The stress of day-to-day life at a top PR agency is sometimes exaggerated or even glorified by those of us who make a career in public relations. But like many professional services businesses, it combines the challenges of satisfying clients, bosses, and journalists, often under pressure and against deadlines that seem to accelerate every month.
For the uninitiated, here’s my unofficial list of “secrets” of surviving life in a PR firm.
Get in early. Banal advice, maybe, but it’s more than just good optics in the agency office environment. Beating the official start of work is particularly useful when your job relates to news, because that news cycle sure isn’t getting any slower.
Don’t expect a 9-to-5 job in PR. By the same token, agency profitability depends on productivity. In theory, an efficient and talented person could ace the job with no overtime required, but that ignores many common facts of PR agency life: after-hours client needs, unanticipated news events, and staff time spent for business development, to name just a few. Anyone expecting regular hours and calm days will be quickly disenchanted.
Overprepare for any client contact. It’s enormously helpful to prepare for even the simplest client update call or status meeting. Besides, preparation nearly always instills confidence, which leads to better performance.
Be proactive. Too often young people who know they have a lot to learn hang back and wait to be told what to do. But inexperience doesn’t mean newbies should be passive or reactive. Raise your hand, show curiosity, and make suggestions. Skilled PR professionals need to develop a point of view on questions and issues and make cogent recommendations under time pressure, so daily simulation of that is very helpful.
Respect deadlines. If you can’t deal with deadlines, you shouldn’t be in PR, plain and simple. In an agency, the urgency is heightened because client review and approval time must be built into all materials and recommendations.
“PR” yourself. In any agency, you are serving at least two “clients”: your actual client and your agency manager. In a large and layered environment, it’s wise to treat senior staff like clients – preparing before formal interaction, dotting all the i’s, and anticipating questions. Upward mobility often depends on how you’re perceived within the agency, and that can hinge on aspects of the job that are invisible to clients.
Don’t let them see you sweat. Clients, that is. Early in my career I made the mistake of sharing my concern to a client about a story getting traction, or an event not working well. While managing expectations is essential and honest counsel is a valuable commodity, clients really don’t need to know how the sausage is made. Sharing doubts is counterproductive unless you’ve tried everything and have a Plan B to recommend.
Always be selling. Not overtly, because that’s obnoxious, and hyperbolic promotion of every little PR result can actually undermine your credibility. But in a service business like PR, clients need to be reminded of the value you bring on a regular basis. This often goes beyond earned media placements to include strategic advice, competitive insights, and support for the PR function within the corporation.