How To Get A Job In A PR Firm

It’s that time again, when an army of newly minted graduates hits the streets (or, more literally, their laptops) to land that first job. It may be the tightest employment market in years, but the challenge of finding work is probably good preparation for what’s to come! If you’re determined to break into PR, here’s my best advice.

Use every connection you have

Neighbor’s son-in-law’s friend works at a PR agency? Ask for an introduction. Share a hometown, hobby, or favorite sports team with an employer? Let her know. Be polite, but be persistent, and don’t be shy. This is not a career for the faint of heart.

Ask for advice, not a job

Of course your goal is to be hired, but you may get further if you ask a senior executive for ten minutes of her time to get her best advice about breaking in. It’s a bit harder to turn that down, and your strategy should be to get on the radar.

Perfect your writing

In a competitive job market, a grammar error, tortured phrase, or typo will eliminate you, plain and simple. (Marijane’s post about resume gaffes is just the tip of the iceberg!) Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper-like word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But for your own sake, be brief.

Don’t spam

It’s amazing how many emails I get with another agency’s name in the body, or with telltale font changes or other signs of an e-blast. A mass email tells an employer that you’re not serious. And never, ever, start a note with “To Whom It May Concern.” Prospecting for a job is a lot like pitching media; the personal approach is time-consuming, but it’s the only way to do it.

Be social

As in following prospects on Twitter, engaging them on Facebook, and participating in industry or company LinkedIn groups. Consider Facebook ads, an introductory video of yourself, a career-themed Pinterest board. Show that you understand the medium and how to use it.

Get real

Experience, that is. Most agencies require at least one internship. Interviewing PR pros about their daily routines, studying the media and developing knowledge in a niche area or vertical category is also helpful. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course, I was impressed by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory. But, very few had enough practical knowledge to write a solid client recommendation memo. The more practical experience you have, the better.

Have opinions

The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on their newest client, you have thoughts or ideas about the client’s business, the category, or a competitor. If an employer asks what you think of her agency’s website, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not empty flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.

Package yourself

Make your strengths relevant. Be a storyteller, but prepare your narrative in advance. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter asked me to tell her about myself. I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest, so have your “key messages” ready.

Show, don’t tell

In telling your story, illustrate your strengths with anecdotes and examples. Don’t just brag about your best qualities. Rather than saying, “I’m really determined,” try something like, “When I didn’t make the team, I practiced five times a week for three months to have a better shot in the second try-out.” That tells me more about your character, and it’s more memorable.

Be a media junkie

Nothing warms a PR executive’s heart like a true student of the media. Drop names, visualize stories, show that you’ve not only done your homework, but that you consume a broad diet of traditional and social media on your personal time and take an interest in PR industry and business topics and developments. You are what you read or watch.

Be curious

Always ask questions. Even if you’re speaking with six executives in a row and have heard the corporate spiel from each of them, ask them something. Even if you know the answer. If you’re stuck, ask them how they broke into PR, or what their best advice is for someone starting out. Your job is to show engagement.
In short, be memorable, useful, and persistent, and you will get there.

How To Get A Job in PR: Advice For Millennials

It’s graduation season, when advice is plentiful, but jobs are scarce.

Firms like mine are blitzed with resumes from freshly degreed communications grads eager to make their mark in PR. A tough economy isn’t the only obstacle. Those entering the workforce now are tagged as Millennials and stereotyped as indulged, overpraised, and entitled.

Here’s my contribution to the advice flurry, based on my own experience as an employer, and some field research among entry-level agency staff. I’ve read some advice for millennials looking to break into PR. For the record, I couldn’t care less about thank you notes, and most people in my position don’t expect most new hires to stay five years. In my view, agency life is not “supposed to suck.” But, it does help if you know what you’re getting into.

First, learn to write. (I know, I know.) Long-form journalism may be dying, but writing still matters. It’s how most prospective employers will first meet you. Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But please be brief.

Get real. Experience, that is. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course at NYU, I was struck by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory and cognition. But, very few could write a solid client recommendation memo with a budget, let alone a PR program. If your school doesn’t require an internship, get it on your own. It’s at the top of employers’ lists, and it will give you a taste of the basic agency or corporate PR functions.

Become an expert. On something. The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. One way is to develop a special interest or expertise in a relevant area, like location-based social media, marketing to moms, or making technology attributes accessible. An informed POV will impress a prospective boss.

Have a mind of your own. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on Cool Client Brand team, you have ideas or opinions about Client Brand or a competitor. If an employer asks you what you think of her agency’s website, blog, philosophy, or culture, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.

Package yourself. Have the elevator speech ready. Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and play up what works. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter said to me as I walked in the room, “Tell us about Dorothy Crenshaw.” Overwhelmed, I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest. Have your brand identity and key messages in your mind.

Use the media. When the going is tough, the tough get on YouTube. And Facebook. Use that  Millennial creativity and connectedness. Make us laugh, or at least smile. Look at Eric Romer, who late last year launched a one-man Facebook, Twitter, and PR push to land a job at Headblade, a company that markets a scalp shaving product for men, and one that he personally uses and loves. Eric’s smooth social media moves and bald relentlessness grew into hundreds of blog posts, links, and mentions, massive Facebook attention, and even traditional media coverage. He also got the job. The best new example of digital media smarts – and pure creativity – is that of Alec Brownstein. He bought the names of prominent ad agency creative directors on Google adwords to get their attention when they googled themselves. He got it, and a copywriting job, for a total investment of six dollars.

Recently I was one of several PR firm owners targeted by Auburn University senior Amanda Pinto, who’s determined to fulfill her dream of working in PR in New York. Amanda launched a getAmandatoNY blog and personal marketing campaign with a little help from her friends. Her video is funny, original, and social – attributes that typify the Millennial generation. She’ll get there. And, with persistence and a little innovation, so will you.

Working Women Hit A Milestone

In my New York Women in Communications discussion group, there’s been lots of talk about how and whether an economic downturn disproportionately affects women and minorities…particularly those of us in editorial, marketing or corporate communications, or advertising.  Though communications had undoubtedly been hit, there may be some good news for working women. It seems women have finally hit a milestone of sorts. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, women remained less than 49 percent of the work force, However, a recent jobs report shows the percentage of female workers has now passed 49 percent and my cross the 50 percent mark for the first time in history.