Intro to Agency PR

Upon graduation from college almost five years ago, I noticed a common trend among entry-level job descriptions for which I was applying: public relations agency experience was preferred and sometimes even required. I had held a number of jobs and internships in the industry throughout my college career, but none were with an agency. I didn’t understand why working at an agency was put on a pedestal, but I knew that getting that experience would be an important step in my career.

After working in marketing for a couple of years, I decided to make the switch to agency PR. I found that agency life posed its own unique challenges, and new professionals should learn to expect a few commonalities among agencies when attaining the gold standard of PR experience.

Learn to juggle

The ability to multitask is not only crucial, but it is at the crux of your job. While some larger agencies may have individuals working on just one client account, many agencies will have a team dedicated to a handful of clients. These clients may all be in the same industry, such as consumer products or health care, or they may run the gamut of industries. New professionals in agencies will have to quickly learn their clients’ businesses, products and services inside and out. You must become an expert in each of these industries so you can communicate effectively and in an educated way.

One of the biggest differences between agency and corporate communications is how you prioritize. At an agency, you can’t prioritize one client over another. They all need equal attention, and if your five clients each have a last-minute project at 5 p.m. on a Friday, the work needs to get done for all five clients. At a corporation, you may have the flexibility to prioritize one project over another—not so at an agency. Be prepared for long hours, but great client relationships and invaluable experience as a result.

Learn to accept every opportunity

I now realize why agency experience is preferred by many employers, having lived agency life. New professionals will gain experience in almost every PR task—building media lists, media monitoring, pitching reporters, drafting press releases, managing social media accounts and creating PR plans. Nothing is off limits for an entry-level PR professional.

Take advantage of this opportunity. While it might seem overwhelming at first to try to master everything an agency has to offer, doing is the best way of learning. When I first started, I would volunteer to tag along on a Saturday morning to a radio station to observe a client interview or come up with pitch ideas from breaking news. In a year and a half, there aren’t many skills I haven’t attempted to master. Not only do you build your skill set, but you become the go-to person on the team when questions arise—no longer just a worker bee, but an invaluable member of the team.

Learn to speak up

When I first started at my agency, I was apprehensive to speak up. Not only did I feel like the new kid in a room of PR experts, but I wasn’t sure how the hierarchy would play out in an agency. I learned that not only was sharing ideas encouraged, it was expected! Don’t expect to be making copies forever. Agencies want to see their staff grow into strategic thinkers and creative minds. Senior leaders like new professionals who take initiative and share their ideas, whether it’s for a client project or proposing a more efficient way to get the work done.

It’s also extremely important to keep your career goals in mind. Don’t keep it a secret if there is a specific project on which you want to work. Not only does asking for specific projects show passion, but it allows you to share your unique interests and skills. Just because you are a new professional doesn’t mean you have nothing to bring to the table. Since my prior position was in marketing, I had experience in redesigning websites. When one of our clients was looking to redesign their website, I jumped at the chance to not only use my past experience, but also lead a project I really enjoyed. I now have two company website redesigns under my belt and a happy client.

Maybe you are a passionate Pinner and can launch a client Pinterest page, or maybe you love to write and a press release needs to be prepared. Don’t be shy in asking for what you want!


While switching to an agency was overwhelming at first, the experience has had so much to offer. If you take advantage of the wealth of opportunities agencies offer, you can build an amazing foundation for the rest of your PR career. What other advice would you give new pros heading for agency life? What was the biggest lesson you learned?


Heather SliwinskiHeather Sliwinski is an account executive at KemperLesnik, a Chicago-based public relations agency, providing media relations and social media services to a variety of B2B clients. Previously, she held positions in marketing and event planning for corporations, nonprofits and higher education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis in strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sliwinski is the blog co-chair and chair-elect for the PRSA New Professionals Section. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.


PRSA New Professionals Brown Bag: Get Your Dream Career

In our November New Professionals Section tweetchat, we discovered that many of our new professionals are eagerly searching for up-to-date relevant information on getting a job. Should you include social networks and a QR code on your resume? How can you bump up your interview strategy? We’re fortunate to have our very own part of PRSA dedicated to answering all of our questions – the PRSA Jobcenter.

In our upcoming Brown Bag, Richard Spector of PRSA Jobcenter, will share with us all of the basics, but also all of the new and creative ways to enhance your resume with QR codes and social media. Then, once you catch an employer’s attention with your resume, he’ll discuss how to “wow” them with your interview skills. In addition to interviews and resumes, he will review the job seeking tools PRSA has to offer.

Regardless of what stage of your career you’re in, this is always valuable information to have!

This New Pros Brown Bag will be held on Thursday, Jan. 17 from 12 to 1 p.m. EST. Remember, it’s free for New Pros members! Register here.

Richard Spector, manager of client services and sales support at PRSA, has been working with PRSA Jobcenter for five years. Spector guides public relations professionals of all levels in their job search, resume writing, networking and interview follow-up skills.

Professional Devleopment Brown Bag: “What PR Bosses Wish Their New PR Pros Would Do But Won’t Tell Them” with Michael Smart

All of us have different relationships with our bosses. Many new professionals hear from their bosses more than they’d like, while others may not hear from them enough. Some can walk into their boss’s office anytime to ask a question, while others need to get on their schedule and prepare a little bit to speak with their boss. Regardless of where your relationship with your boss falls, one thing is true – your boss is not telling you everything he/she appreciates or wishes you wouldn’t do at work.

Our next New Professionals Section Brown Bag features someone who has not only worked with countless PR executives, but has also mentored several successful young pros (who have gone on to Edelman, Waggener Edstrom, Fleishman-Hilliard and Harvard Business School). In working with these PR executives, Michael Smart has often heard them rant and rave about their young employees. Now he’s here to share it with us – the good and the bad – in our upcoming Brown Bag, “What PR Bosses Wish Their New PR Pros Would Do But Won’t Tell Them.”

Don’t miss it! Join us Monday, June 11 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT. Register here.

Michael SmartMichael Smart teaches PR professionals a smarter way to get PR results. He’s regularly the highest-rated speaker at the industry’s largest conferences, including the PRSA International Conference last year. He has trained more than 4,000 communicators from Frankfurt to Bangkok how to land top-tier media coverage. Smart also coaches communications execs at companies ranging from Fortune 200 firms, such as Aflac and GlaxoSmithKline, to mid-sized companies and PR agencies. Follow him on Twitter.

The Brown Bag is only available to New Professional Section members.

Trust Your Gut: and Other Advice for Graduating Seniors

It’s that time of year again! The class of 2012 is graduating college and entering the PR workforce. Most new professionals have spent a few years in the industry and have learned more than a few lessons from both our successes and mistakes, on the job and during the job search.

We asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans what they wish they had known when they graduated–the bits of advice they would bestow on seniors so their professional careers can start off on a great note. Here’s what they had to say:

“@PRSANewPros You already bring a unique and generational perspective to the table. Be confident in your skills and in yourself #PRadvice” Door24Agency2 via Twitter

“@PRSANewPros Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make the call!” Justin Lax via Twitter

“Finally updated #LinkedIn and am cleaning up my resume. It’s always a good idea to keep fresh on the #professional profile. #PRadvice #HAPPO” Amanda B. Nguyen via Twitter

“Make the most of any job opportunity. You never know where it can lead!” Jeanne Cardin Kurasz via Facebook

“Have a detailed, public LinkedIn account. I was found through a recruiter for my current employer. Also, a strong, versatile portfolio showcasing STRONG writing. Best pieces of advice I could ever offer anyone looking to get into PR.” Marysa Falk via Facebook

‎”1. Trust your gut. Don’t take the first job offer you receive if it doesn’t feel right. 2. Your first job probably will not be your dream position, and that’s okay. You still have 40+ years left to find it. Instead of focusing on finding your dream job, pursue an opportunity that aligns with your career goals and helps you learn and grow as a professional.” Rebecca Odell via Facebook

“@PRSANewPros Brand yourself online, and make sure your #socialmedia presence aligns with your professional profile. #PRadvice #HAPPO” Amanda B. Nguyen via Twitter‏

“@PRSANewPros Be prepared to start at the bottom. Don’t be afraid of #networking your way up! #PRadvice” Nicole White via Twitter

“@prsanewpros Make sure to evaluate the environment/culture before you accept a job. It’s just as important as the actual position. #PRadvice” Jenn Cartmille via Twitter

“Ask a ton of questions, save successful campaign examples & practice writing RT @PRSANewPros PR for graduating seniors? #PRadvice” Bethany Rae Cramer via Twitter


Good luck to the Class of 2012!

My First Six Months in PR or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job by Heather Sliwinski

About one week into my job, I wondered if I oversold myself during my interviews. I’m not saying I lied—no one should ever lie in an interview—but I had to question if I made it clear that I had zero PR experience when I landed my first position at a PR agency in August.

I took the advertising and PR classes in college, toiled at the obligatory unpaid internships in marketing and promotions and gained more than two years of marketing experience after graduation. With that said, I still didn’t know what a media list or subject matter expert was.

I had a lot to learn, not only about our clients’ businesses, but also the business of PR; I was terrified.

I had more than a few sleepless nights in the beginning, worrying about how I was going to tackle my projects. But in the past six months, I’ve embraced agency life and realized that, when it came to my early fears, there was more than met the eye:

Phone pitching is daunting.

I’ve never been a big phone talker. Calling up complete strangers (reporters) and telling them to cover a story idea made me feel like a telemarketer. I couldn’t believe that this was a common practice in PR. Why would a reporter care about me, someone they’ve never met, and my client, a company they’ve never heard of? Little did I know, with a good story idea, a knowledgeable expert and some flexibility, reporters do care.

Phone pitching is part trial and error and part knowing your stuff. I still get intimidated by phone pitching, but when we have a great idea, know our client’s expertise and go into the call with the intent of having a conversation, the results are always positive.

Plus, reporters are just people, too.

Media lists are crucial.

If you start with the wrong reporter, your pitching will get you nowhere. My first media lists were terrible. I relied on Cision to tell me who to pitch, rather than going to the source and figuring out who would want to cover our story. Having reporter history and past articles is great ammo for pitching and makes having an intelligent conversation with a reporter much easier.

My colleagues had me work and rework the early media lists, partly because I didn’t know Cision could be wrong (I would say it’s 50/50 on being right/wrong about a reporter’s beat). I feel that I am getting better at gauging who would cover a story, and I still edit, add and delete as I get on the phone with folks.

Seeing red doesn’t make you a bad writer.

My roots are in journalism: up until sophomore year of college, I thought I was going to be a reporter. I have adequate knowledge of AP style and proper grammar. I’ve been published in a few outlets. I thought I was a decent writer. When I started writing for PR, I lost most of my confidence.

My press releases, emails, media alerts, pitches—anything I wrote, really—came back with red ink all over the page. Seeing all the edits was definitely a blow to my ego. In time, I’ve seen that seeing red actually makes you a better writer. Considering I came from marketing, I wasn’t expected to know how to write a pitch. My writing style was much more focused on sales for marketing purposes, where PR is more about featuring news. My writing evolved. I learned to dig deep into a pitch and figure out where the story is, and I see less and less red as a result.

Social media isn’t the devil.

After coming from a few corporate cultures where using social media at work is frowned upon, I was excited to see that not only was I allowed to use social media at work, it was encouraged! The transition was difficult in the beginning. I felt a little naughty, checking Twitter for updates, retweeting during the workday and actually responding to messages between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Social media is part of my job, and I’m expected to stay on top of the news, retweet important content and interact with journalists during the day. I’ve had a handful of pitches that have sprouted from a breaking news tweet or friendly correspondence with a reporter. You never know what future opportunity can come out of social media.

You always have something to bring to the table.

When I joined my agency, I didn’t know what a ProfNet was. I didn’t know how to use Cision. I didn’t know how to write an expert available pitch. I knew nothing about my clients. Having every task in your job be completely new can weigh heavily on you.

However, not knowing the PR ropes didn’t mean that I didn’t have unique skills to contribute. Being a relative news junkie, I was able to spot breaking news stories and find angles where our clients could comment. My background in marketing has lent to assisting one of our clients with a website revamp. Having knowledge of graphic design programs allows us to offer additional design services to our clients, if needed.

And, we all have ideas. I was reserved in meetings, reluctant to share my thoughts. What do I know? I’m the new kid—my colleagues are the experts. But, we all read different publications and have different skills, experiences and approaches to thinking. I try to share my opinion more now, since there is no ‘wrong’ in brainstorming. No matter your level of PR knowledge, the next big idea could be yours.

My first six months in PR were definitely a roller coaster. I’m still adjusting and always learning, which I don’t think will ever go away. If we’re lucky, we’ll keep adding new clients, changing the game all over again. PR is never dull, and much like snowflakes, no two days in PR are ever the same.

While the unknown of each day used to stress me out, I try not to waste my energy worrying about what I don’t know and instead revel in the small victories that make it all worthwhile: being ahead of breaking news to land our client in the New York Times, securing an interview with a Reuters reporter, watching our client on live TV at 7 in the morning.

Don’t you just love PR?

What were some of your biggest challenges when you started your first PR job? Did you recently transition to PR from another field? Share your experiences below!

Heather SliwinskiHeather Sliwinski is an account executive at KemperLesnik, a Chicago-based public relations agency, providing media relations and social media services to a variety of B2B clients. She has held positions in marketing and event planning for corporations, nonprofits and higher education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis in strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sliwinski is the blog co-chair for the PRSA New Professionals Section. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.