Public relations agencies are microcosms of the greater industry, embodying the most dynamic and challenging elements of communications work. Achieving success in the agency setting requires hard work, long hours and a laser focus on personal growth. After one year into my role at a global public affairs firm, I looked back to take stock on what I believe makes a communications consultant stand out.
Understand the business of the business. For a junior staffer, a comfortable understanding of budgeting, billing, staffing and client services can be a significant differentiator. Public relations agencies are professional services businesses, and employee billings are the primary driver of a company’s revenue. Whereas it’s certainly not all about the money, a budget-conscious approach to work is a paramount trait among strong leaders. The best way to position yourself for advancement is to look to those working above and alongside you to gain an understanding of the fundamental questions behind the business: How does my company make money? Am I doing everything I can to maintain top-quality and budget-conscious service? How can I help to keep my clients happy?
Master flexibility. Communications work is often unpredictable. Depending on your occupation, the degree of this unpredictability can vary dramatically. However, a basic principle of agency work is to expect the unexpected. As an agency professional, you will need to be able to work quickly and tactfully with a variety of issues. The best practitioners can approach an issue, dig into it with confidence and handle it competently. Learn to embrace the project-based and short-term engagements that tend to appear in the agency setting – every task is an opportunity to demonstrate your aptitude. If you’re unfamiliar with a topic or task, embrace it, and ask every smart question you’ll need to inform your success. Never say “that’s not my job” or appear reluctant to roll up your sleeves and engage.
Learn how to quantify your own successes. When you work in an agency, it’s easy to become consumed with the day-to-day rigors of short turnaround deliverables, meeting your managers’ expectations and articulating your work’s value to clients. Measurement is the key component of demonstrating the value of public relations, for both campaign outcomes and your individual services. Young professionals should maintain a file of professional accomplishments that quantify your hard work. This can include a list of valuable media hits, event results, campaign outcomes or any other computable metrics, including something as simple as a “good work” email from the client. When the time comes to discuss your performance, you’ll have a portfolio of your own achievements to lean on.
Don’t fear strategy. It’s easy for junior agency staff to feel like they’re running through the motions, often executing on the tactics assigned by mid-level account leaders and senior agency directors. Young professionals joining the agency world should be mindful of this dynamic, but never abandon the instinct to think and counsel strategically. You don’t need to have 20 years of experience to have a good idea, and you must embrace the reality that you are a part of the team. Be careful and measured in your proposal of good ideas, and be open to healthy scrutiny. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and always remember it is your remit to take the active role in bringing your ideas to life.
The best young professionals are always looking to take their roles to the next level, constantly asking, “what can I do to add value here?” What do you do to add value to your agency?
Gary Bridgens is a project consultant in APCO Worldwide’s New York Office, and the PRSA-NY Executive Secretary. Connect with him on LinkedIn, or email him directly.
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