Working in a PR agency/consultancy can be daunting, especially in your first week when there’s so much to learn. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all!

PR professionals spend years learning skills and developing knowledge to help them be the best they can. Personally, it took me a good year or so to understand ‘how to work the media’ and how to best to get effective results from press releases, creative design and events. These are what I’d call covering the basics.

I’ve worked both in-house and in agency over the last 12 years or so, although the majority of time has been spent working in agencies. This blog post started out with top tips, but then the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d download everything I could thing of that could be useful for new starts.

As an employer, especially one of a small business, it’s sometimes difficult to understand expectations from new starts, ones with little or no experience, especially one that hasn’t worked in an agency before. I do my best by asking at interview stage what the candidate would like to learn and achieve, but sometimes if the candidate doesn’t know about ‘agency life’ they don’t know what they want to learn apart from gaining practical experience!

So, with this in mind, and to help new starts get a basic idea of what they can learn, here’s my top tips for how to approach being a new start in an agency:

  • Be honest in interviews – tell the employer what you know, what you feel you lack and do research before your interview about the company, so you can be specific about what you want to learn from being in their business. This means neither you or the employer will be under any illusion
  • Ask the right questions – having done research on the company, you will get an idea of their culture, clients and the type of work they undertake. As any PR would in a new business situation, craft your questions around their business. Demonstrate you know about their recent and past activity and show this employer you’re keen to add to this, by asking questions about their activity and what type of role you might take in this
  • Be realistic – if the job role is for an intern position, then it’s assumed you’ll be learning from the ground up. This means that you’ll be involved in desk research, discussions and be prepared to be tasked with anything. Don’t think that you’ll be let loose on clients the first couple of months you’re in the door. You’ll have to demonstrate that you’re professional, you have knowledge about the client and that you have a role in that meeting. This is something I’ve come across time and again and to be honest, it’s my decision when the time’s right for you to meet clients, not yours! It’s my brand and hard work that would be on the line if you do or say something unprofessional in the meeting
  • Basic tasks – from morning news scanning, to making the team tea and coffee to ensuring security of the office if you’re in on your own and to washing the mugs at the end of the day – this is part of everyone’s job so don’t think it’s beneath you
  • Speak up! If you don’t speak to your line-manager or Director about your tasks and activity, especially if you’re unclear on any part, it was just look like you can’t communicate. Gone are the days when 20+ year olds are spoon fed and hand held. It’s expected that you have a ‘PR mind’ therefore you’ll need to get involved, report back and ask more questions
  • Agency life – it’s about a team, it’s about the clients and it’s about you contributing. If you’re not contributing then ask yourself, why? Don’t blame others, as you should be self-motivated and yes, this does mean out of hours research, reading and catching up. If you want to progress in agencies, then you’ll need to use personal time
  • Reading – it seems a very basic thing to point out, but if you don’t get told, you might not know! PR is all about crafting messages, creating content and understanding how to communicate effectively. Read, read, read. Read blogs, read papers, read magazines, read about markets, read about clients and soak up everything you can. This means that you can speak knowledgably about more issues, have an opinion on more subjects and effectively it means you’ll be more valuable as a member of the team
  • Don’t be proud – we’ve all been there at some point. We’ve all had to make the tea, scan the papers and mount the cuttings. Digital technology has made this much easier in recent times – be thankful fax machines don’t play a big part anymore! Don’t get an ego and think because you’ve landed a PR job in an agency that it means you can swing about in your seat, pick up the phone to the press and get a full page cover story or that you don’t need to be told how to write meeting minutes. Listen, ask questions, contribute and learn as much as you can. Take notes, draw mind maps, whatever it takes for you to develop. Don’t be too proud to do something you think is beneath you or ‘not in your job description’
  • Know about timings – deadlines for articles or releases, when the press go into morning or afternoon conference – you need to know as much about how the press operate as much as your own job. If you don’t know, ask. If you’re asked to do something in the office, ask when it’s needed by, this helps to prioritise tasks too
  • Admit it – when you’ve done a whoopsy, admit it. Quickly. Put your hand up and take responsibility. On top of that – come up with a solution. There’s nothing worse than someone coming to you with a problem, that hasn’t thought of a solution!
  • Commitment – showing your loyalty and commitment to an agency is important. This doesn’t mean you need to arrive at 7am and leave at 7pm but it does mean that you’re not always going to leave at finishing time. The industry demands we work longer hours to fit in with clients and their activity. This might mean working at events in the evening or weekends and it might mean missing that dance class you usually attend on a Wednesday night. It’s similar to the line in the film Bridesmaids – ‘Vera (Wang) doesn’t alter the dress to fit you, you alter yourself to fit Vera’ – the profession won’t change because you’ve got classes – you’ll need to consider whether or not the class is more important than your profession………
  • CIPR – of course, as Chair of the CIPR in Scotland, I would obviously say that becoming a member of the CIPR is worthwhile, but in all honesty, it is or I wouldn’t have been a member for almost 10 years. From free webinars, networking events in major Scottish cities, affordable training and activities for all ranges of experience, you’ll benefit from meeting peers, professional development, a free copy of PR Week every month and have an institute that you can believe in. It’s helped me to become the PR professional I am today.

Well, that’s about as much as I can think of right now. A bit of a brain dump, but it’s hopefully useful for people looking to make a career in PR agencies.

I’m always happy to speak to students and people making a career choice…… get in touch if you’ve got any questions Twitter: @laurafromaura or E:

If you found this blog post useful or you have found yourself saying the same things to new starts, then feel free to share!

Blog post by Laura Sutherland