Throughout my public relations career, I’ve done the agency-to-in-house and in-house-to-agency dance a few times. Why? Because change is good, and because I believe that different work environments can help you advance as a professional.
My first PR internship was for a small PR agency in my hometown in South Carolina. It was a perfect career launchpad, as I was able to juggle different clients while not being overwhelmed by the workload. The job gave me confidence in my ability to work across numerous accounts in different industries. So, I moved up to NYC to join a boutique PR agency in midtown and dove into media relations, social media and events for clients in the commercial development industry (real estate, electric, and construction – glamorous!).
What did I learn? In a PR firm, every day brings something different.It was invigorating. One day I was pitching the launch of a Manhattan restaurant by one of the biggest commercial real estate firms in the world. The next day I was watching engagement soar for a social post, and the day after that, I was staffing a client event at a ritzy venue. I quickly became hooked on the PR agency life.
Life took me back home to South Carolina, though, where opportunities at PR agencies are limited. So, I brought my talents in-house for several years to help different companies build in-house PR. I appreciated the opportunity to understand the ins and outs of a business and the commitment to a single company.
Yet, the downside of in-house PR work, in my opinion, is the bootstrapped team. It’s common for communications, marketing, and PR to be lumped together, even though each is quite different. And there’s typically only one PR person, or two if you’re lucky. I missed being able to bounce ideas off PR teammates, and I wanted mentoring by seasoned PR pros and access to PR resources and databases.
Fortunately, I scored a gig as a Senior Account Executive with Crenshaw Communications which led me back to the agency life where I plunged into media relations, leading accounts in the rapidly-evolving ad tech space.
To thrive in this role, I had to dust off my previous agency best practices and learn some new ones. Here’s what has stood out for me.
At an agency, time management takes on a new meaning. When working across multiple accounts, you’re bound to stay busy as there’s always something going on somewhere. You juggle multiple assignments and chances are their timelines will overlap. That’s why strategic time management is helpful in staying sane and keeping accounts in good standing. My favorite To-Do List format is the quadrant, which is a four-section chart that categorizes responsibilities according to level of importance and urgency. By following this format, you can ensure your time is allotted to what’s most important and urgent first, later shifting to things that may be important but less urgent and so on.
When you’re working in-house, it may be feasible to manage the workload by yourself, but managing multiple accounts takes a village. Knowing when to ask for assistance is a strength, so don’t be afraid. Empower your teammates to assist with assignments without micromanaging or bottlenecking, as that will only backfire. Communication is key here, as you need to understand what else your colleagues have on their plates, then create a plan of execution that works for everyone. Give hard deadlines and check in along the way to ensure that things stay on track.
As an account manager, it’s important to maintain a holistic view of every program so you know what’s going on. That requires organization. The good news is, you don’t have to be naturally organized because there are digital tools to help. Step one for me is organizing my email inbox. I create folders for each account and set rules that automatically filter incoming emails to the appropriate folders. Not only does this streamline the inbox, it saves time and energy. Similarly, you can create a platform like Google Drive for press releases, briefing documents, media databases, etc. so that any new documents are immediately filed in the right folder. Take advantage of your digital calendar–add all meetings to it (even if they’re IRL), block off time to focus on projects, keep it updated and share it with colleagues so they can see your availability. If you use Slack like we do at Crenshaw, leverage Slack’s integration tools. Slack allows you to connect various digital platforms, creating a centralized location for all activity. Finally, using a platform like Notion is a game-changer when it comes to project management.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when working at a PR agency. It’s great to follow best practices for running accounts, but keep in mind that no two accounts are the same, so your approach to each will be different. Some may be formal and others more casual. They’ll each require a different mix of tactics. With some you may work only with the company’s communications team, while others require regular contact with the founder or CEO. Each account will prompt a different workflow, which requires flexibility and customization.
Often, the higher up you are on an account, the more you’re pulled in different directions. Having the right supportmakes all the difference. Just as leaders check in on the team members who report to them, it’s smart to check in with your managers, too. Keep them in the loop on the status of your assignments, be proactive in offering assistance, and don’t be afraid to check on items that weren’t assigned to you (this ensures everything is on the radar). I’ve found that the best workflow within our team happens when we all communicate about what we’re working on, remind each other of deadlines, double-confirm things and ask questions.