Communications Account Executive
How did you break into the communications industry and advance to where you are today?
I was really lucky to have good mentors that helped me get to where I am today. I attribute having these people in my life as 50% luck and 50% knowing how to align myself with the right people.
If you’re looking to break into a PR career, introduce yourself to everyone; strike up conversations and not just professional ones. Get to know people personally, ask questions and take them out for coffee, even if it’s over Zoom during a pandemic.
A lot of people will say that “networking is your best friend in this industry,” and it truly is. But I would pair that with being comfortable to put yourself out there. If you love music and entertainment, don’t be afraid to hop onto a healthcare project. If you really want to work your way into the marketing stream of PR, don’t be afraid to do social media management for small businesses.
Be versatile, say yes to new things and be curious about the things that interest you. That’s how you will advance into the position you want and be among colleagues you really admire.
Did your education successfully prepare you for the career you have now?
I attended Humber College’s Public Relations Advanced Diploma program and their program did set me up for success. But the true education was getting an internship through the program. Humber sets you up with what I would like to call the “template” for a successful PR career. When you land your first internship or job, you start to fill in that template with real-world experience.
When I think back to the assignments and courses I had to complete at Humber, I can easily trace back every task I do in my current job. Key principles such as how to write content, the format for a press release, developing a social media content calendar and how to conduct yourself in front of clients.
What are some important lessons you learned while job hunting?
- Apply to all sorts of PR jobs (events, corporate, agency, non-profit).
- Sometimes it’s who you know in the industry. Reach out to people you know and see if they have connections to help land you a job.
- Don’t over complicate your resume—keep it short and simple.
- In your cover letter, be sure to say why you will be an asset to the team, don’t just repeat what’s in your resume.
- Your first interview will be hard and awkward but it’s good practice. By your third or fourth interview, you will know how to conduct yourself.
- You might need to apply to 15 jobs before you get called for an interview. That’s fairly normal.
- Come to interviews prepared by doing your research about the company. Scour the company’s website and look at past campaigns.
- Bringing a portfolio to an interview, although a good suggestion, may hinder the flow and ease of an interview. Leave it at home or create an online portfolio.
- Don’t print business cards. Just don’t.
What’s something about the communications industry that has surprised you?
I think what personally surprised me is how small the PR world is. There are six degrees of separation between you and someone else you know. And with that said, be prepared to make friends out of your colleagues. Some of my closest friends are all PR people.
I think what surprised me is how much I didn’t actually know how to properly conduct media relations. As much as you can make a media list in class and pretend, as an intern you will really hone this as a craft and even now it has taken me three years to finally understand it as a practice.
Finally, agency is a whole other ballgame compared to corporate, government or tech PR. Agency is like the true jack-of-all-trades profession. It will be tough at times but you will learn how to hustle. I don’t think I quite understood that until I got into agency life.
What is the greatest professional challenge you faced and how did you handle it?
I got let go from a job. I think talking about it needs to be normalized because it happens to a lot of us as the media and communications landscape starts to shift digitally. It took me a long time to understand it was not a testament to my skillset or work ethic but rather a time to reflect on how the industry is always shifting and needs to find better ways to accommodate/support junior staff and minimize turnover.
I kept in touch with the people at that previous position who were my allies. I got back on the horse and was reemployed within three weeks of my departure.
90% of PR is how you handle things at the end of the day. So, chin up, be positive and power through. That’s how I navigate a lot of challenges I come across.
What tools and software have you found the most useful and effective to conduct your work?
Twitter is my best friend when it comes to finding journalists. Meltwater helps in measurement and reporting. As I am sure it is for many working from home, Zoom now a daily part of my routine. And of course Google Suite. Some side notes for anyone who needs a quick graphic design asset: Canva will save your butt. But, if you have the capacity to hire a graphic designer totally opt to support other creatives in the industry!
What’s your best advice regarding maintaining strong relationships with media professionals?
Journalists have busy lives and hectic jobs. The best way to start a relationship is to land a story just once. When that story goes over well, then you basically have an in with that journalist to come back with more stories, because they know you can conduct yourself well.
Keeping the relationship comes down to not harassing them with the same story and being the person they turn to when they need a story. Follow them on Twitter and read their articles to get a better understanding of what they want to write about. Then swoop in when they are in need of new ideas.
As for bloggers and influencers, they are a bit more open to being your friend. It helps to know them on more of a personal level (ask about their kids and family life) but you should still stay professional.
Be there for media professionals when the time is right, but don’t welcome yourself into their space more than necessary.
What tips do you have for someone who has just been hired at an agency?
Working at an agency will teach you how to hustle. But once you find the best way to manage your time you will have a skill set that’s beneficial in any profession.
Manage your time with a planner and stay on top of your calendar. Know when to say “no” to taking on too many tasks. Colleagues will respect you more if you let them know your workload and flag when timelines can’t be met, rather than letting things slip through the cracks.
Take care of yourself—I know it’s common to want to skip lunch or drink coffee but seriously, don’t. Do the things you need to do to sustain yourself such as eating, drinking water and sleeping well at night.
Spot the red flags—If you are being overrun with work or find your time is being manipulated (within reason), and you don’t know what to do then reach out and ask for help. Ask friends, former professors, your supervisor, or colleagues you trust to figure out how you can remedy the situation. Usually, something can be done.
What are some advantages of working at small or mid-size PR agencies?
It’s all hands on deck when you’re working within a smaller team. You will have access to opportunities that might not come with a larger firm. You become really close with your colleagues and kind of have a different culture of “working as a whole unit”, rather than separate departments who come together for projects.
You’ll get more face to face time with some senior PR pros. If your CEO is one of 10-15 employees at the firm, it’s likely you will have the chance to chat with them and gain some wisdom or mentorship more often than you would at a larger firm.
What advice do you have on managing client expectations?
Keep a critical path or project rollout schedule up to date at all times. Get on weekly calls—sometimes calls clear things up way quicker than through an email chain. And always be transparent. If there’s something that needs to be disclosed, always raise it with the team first and then bring it to the client with a solution ready. Clients always like when the problem is already solved and it’s just about pivoting.
What do you think is the best approach when measuring the success of a PR campaign?
The best approach is to match whatever the deliverable is. If the goal is to raise awareness you might have softer KPIs (key performance indicators) rather than a targeted ad campaign where you need to measure in impressions. To know which is the best, be familiar with industry benchmarks, consult your team of experts (as they know what works best) and refer to case studies that demonstrate success.
I think a good combo of audience sentiment, impressions and reach numbers is a good way to measure a campaign.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
When you are starting out, start slow. Figure out your new routine. Transitioning from student to PR professional is an adjustment. See friends when you can, eat well and schedule times to explore your interests.
Once you are settled and are a year into your career, and you know the rhythm of your job, then you can explore new things: pick up new hobbies, get involved in the PR community and volunteer.
Finally, set boundaries. Don’t check email past a certain hour (emergencies are the exception). Also, don’t go on your phone if you can—we do it all day, so carve out time to separate the things you love from the areas that overlap in your job. (For example: take a pause from reading news.)
What advice do you have for an entry-level professional who is looking to move up in their career?
- “Take initiative” sounds cliche, but it’s true.
- Ask to be involved in bigger projects.
- Ask to write/develop the first draft of materials that are more senior level, just for the practice.
- Ask for mentorship from people you admire in the company.
- Open the conversation about a promotion yourself. Don’t wait for it to come to you.
- Keep a record of your achievements and areas you want to grow in.
- If your yearly and/or six-month review isn’t planned for you, ask for one.
How do you see the communications landscape evolving? What are the future trends?
This is something I toy with a lot. “What am I actually going to be doing in 10 years?” I see a lot of communications turning into marketing. I think we have to be more armed and ready to take on marketing tasks in our day-to-day skillset.
Digital is the new way of the world—and being ahead of the newest trend is really important. For example, who knows where Tik Tok is going? But I think it’s important as communicators we keep a pulse on what mediums are going to be big one day and stay ahead of the curve as much as we can.
Things I see changing: the press release is slowly dying unless you’re reporting financials and paid media needs to be a bigger piece of the pie when planning campaigns.
What do you know today that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
This career is a marathon, not a sprint. You shouldn’t expect glamorous tasks and a pretty salary right away. You truly do have to work your way up—this career could last me 30 years, so I should just enjoy the position I am in right now and soak up as much learning as I possibly can.