Congratulations, you’re about to graduate college and apply what you’ve learned in the real world.
A career at a PR, advertising, or marketing agency is a gratifying path. Agency life brings more opportunities for collaboration, client experience, and a social environment than most workplaces. But it’s not easy, especially for recent grads.
There are many great lists about working at a PR firm, but here are a few things I wish someone had told me when I graduated. Maybe you’ll find a few good nuggets here, too:
1. You’re at the mercy of two people: managers and clients.
Not all managers are great, nor are all clients. Over time, both will work themselves out. Reach out to the right people before you leave.
2. You’re expected to be connected to email on the go.
Whether you like it or not, a job that comes with mobile email means you’re expected to be on it. It’s the hardest and saddest part of our industry, but a work/life balance is yours to own and yours to create. Much of the client interactions happen after hours—whether you’re tweeting over the weekend about a customer service issue or you’ve landed a story or interview based on breaking news.
Balancing this to the best of your ability is all you can do. Agency lifers will tell you that helping your clients in these ways will get you promoted and celebrated.
3. Being proactive shows everyone on your team that you’re here to win.
Whether you’re sharing a reporter’s new job post or defining award qualifications before your manager asks, remaining proactive will be the difference between being a coordinator forever and an account executive in the first year.
4. If you don’t know how to proofread, return your diploma.
Though we all make grammatical mistakes, don’t make the stupid ones—such as misspelling your client’s name.
5. Whoever said “no question is a stupid question” is, in fact, stupid.
Pose smart questions. This means that before you ask what time zone California is in, check Google. Smart questions help you learn, but when you ask about something that is in plain sight, you tend to look unprepared. Agency life celebrates not only the resourceful young professional, but also the stealthy one.
6. Building relationships will get you everywhere.
The adage “it’s whom you know” is among the most important things I learned in my early years of PR life. Years later, as I manage an agency, nearly all the business comes from referrals.
Inside your first agency team, spend time with your direct manager, but get to know those above him or her. Try to attend as many senior-level meetings as possible and comment on what is going on. (Just refer to No. 5 first.) You never know where these people will end up one day.
7. Problems, drama, and—yes—some tears are almost guaranteed.
If people tell you differently, they are lying. Be smart about where and with whom you associate, and do your best to grow a thick skin for constructive criticism. You might make mistakes, but remember that your managers are probably committing errors as well. We all are in a learning place, even those at the top.
Agency life will be draining, daunting, and often thankless. If you want to be the next undiscovered talent—or the young professional with the corner office—you have to work your butt off to get there. In agency life, a job promotion is never going to be handed to you.
Perhaps the best piece of advice, which could probably be applied to any job, is that you are only as good as your team. Work well with others, give credit where it is due, and roll up your sleeves to get the job done—no matter what that job is.
Nicole Messier is the managing director at Overit Media.