts, to try things out, to fail and learn from it. His trust and honest advice are helping me to slowly find my feet in this industry.”
6. Update your media list
Jack Barnett, PR and digital marketing manager at outdoor leisure specialist OLPRO: “When I joined OLPRO, one of the first things I prioritised was improving the quality and quantity of the company’s media list and I was able to double the list size and open rate within my first month. Media lists can age very quickly, so it’s important that you don’t just update it once and then forget about it – try your best to update it before and after every single press release you send. Once you’ve improved the quantity and the quality of your media list, it’s crucial to segment your list into ‘local’, ‘national’, ‘international’ and ‘trade’. It’s very rare that you’ll write a news release which piques the interests of all four of these groups in one go, so be targeted. If your national contacts are tired of receiving ‘local’ news stories from you then they’ll be less likely to take notice when your name pops up in their inbox with a story that’s fit for national coverage. Growing a high quality media list is crucial to any PR job in any industry.”
7. Support your team
Sian Disson, account director at design agency specialist Red Setter: “On my first week of PR, I was brought into a meeting room and sternly told that it was to be ‘we, not I’ from now on. We were a team – and any successes or mistakes were to be confronted as such. I distinctly remember being told if I ever threw anyone under the bus I’d be out!
“It may not have been the kindest delivery, but the advice itself has stayed with me over the years and is something I’ve passed on to more junior colleagues. Strong teamwork is crucial in any PR role.
“On a basic level, our clients need to see us as a cohesive unit. But more importantly, the ideas that fuel our campaigns are developed and seen through together. We share the challenges as much as the successes, and are all the better for it.”
8. Focus on sales
Jamie Irwin, director at SEO agency Straight Up Search: “Find out which media converts best for your business. While it’s awesome to see your product in a magazine (traditional press), some magazines just won’t convert. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have much of an audience yet then it might not be worth targeting those types of publications because they are unlikely to drive sales.
“A lot of people get caught up in the glitz and glam that comes with targeting traditional press for the prestige that comes from saying they were featured on XYZ magazine, but keep this one thing in mind: a major purpose behind public relations is to drive sales.”
9. Keep your eye on the ball
Aceil Haddad, founder of agency MATT PR: “It’s easy feel sucked into the glamour of PR, across the industries but keep your eye on the ball. Our role as PRs is to promote companies, products and people, but think about how they fit into the agenda. Keep up with current affairs and what’s going on outside your sector, the blunders happen when you’re in the echo chamber. Climate change, the economy and cultural transformation around D&I is having an impact whether you’re selling in a nail varnish or building a new train station.”
10. Take your time
Caroline Farley, managing director at agency Fever PR: “The best piece of advice I was given when I started my career was being reassured that it’s OK to say you don’t know the answer to everything you are asked by your teammates and clients.
Of course, you need to go and find out the answer, but I feel there’s a lofty expectation in this industry that you need to know the answer to everything and that you need to provide it instantly. My advice would be rather than trying to bluff your way through something on the spot, ask for a little bit of extra time to research, ask the right questions and get the right information to support your answer. It will pay dividends in the long run and you’ll feel much more confident if you’ve put the right leg work behind your approach.
11. Don’t turn down a meeting
Caroline Farley: “An old boss also once told me to never turn down a meeting with someone in the industry that you could learn from. Even if it doesn’t seem hugely relevant at the time, embrace it – you never know where it could lead or where that person might pop up again during your career.”
12. Be yourself
Max Deeley, associate director at comms agency Platform: “Be yourself. It sounds like a cliché, but if you pretend to be something you think the employer is looking for, they’re potentially missing out on hiring the real you. Formulaic textbook answers don’t go down as well in interviews as you might think and you have to ask yourself, is this a great foundation for a long and happy career?
“If they’re not interested in the real you, then it’s probably not the right place for you anyway. Any agency worth their salt is looking for potential, not the polished article. Someone who thinks differently probably brings new ideas to the table, which is the lifeblood of any creative environment.”
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