Melina Kokkinos is an Assistant Consultant based in Ottawa, Ontario. She completed a Bachelor’s Degree in PR through a joint program with the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College. She currently works for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, an international public relations company.
What school did you attend and did your education successfully prepare you for a career in communications?
I graduated from the joint University of Ottawa and Algonquin College Public Relations Program, where I received my Honours Bachelor Degree in Public Relations as well as my Diploma in Public Relations.
This program allowed me to develop a solid foundation as well as gain the practical experience I needed for the workforce. Being able to study at a university and at a college gave me the best of both worlds and both portions of the program really complimented each other.
I learned how to write communications plans, craft key messaging, implement strategic thinking for client projects, and run PR campaigns, to name a few. Having this foundation prior to landing my job at H+K Strategies definitely helped me feel more prepared and confident in my PR capabilities.
What was your first job after graduation and how did you land it?
My first job after graduation is the job I currently have as an Assistant Consultant with H+K Strategies. The Algonquin College portion of the joint public relations program offered an internship and I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to do my internship with H+K Strategies.
After I completed my internship, I was offered a full-time position with the company. I hustled and worked hard throughout my schooling and really made an effort to build relationships and take on PR and communications jobs to help build my resume and skill set. This is what truly set me apart and helped me land my internship and now a full-time job. I’m grateful that I get to do what I love every day!
What has been your approach to networking?
Sometimes, when you hear the word “networking”, it can be stressful, intimidating and even daunting. Throughout my schooling and my career thus far, I’ve learned that networking is not just attending PR events and making connections. Networking happens every day with the people who are around you.
For instance, when I was in university and college, I made an effort to introduce myself to my professors because I wanted to get to know them and also wanted them to get to know me better. You never know who your next employer, colleague or reference may be. If you invest time in others, they will likely invest time in helping you in your career.
When I was in school, I also made an effort to join various clubs such as the University of Ottawa Public Relations Association to meet other PR students as well as joined professional associations such as the Canadian Public Relations Society to help build my professional network. I had the opportunity to host events and meet some of the best in the PR industry in Ottawa and still have those connections today.
What skills do you think a person needs to survive in the communications industry?
Here are my top five skills that I believe you need in order to survive in the communications industry:
- Writing is a crucial skill needed in the industry as it is a part of every communications material you produce. Knowing how to write effectively and understanding how to tailor your writing to specific audiences will help better convey your key messages and narratives.
- Strategic thinking is a skill that you should always practice in your work. This involves understanding a client’s objectives and being able to tie in key trends and meaningful and thoughtful insights. These insights are what the client is looking for and will help their communications be all the more successful.
- Time management skills come with practice but are important in efficiently and successfully following through on client deliverables. Knowing how to prioritize your work and work efficiently within multiple timelines is something that is particularly true for agency work. I work on multiple files daily, so keeping a detailed calendar with important internal and external deadlines as well as key project milestones helps me ensure that I stay on track.
- Adaptability. The communications industry is constantly evolving. Technology is changing and the 24/7 news cycle means that there is constantly new information that could pertain to or impact your client. You never know when client work might change (for instance, based on a new regulation or policy), so being flexible and being able to adapt to your changing environment is key.
- Creativity. Being in the communications industry requires a creative lens. Creativity is important because it helps add a fresh, new perspective to client work and helps cut through the noise. Creativity can be incorporated into a number of areas, such as messaging, graphic design, and content and publishing, which will help convey your client brand and vision.
Describe your typical workday. What are your key responsibilities?
This is probably the question I get asked the most, especially from students who are looking at different streams of PR post-graduation. The short answer is that it honestly varies day-to-day depending on what clients you’re working with and the scope of work for each file you’re working on.
My responsibilities usually include media monitoring, traditional and social media analysis, social listening and audience mapping, report writing, research for proposals and ongoing client projects, crafting strategic key messaging and communications plans, public participation efforts such as surveys, dialogue sessions, and focus groups, as well as design, formatting, and editing for an array of communications materials.
The beauty of working in an agency is that you can get your feet wet in a number of areas and start to figure out what area of PR you love most.
What do you most enjoy about your current job?
I am someone who thrives in a fast-paced work environment, so agency was a natural fit for me. I love the energy and enjoy how my job is different every day. One day I might be organizing and coordinating public participation workshops, and then next I’m developing audience and key stakeholder profiles for an exciting client project.
I am also lucky to have an extremely supportive team that I work with on a daily basis. They really take the time to invest in my growth as a consultant and provide me with opportunities to challenge myself and develop new skills.
What tips do you have for someone who has just been hired at an agency?
If you’re starting out in an agency, here are some of my tips:
- Embrace new challenges. One of the things I love most about agency life is that you never know what task or project is going to get thrown your way. Although new challenges can be daunting or nerve-wracking, don’t be afraid to give them a try! The more you challenge yourself, the more you develop and enhance new skills that will help further your career in the PR industry.
- Get to know your colleagues. Being a new employee at an agency can be intimidating at times. Something that I find really helpful is making an effort to get to know your colleagues. It can be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee or lunch with them. This helps them to get to know you and your interests better and provides you with an opportunity to learn about what they do on a day-to-day basis.
- Be willing and adaptable. Having an open mind when you’re starting out at an agency is important. It allows you to get your feet wet in a number of areas and shows that you are eager to learn.
- Always carry a notebook! Chances are, you are going to be asked to sit in on client and internal team meetings, so I always recommend bringing a notebook with you to take notes. Capturing what was discussed as well as key action items will help your colleagues and client leads stay organized and show that you take initiative.
What is something a new grad can do to bulk up their resume?
Volunteering is a great way to bulk up your resume and demonstrate various skill sets. If you can, try and find volunteer opportunities that align with the stream of PR you want to go into. For instance, prior to landing my current job after graduation, I made an effort to get involved in my Greek community here in Ottawa and helped with the social media and marketing for our Greek Festival.
I also recommend taking extra online courses, classes or training that would help enhance your skills and set you apart from the rest. For instance, you can take graphic design courses, Microsoft Excel certifications and even social media certifications such as becoming a Facebook Certified Digital Marketing Associate. A lot of these courses or certifications provide additional value to your resume.
What advice do you have for an entry-level professional who is looking to move up in their career and take on a more senior role?
Try to gain as much experience as you can while you’re an entry-level professional and set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) professional goals for yourself that will help you get to the next level. I recommend sharing these with your manager so that they’re aware of what you wish to accomplish so they can provide you with opportunities to help you achieve those goals.
I also recommend having an open discussion with your supervisor or manager about your aspirations. I find it helpful to set up a performance review (if your employer has not done so already) to discuss how you’re progressing in your current role, what you can improve on, and where you see yourself in the company or organization.
It is important that you make it known to your employer that you are interested in growing within the company and that you possess the necessary experience to do so.
What are your professional goals for the future?
One of my goals is to teach at a PR program one day! I truly enjoyed my experience in the joint University of Ottawa and Algonquin College PR program and would absolutely love to be a part of that.
Currently, I am loving agency life and am gaining as much experience and absorbing as much knowledge as I can. I’m hoping to continue to work my way up in the agency world and I would love to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with future students who may become the next generation of PR professionals.