Millions of college students graduate this year, and if my inbox is any indication, many would like to work in public relations. Of course, anyone entering the field is likely to look at the different paths to a career, which typically means exploring large agencies, in-house opportunities, and smaller firms. We’d like to make the case for agency work for any aspiring PR strategist. And, of course, we think small or midsize agencies represent the most promising career path to start. Here’s why.
Pound-for-pound, there’s no match for the sheer variety that most agency positions will afford a newly minted college graduate with a few internships under their belt. The smaller the agency environment, the greater the variety. Most new hires will get broad exposure to the range of essential PR skills, from strategy to writing and research, to media outreach, and their work may touch several different PR sectors, from financial to fashion.
“Real-world” opportunities from day one
While some PR firms boast comprehensive intern or entry-level programs, they may be short on actual PR practice and long on busy work. At a smallish agency, someone just starting out is much more likely to put PR theory into practice from the outset. A growing independent agency thrums with new and existing account activity that provides soup-to-nuts opportunities to pitch in and a double dose of experience. Most staffers learn the business and practice of public relations while also experiencing life at a consulting services organization, which is relevant to many kinds of work.
A chance to show creative flair
We choose hires who demonstrate more than just dazzling academic prowess. You may be a good candidate if you worked in graphic arts for your sorority or wrote pitches or planned events for a non-profit. We want to see who blogs or has contributed pieces to on-campus pubs. At Crenshaw, we encourage young talent to make their own opportunities to create appealing graphics for social media sites or design a piece of content for a client or the firm. We also urge everyone – even interns – to write blog posts and try their hand at short videos for social sharing. Contemporary PR is so much more than writing press releases (though staff will eventually get to do that as well.)
Opportunities for client interaction
At Crenshaw and other firms our size, it’s common for interns or entry-level staffers to sit in on client meetings, both in-person and by Skype or conference call. While they are typically not ready to contribute actively to the conversation, the meetings are a valuable way to pick up tips on account management and soak it all in. Subtler skills, like defusing a difficult situation or negotiating the finer points of an agreement, can also be gleaned from sitting in on client-agency meetings. And virtually everyone is welcome at a creative brainstorm, because a good idea can come from anyone.
Learn the value of teamwork
Teamwork in a PR firm encourages staff to become more familiar with one another and learn how to work together. As part of the group, young employees learn how to cooperate, delegate and support each other. A team project fosters give and take, building on an idea to improve it or learning to take constructive criticism if warranted. Teamwork teaches effective deadline-setting and organizational skills. Socially, being part of a team encourages new hires to get along with those at all levels of the company. If they’re in a smaller firm, this opportunity may also mean more face time with leadership, which is a real plus.
Build industry tech acumen
Many who come to work at Crenshaw or other agencies do so with digital skills, and at an agency like ours, they have the chance to learn other software programs if they don’t already know them – like Cision for media monitoring and list-building; WordPress for content creation; email marketing or marketing automation software; and survey tools. Because PR is increasingly data-driven, it’s especially key to master tech tools such as those that analyze results of client programs and media coverage. We’re always on the lookout for new tech, as we’ve discussed previously and encourage staff to bring us the latest and greatest examples.
Grow verbal communications skills
It can be argued that today’s grads haven’t been as exposed as previous generations to the finer points of phone etiquette, meeting protocol, or even simple face-to-face networking skills. Spending time on the agency side offers interns opportunities to “talk to strangers” and learn to interact in different situations, from Skype meetings to presenting in front of a group – in person! Although some millennials may consider making a call to be “inefficient,” working in PR, or really, any services firm, means dealing with different types of people and sharpening those verbal and presentation skills.
Use social media savvy
“You mean I can spend time on Instagram and get paid?” Well, yes. Creating effective social media campaigns is a growing part of most PR work. With 90 percent of young adults—ages 18 to 29—using social media daily, it’s natural to tap them to support social efforts. We especially like to brainstorm ideas for Snapchat videos, hashtag campaigns, Facebook Live events and other initiatives with bright young talent. It will still fall to a seasoned PR pro to develop strategy for an effective brand campaign, but new and different executions are always welcome.
Never be bored
The biggest difference between working in-house on a PR team and working in an agency is the range of assignments, as noted. When acting as in-house PR for a non-profit or corporation, much of the work can be repetitive, and it becomes a challenge to find different ways to drum up enthusiasm for the same topic. At an agency with an eclectic client mix, those starting out can find themselves working on adtech one day, wearable devices or even not-for-profit work the next. This variety stimulates creativity, and it encourages interest and development of expertise on any number of topics. The personal satisfaction gained by increasing knowledge in several areas is invaluable, and it will make a candidate more attractive on the job market as well.
Find your path
While our experience shows that working in an agency is a great way to start in public relations, the variety factor also makes it a strong path for determining a more permanent direction within PR or communications. Some choose to stay in the agency world, perhaps honing a specialty like B2B tech or health and wellness communications, while others make that switch to the client side because they’ve found their true passion and want to work on the inside. Still others make the move from a small agency to a corporate giant to take on multinational accounts. That’s the beauty of beginning at the smaller firm. The experience offers a glimpse at the many ways a PR career can go.