Getting started in PR – Some reflections, two years in

On multiple occasions when I was still studying, I remember being told that if you wanted to be anything in corporate PR in New Zealand, there was only one place for you to start out.

A large, very traditional corporate agency, that’s been around for decades, and is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the business.

I interviewed there before I’d even graduated, and was completed overawed by the silence and seriousness of their offices, immediately questioning how I’d fare in that sort of environment. Ultimately, I chose not to pursue the opportunity.

Where I ended up finding a home, with One Plus One, couldn’t be more different.

These days, we have a wider team of about eight consultants and associates, and have enjoyed an affiliate relationship with MSLGROUP for a number of years (one of the largest strategic communications and engagement networks in the world).

But, when I first joined in early 2014, I was the junior member of a three-man band; the newest employee of a company itself only six months old.

These days, when I’m talking to anyone who’s about to get started in the industry, I often can’t recommend strongly enough that people take the opportunity to work as part of a smaller agency, if they can.

That said, I know it’s not for everyone – so here are the top five things I think graduates should know, if they’re thinking about joining a smaller, less traditional agency:

1. It’s crucial the cultural fit is right.

More so than anywhere else. You’ll be sitting across from your boss, and working with each and every member of your team on a daily basis – so if the fit isn’t quite right, you’ll feel it that much more.

So, if there’s a hint of doubt as to whether you’ll enjoy working with the people who are going to be your colleagues, it might be worth looking elsewhere.

2. Be prepared to be thrown in the deep end…

…But know that the more senior members of the team will have your back.

When things get busy, and there are lots of important jobs on the to-do list, it won’t always be possible for the senior members of the team to take care of everything they might in quieter times.

When that happens, and there’s a degree of overflow, you can expect to have things delegated to you that will be a true test of your skills, experience and abilities, likely even before you think you’re ready for them.

In situations like that, if you’re unsure of anything, remember that your team will want you to ask questions – because it’s a lot easier to set the record straight from the outset, than to have to go back and redo an entire document to correct mistakes.

And after all, they want you to do well.

3. Your career progression may be less “linear” than in larger consultancies.

When you’re working in a smaller agency, job titles might not mean as much. That’s because, to a greater or lesser extent, everyone’s pitching in on everything, anyway.

Of course, you’ll still be growing, learning, and advancing your skills – and you’ll probably have the opportunity to do so at a faster rate than you would elsewhere. And the advantage in a lack of hierarchy is that you’ll have the chance to work much more closely with, and learn from, the most senior members of your team, which is where you’ll get the greatest benefit.

But the straightforward path that exists in most larger agencies, from Account Executive, to Account Manager, to Account Director, may not be present – something to consider if the traditional hierarchical structure appeals to you.

4. You’ll need to speak up, much earlier on.

When you’re a third of the team, your silence will be felt a lot more deeply in meetings and strategic planning sessions, than it might be if you were one of a group of 12.

It can be daunting to speak up in front of people that are much more senior (and it definitely took me a few months to get up the courage to actively contribute). A useful tactic is to plan ahead, and think of some small insight to share even before you get into the meeting – to take some of the pressure off, once you’re in that environment.

5. And, finally, you’ll need to be genuinely engaged in what’s going on.

When you’re working so closely together, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone’s disconnected from their work, which isn’t sustainable within a small team.

The type of personality best suited to a small consultancy is arguably one who consistently looks for ways to add value – who takes initiative, is able to offer up a critical point of view, and is always looking for faster and better ways to do things, that will be appreciated by your team, and your clients.

Despite the emphasis that’s placed on the advantages of working within one of the bigger traditional agencies, there’s so much to be said for their more compact counterparts, and the unique, hands on opportunities and experiences they’re able to offer.

So, if you’re comfortable with that sort of environment, a smaller agency could be exactly right for you.

– Alex Harman, PR Consultant