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Landing a PR Agency Job

January 21st, 2011 · 9 Comments

I was pleased to write the following article for the new issue of PRSSA Forum which is online this week: 

Agency recruiting tables were mobbed at last fall’s PRSSA National Conference Career Exhibition in Washington, D.C.  I jumped in to help Ketchum human resources colleague Melinda Adamsas she answered a host of questions and collected résumés from soon-to-graduate seniors.

After talking with a couple dozen job seekers, I reviewed the deep stack of résumés we received and was impressed with the quality of the future public relations agency job pool.  However, getting from a résumé in-hand to an actual job can be a daunting challenge.

When to begin?  As eager as you might be to sew up a job, do not start your search too early.  Few major agencies, if any, are hiring today for jobs that may or may not exist in June.  If you graduate in May, lay your groundwork now but don’t begin an aggressive search until late March or April.  Positions are filled as billable client work comes into the agency, not in anticipation of possible client assignments. 

Where will I likely start?  Most graduates should expect to enter agencies via internships, not full-time positions. Most internships last from three to six months after which a full-time position is offered or you must move on. Federal laws prohibit agencies from extending internships beyond six months.

Paid vs. Unpaid?  Most reputable agencies pay interns, normally between $12-15 an hour.  If you work on billable client assignments, you should be paid.  If an agency is doing you a favor to help dress up your resume, then a short-term unpaid internship often occurs.  Unpaid internships also are more common with non-profit organizations.

Who do you know?  Yes, the adage is true — “It’s who you know.”  So, network, network, network.  Matt Shaw, senior vice president of the Council of PR Firmsand an occasional Culpwrit contributor, offers three suggestions that will be helpful in landing an agency job: 

1.  (Relevant) Internships.  In such a competitive marketplace, this is pretty much the cost of entry; so unless your parents play tennis with the firm’s CFO and his wife, you should have some work experiences on your resume that show people you know something about the public relations agency culture (in general), would be a good fit and will be ready to go on day one.

 2.  Be Politely Aggressive.  It is okay to remind the HR/recruiter about your resume and/or your candidacy/existence.  Just don’t push too hard.  It’s a relatively tight-knit community, so the ones who leave favorable impressions during the process will enjoy good word of mouth.  Those who make a bad impression don’t have their resumes forwarded very often.

 3.  Attitude.  Have the right one. Have it throughout your internships, during the interview process and especially after you’ve landed your first job.  Of all the things you need to worry about, this is the easiest one to control; yet, it is the fatal flaw that I hear about most often.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching promising young talent shrink when the going gets tough.  Hours are long and unpredictable, and the work can range from the exhilarating to the mundane — you should embrace all of it with equal passion.  Be present.  Be interested.

Finally, Melinda Adams, my partner at the PRSSA networking table, noted that most of the questions she received were seeking suggestions on how to set resumes apart from the rest of the pack.  Public relations experiences and volunteer activities are key ingredients of a successful resume, but she offers these additional suggestions:

Become digitally savvy. In a world that is becoming more and more digital, you must educate yourself on different public relations programs such as Factiva, Cision, Profnet, etc. Developing a basic knowledge of these programs gives you an advantage over the competition.

Your resume should scream public relations.  We want you to live, sleep, eat this exciting career, therefore, intern, intern, intern. If you find you do not have experience with media pitching or creating media lists, go offer your services to a non-profit. Not only can you gain beneficial experience in this exciting career, but also feel good about helping others in the process.

You are your own public relations rep.  Therefore, be confident when presenting yourself in an interview. The best way to gain that confidence is in preparation for your meeting by doing research on the company. Impress the company by knowing their mission statement, values and recent acknowledgements. It shows you are passionate and excited about the company for which you want to work.

Most job postings for internships and entry-level positions are posted online, but it doesn’t hurt to send your resumes directly to the human resource directors and office directors of public relations agencies.  If you don’t have one, two or three solid internships, then focus on smaller-to-mid-size agencies and nonprofits to gain necessary experience that will be required by larger firms.  Good luck.

Tags: Job Search

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lauren // Jan 21, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Thank you for the insightful advice. This really does help solidify my plans before graduation. I look forward to reading your future posts.

  • 2 Rich Teplitsky // Jan 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Good advice. In addition to networking with agencies (before and after graduation, or even if you’re more experienced), we also strongly suggest you utilize both inbound and outbound social media. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated, etc., and also follow a PR agency’s own SM feeds (Twitter, Facebook, LI, etc.). Our feeds can be found at http://www.loispaul.com. We often post open positions across all of the common social media platforms, including Twitter.

    — Rich Teplitsky
    Vice President – Client Services
    Lois Paul & Partners – Austin, Texas
    & PRSA Section Council Co-Chair/Immediate Past Chair – Tech Section

  • 3 Kelsey Magnusen // Jan 24, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Another great article full of fabulous advice! Thank you, Ron. We love your site!
    -Kelsey Magnusen, president, Cal Poly PRSSA

  • 4 Karissa // Jan 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Just when I was starting to hyperventilate about graduation!! This post is truly helpful to solidify my nerves and plans. Thanks!

  • 5 Tracey // Jan 24, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I have been at my agency internship for a little over two years and have gained great knowledge. If I may add something to this list of recommendations, it would be to get to know the people you work with in different departments of the agency (creative,account,finance). Learning from my non-PR peers in the agency have made my experience that much richer.

    Granted, I may not be the individual establishing our billing rate for a perspective client, but it is an asset for me to know how vital it is to the overall functioning of what I do (trust me, I learned the hard way to ALWAYS remember to bill my time).

  • 6 Stephanie Cohen // Jan 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for the great advice! I have been doing my best to network since early in the school year, and I’ve met some fantastic PR professionals along the way!

  • 7 Harmony Wheeler // Jan 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Thank you for the advice. I’m graduating in May and am trying to fit in as much as possible before then with a PR internship and a leadership position in the PR practicum as well as with the school newspaper. I find it hard to make time for networking, though.

    I’m curious what you think of interning after graduation. Most people, including my parents, tell me I need to find a full-time paying job after graduation. And paid internships are incredibly hard to find.

  • 8 Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA // Jan 25, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Excellent advice with timely and totally applicable tips on gearing up for that daunting challenge of “finding my first ‘real’ job after graduation.” I definitely will be sharing this with my students, advisees, and anyone else who ventures into my office at Curry College!

    To answer Harmony’s question about internships after graduation…oftentimes those internships evolve into full-time positions. Four of my superstar PR students at Curry have done that in just the last two years…and all worked part-time jobs as well to pay the bills!

    BUT…do your homework ahead of time and see what the “conversion rate” has been for the intern-to-fulltime transition.

  • 9 Landing a Corporate PR Job // Feb 16, 2011 at 7:04 am

    […] As a freshman, I am now preparing for a career in the public relations field.  I read the recent post on how to secure a job with a PR agency.  I was wondering if you had any specific advice on how to […]

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