Samiha Fariha is an Account Executive at Torchia Communications, one of Canada’s leading PR firms. She holds a degree from the University of Toronto as well as a post-graduate certificate from the Humber College PR program.
How did you break into the communications industry, and how did you advance to where you are today?
After completing my undergrad at the University of Toronto, I worked in marketing for a short time as a marketing specialist in a real estate brokerage firm. I really enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed writing, learning about and managing social media. This experience really piqued my interest in communications.
After graduating from Humber College with a post-graduate certificate in public relations, I was fortunate enough to get hired full-time as an Account Coordinator at Torchia Communications. At Torchia, I have been fortunate enough to work on various different clients such as Imperial Tobacco, Toys“R”Us and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
From my experience with working at a PR agency, I have learned that if you are creative and open to learning about any type of industries then life at an agency is very rewarding. I have been able to do various types of work from video editing for Toys“R”Us, to managing social media for the agency and doing media relations for Imperial Tobacco’s Better Tomorrow campaign, because I had a positive attitude and a curious mindset.
Did you find your education provided a helpful background when you started your career?
My post-graduate certificate in PR from Humber College has been very helpful. Many of the opportunities that I have been able to get are because of where I went to school.
Having a post-grad certificate in PR, really helped me in the early stages of my career to get job interviews, informational interviews and ultimately landing a job at an agency like Torchia Communications. Also, having an education in PR really gave me credibility as well because it showed my employer that I was competent and I had the skills and knowledge to be successful in this field.
What are some important lessons you learned while job hunting?
Applying for jobs online is like gambling; you are lucky if you get an interview. I always knew I wanted to work in an agency, but getting your foot in the door is very hard. During the job-hunting process, I learned that getting your dream job is hard, but if you are persistent and have an open mind, then the right opportunity will come to you, even if it takes a little longer.
I learned from job hunting that many opportunities are not advertised on a job board. If you really want to work in a specific agency then you should email their HR representative or General Manager, and that is exactly what I did.
From my emails, I was able to get several interviews and ultimately that is how I got my current job. I learned that job boards are great, but if you really want to work somewhere, show the initiative and reach out to that organization.
What is something a PR newbie can do to bulk up their resume?
Getting a job in PR is really hard. It is a very saturated field with a lot of competition. However, there are a few ways you can make your resume stronger and land an interview. If you want to work in an agency or even work in-house for a large brand then you should consider volunteering or consider doing an internship to get the skills you are missing.
Volunteering or interning is a great way for you to network and learn about the opportunities that are available. It is also a great way for you to learn what you are good at and find more opportunities in those areas.
What skills does one need to survive in the communications industry?
It all depends on what type of role you have and where you are working. I work in an agency, so when you work in a work environment like that, it is important for you to have very good communication skills, presentation skills, and writing skills, and to also have a creative mindset and thirst for social media.
Having good communications skills are very important because if you work in an agency, you need to be able to communicate clearly with your team about your workload, pressing tasks you need to do to support the client’s campaigns or activations and also you need to be able to communicate clearly with media if you are pitching them stories or specific news.
Strong presentation skills are always good to have. If you can speak clearly and present with confidence then you will have a rewarding career in an agency or anywhere you choose to work.
Describe a typical day of work for you. What are your key responsibilities?
A typical day for me is never the same. Currently, I work on four different accounts including Toys“R”Us, HGreg.com, Imperial Tobacco and Baskin Robbins.
I also manage the agency’s social media, so I am usually the one to go to the different account managers to ask them if there is anything interesting that we should be sharing on social. If there is anything interesting then I would put it into the content calendar and send it off to Centrik (Torchia’s in-house translation department) to translate the posts for the week.
I also do a lot of media relations for our client’s different activations. The new Avengers movie is a big thing right now for Toys“R”Us because at the Kitchener store TRU is trying to promote its life-size LEGO Avengers figurines. To promote that activation, I did a lot of media relations to raise awareness and since that activation was tied to the movie, we surpassed our goal of getting 3,000 impressions, but instead, we ended up with one million impressions.
What’s a misconception you had about the communications industry?
The misconception that I had about agency life was that it was too fast-paced. You just did media relations all day and wrote press releases. However, it was after I did my internship at a travel PR agency, I realized what a big misconception I had. I realized at an agency you can do a wide variety of tasks to support a client’s communications campaign. At my internship, I got to do fun tasks such as doing an SEO audit, managing the agency’s Pinterest account, and writing blogs for the agency’s website.
When I started working at Torchia Communications, I got to do even more fun tasks such as video editing, attending new business pitches, media relations, and writing media materials.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or experienced on the job?
When I got to see the statue of Charity the Cow at the CNE. I had read and heard so much about Markham’s infamous statue. However, it was not until when I started working on the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair account, that I had the opportunity to learn even more details about the statue. I even got to meet billionaire Helen Roman-Barber who commissioned the statue by the renowned artist Ron Baird.
The statue was massive and having the opportunity to see it in person was a cool experience. I even did media relations for the statue and wrote all the media materials on the statue as well. Media that covered the news were very receptive to our outreach and even came out on the day the Royal Fair unveiled the statue.
What is your best piece of advice for someone who is about to begin working for a PR agency?
Be prepared to really work! Life at an agency is very busy. You can expect to work on multiple different clients from different industries. There might be some accounts you might not feel comfortable working on. However, if you have a positive attitude and a curious mindset, you might learn something new about the account.
When you first start off at an agency, you might be expected to do a lot of media relations. However, remember this, always have a goal in mind when you call media. Make sure your pitch is strong and always leave a positive impression when you end your conversation with the media.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?
I am a big fan of social media scheduling tools. I love to schedule all of the social posts for the agency ahead of time so that I have free time to work on other projects. I also use my CP books pretty often. When writing press releases or media advisories, it is very important that you follow CP rules. I also try to read the book often so that I do not make CP errors in my writing.
Is work-life balance possible and how do you achieve it?
Work-life balance is definitely possible. It is very important that you do not bring your work home, it is bad for your health and also it takes time away from your family obligations. However, sometimes you cannot avoid work. There will be times when you will have to attend work-related events during the weekend or after work because you are expected to.
What advice do you have for a new graduate who is having difficulty finding stable employment?
Do not lose hope and stay positive. Finding stable employment is never easy, you might have to go through a dozen interviews before you find an employer who will take a chance on you.
I would recommend instead of just blindly applying to jobs online, reach out to the companies you want to work for and tell them why you are a good candidate and ask whether they have any vacancies in their communications department. You might be surprised at the number of people who are willing to help you out or at least share your resume with their team.