By Sandra Akufo
This past Friday, a portion of our chapter threw on business attire, grabbed notebooks and cameras, and trekked our way from the nation’s capital to the Big Apple. In New York City, we visited two leading PR agencies: PMKBNC and Weber Shandwick.
Our first stop was at PMKBNC, an entertainment agency dubbed as the “global leader in entertainment and popular culture.” We first received a tour of the agency, where we were able to speak to employees in passing and get a take on their duties and roles within the firm. After the tour, we attended a panel in which seven current employees discussed their background, how they ended up at PMKBNC, their experience thus far, and any insight they had about Public Relations and agency life in general. We were also able to ask the panel several of own questions that were lingering at the tips of our tongues. Here are some of the major takeaways that the panel members wanted us to keep in mind:
ON PR & AGENCY LIFE:
The panelists recommended that an upcoming PR practitioner should work in agency life before working in-house, as agency life is more hands-on, allowing you to explore and narrow down the aspects of PR that you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t. The panelists also emphasized that there are many “niches” in PR, so know that there are many different places to find where your interests and skills fall into.
As far as comparing in-house and agency PR goes, in-house has more defined roles whereas in agency life, there is more space for collaborative efforts that allow you to crossover to different niches in PR. The panelists also shared that it is a slower process to “move up” or be promoted in in-house PR, and that while there is a “constant grind” in both spheres, the spikes in workload are not as unbalanced in agency life as it is in in-house PR.
ON WHO SUCCEEDS IN PR:
There was a consensus among the panel that successful PR practitioners are passionate, organized, flexible, and have good time-management. An emphasis was definitely put on being the individual who can think quick on their feet, easily adapts to change or new obstacles, and quite frankly, has it all together. All in all, a successful PR practitioners exhibits professionalism (i.e. being on time, meeting deadlines, acting appropriately, being orderly) and drive (i.e. motivated, hard-working, refusing to quit, and passionate about what you’re doing).
Additionally, the panelists reiterated that great PR practitioners have the ability to write well and absolutely must have basic writing and communication skills to get anywhere in the field.
ON HOW TO STAND OUT:
Intern! Intern! Intern! Experience not only looks wonderful on a resume and to potential employers, but shows that you likely understand what is expected of you, how the game works, what your skills and weaknesses are, and what roles you would best thrive in. The last thing employers want is for their companies and real jobs to become is your “test subject,” so having that experience and background behind you is crucial.
The panel also recommended that you build relationships and connections with people while you can. Whether it is on LinkedIn, through past internships and employers, or teachers and classmates, stay in contact with the people that you meet and continue to network with them. Many of the panelists themselves were recommended to their current positions by someone they had known or previously worked with, so keeping those connections is intact can be super helpful in a field like PR.
One last note the panelists spoke to was that of social media. You are a brand, so make sure you brand yourself attractively! Think about what results you want to see come up in a google search of your name. You definitely wouldn’t want inappropriate pictures, foul language, or social media rants to appear, so make sure that isn’t the trail you are leaving behind on the internet. This doesn’t mean you need to reject social media, in fact, you should do the exact opposite. Being professionally active on social media (i.e. LinkedIn, a twitter dedicated to sharing PR news, a website of your PR portfolio, etc.) can both reflect how passionate you are about PR, and help you to connect with people in the field as well.
The second, and last, agency we visited was Weber Shandwick, a global PR firm with offices in just about every world location you can think of. At Weber Shandwick, we were able to sit in a board room styled set-up and received a presentation from current employees, including our very own, recent graduate Melanie Salemno. The presenters let us take an extensive look into the agency as a whole, their specific roles, and gave us advice on how to move forward our professional pursuits. Here are some important highlights from the presentation:
ON WEBER SHANDWICK
Weber Shandwick is a collaborative, multi-market agency with “core practice groups,” meaning that there are different avenues such as corporate, consumer marketing, healthcare, crisis management, public affairs, and several others, for employees to work within. Weber Shandwick, additionally, has offices all over the world, with its global headquarters being in New York (a.k.a. the one we visited!)
Our presenters described Weber Shandwick as a “raise your hand culture,” meaning that the higher-ups are very receptive to those who ask to learn or what to be shown something new. They also noted that while there isn’t much say in the clients you work with, (outside of the Crisis Management team), it helps you develop into a better PR practitioner to figure out and know how to work through unfavorable instances that may be thrown your way.
ON THEIR ROLES
Our first presenter, Megan, worked under the Employee Engagement & Change Management team. Under this team, she works to keep her client’s workforce well-connected both in general and during significant changes within its company or business.
Our second presenter, Ben, was a part of the Crisis Management team, meaning he helps navigate his clients out of scandal, reputation damage, and other forms of individual or company crisis. Ben shed light on how to respond to crisis, highlighting that “hope is not a strategy” and that the best way to address a crisis is to speak with one voice, correct the record, always be open and honest, and to lean into emotion. In times of crisis, you should always avoid concealing the severity of the issue, and being closed off to speaking about the issue.
Our last presenter, Ariane, worked in the Consumer Health Media team. She takes on clients in the health field, such as Abreva or Excedrin, to help the companies engage with the media in ways that advance their health-related causes and products. She detailed how different strategies, such as surveys, exclusive media plans, and satellite media tours, are often employed in order to engage with media in her field.
ON WHO THEY HIRE
Weber Shandwick’s “talent pool,” comes from storytellers, journalists, media experts, lawyers, researchers, artists, and many other occupations out there. Our first presenter identified the interns who get hired at Weber Shandwick as people who are passionate, hard-working, detail oriented, and who have done their research (i.e. are familiar with the company and its work in depth.) Some other quick tips and reminders from the presenter were to make sure that you have experience, keep your resume one page long and easy to read, and avoid typos at all costs!
I’m sure I can speak on behalf of the entire chapter when I say thank you to both PMKBNC and Weber Shandwick for hosting us! We appreciate the time and effort that went into giving incredible tours, presentations, panel discussions, and advice to our chapter.