I often get asked by "up and budding" PR types who are just brimming with enthusiasm: What does it take to land a job at a PR agency? Beyond the necessary basic talent, like writing, organizational skills, research savvy and industry knowledge, there are certain requisite skills and personality traits you must possess to even entertain getting into the field of PR, let alone on the agency side. I've had the opportunity of working with many student interns all the way up to Senior VPs. At MAVERICK, I interview everyone who wants to land a job here and has the basic qualifications "on paper." Specifically, this is what I am looking for ...
If you are a student, junior PR staffer, or just thinking of getting into PR, print this out and tick off each trait you posses. Scoring is at the bottom.
Service Oriented Personality
Yes, we are in a service business, disguised as consulting. At the end of the day, we not only set the strategic road map for our client's communications plan, but must also deliver on that plan, which makes the service side critical. You must be willing to "do what it takes" for clients. Period. It is paramount to our industry. Client demands come first. I'm sorry, but that's what we get paid for. What did you think our business centered around? The holiday parties? In client emergencies, your yoga, Pilates, massage appointment can wait. Everyone, including the client, will appreciate your commitment.
Interpersonal and Presentation Skills
You must be able to handle yourself with a range of key stakeholders including, managers, clients, media, etc. You must possess exceptional oral communication skills to survive. At one point, sooner or later in your PR career, you will have to stand up and present to your colleagues and clients. If you have problems doing this in class: get a coach, take a drama lesson or go to Toastmasters. I worked with one young lady in my office for five years before she could get up and not blush to make a presentation. It was exhausting for me and she didn't move ahead fast enough with the firm. Not having this skill will hold you back for sure.
This is learned and gets better with a few wrinkles, but you'll be tested from day one. A good PR person senses opportunities and problems without having to analyze a situation ad nauseam. You must learn to read your client's eyes and body language. Active listening is key to strong intuitive skills. A strong barometer for many sound decisions is made with the gut. If you've never had a strong hunch before, don't try PR.
"Do what you've always done, and you get what you've always gotten." Be prepared to shake it up, take risks and calculated gambles. If you've never written a speech before, ask your boss if you can take it on. You must stretch yourself from day one. PR is a constant journey of learning. If you don't try and jump, you won't move ahead.
Sense of Humour
If your funny bone was surgically removed, you won't survive in this business. You must learn to see the humour in situations where it may be so intense you want to leap off a ledge. Recently, a few of us went to pitch a stodgy financial piece of business. I knew as soon as I met the prospect, there was no chemistry. The meeting was abysmal. As soon as we walked into the elevator after the meeting, we burst into laughter -- so hard tears were streaming down our faces. Never before was such a bad meeting so hilarious. Learn to laugh. You'll be glad I told you.
Learn to take criticism
This is the toughest of all. We all take things too personally. You must develop armadillo skin early. If your parents told you at three your paintings were like Van Gogh's, you are in for a rough ride. Your boss isn’t your mother. If you turn in a crap assignment, we'll tell you. If your news release is hacked apart, be thankful someone took the time to teach you how to structure one properly. If you are long winded, we'll tell you to shut up. Hey, it's all good for you and you'll be better for it.
Polish your shoes
I hate to bring this one up and it may be a comment from the seventies, but if you look like you just crawled out of a pub at 3 a.m. (messed up hair, bad breath, clothes disheveled) and you think you look good, you won't get past the client's or PR firm's door. My old boss once told me the secret to success in PR was two things: Breath mints and deodorant! Seriously folks, you are judged from the moment you walk in the door. And if you're a woman, it’s even worse. If you are just starting out, buy a couple of suits and learn to mix and match them. Thank god for Zara and H&M! Accessorizing is key. Just remember what separates us from the animals: A good handbag.
This one cannot be over stated: Multi-tasking is the key to surviving in an agency. If you have tunnel vision and a single-task-oriented personality, pack your bags and give up the PR thing altogether. PR agency folk are a special breed of "can do attitudes" and "give me more syndrome." You'll have to handle a number of tasks at once and keep each one of your managers deliriously happy. It's an art form to master. Learn this one at an early stage and you'll be on your way up the ladder.
PR is a team sport
Park your ego at the door, along with your "I" attitude and the "all about me show" almost immediately. If you don't, your manager will put you in your place. PR firms are like great football teams. Each person on the team has a role and responsibility. Defensive line players are not the most glorified but they get the offensive team in place to score. So if you are in the back room on a big client assignment, then you are getting the client-facing team ready for a big touchdown. Not to worry, you'll get recognized for your contribution and one day you'll get to be the quarterback or even better, the wide receiver! I promise!
You may not agree with me, but the best PR professionals in agency life are those who are well liked and see opportunities, not problems. I despise people with negative attitudes and have a glass half empty mentality. I honestly can't stand to be around those people and I tend to escape their negative aura. I had two "woe is me" employees leave this year for greener pastures and my office has never been sunnier! PR is not based on mathematical algorithms or an exact science. It is organic, people based and creative. It's also strategic, fun and rewarding. It requires talented individuals, who are natural leaders and problem-solvers; nay sayers will not be tolerated at most agencies.
I had a ton of crap thrown at me in the early days when I started my own PR firm but I kept my head held high, never let my guard down and even joked regularly with my clients about that situation. (Yes, a future blog will discuss that sordid caca.) My positive and optimistic attitude prevailed and is a key reason for my success. It's hard to wipe the smile from my face. Bottom-line: Order a pair of rose-colored glasses and wear them once in awhile; it should be a standard issue for PR people!
Three or less: Sorry to break it to you, but PR in not in your immediate future.
Four to Seven: You can give PR a shot. You may be more suited to the corporate side, but it may be short lived and you may be looking for the ledge outside your building.
Eight to 10: Send me your application. You'll have a wonderful career in PR one day.