Jun 21

Lessons Learned by a PR ‘Newcomer’

Closeup on person writing notes on a journal next to a laptop. A cell phone and wire basket for paper are also nearby.

When I graduated from Central Michigan University, I wasn’t one of the lucky students who already had a job lined up. I was still searching for the right opportunity and wasn’t so sure where I’d land. I eventually found my footing in agency life — a career path I’ve grown to really love.

One thing that’s great about being in an agency is the variety of work and fast-paced environment, so you get to learn a lot early on. I’ve been able to meet many influential people and dive into different industries. I’ve taken on leadership roles and have had the opportunity to quickly grow and refine my skills. I feel very grateful for all I’ve been able to accomplish at this point in my career.

In fact, I was recently recognized as a young professional in PR who has “demonstrated the potential for becoming an outstanding practitioner” by the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, also known as WMPRSA.

Having been named WMPRSA’s Newcomer of the Year, I thought now would be an apt time to share what I’ve learned thus far. I hope it helps future PR “newcomers” navigate those first few years in the “real world.”

Be kind to yourself and your to-do list

Grid paper notepad with a to-do list that includes the following: 1. wake up 2. coffee 3. the restI’m a meticulous note taker and list creator. Nine times out of 10, this helps me remember details and stay organized, but sometimes it works against me.

There are days when I’ve created such long to-do lists for myself that are impossible for anyone to complete, then feel bad I haven’t crossed everything off. I know I’m not alone in setting up unnecessary, imaginary deadlines in the name of staying productive. Operating that way is unrealistic and overwhelming.

For anyone who’s like me, here’s your reminder that it’s OK to reprioritize your tasks and work through them in smaller chunks. It may be rare when you get to everything on your to-do list even if you keep it to a manageable length. Truly there are so many things that come “over the transom,” as we like to say, as immediate needs or unexpected requests to commandeer your day. If you find your to-do list piling up, don’t be afraid to ask for support.

When it doubt, follow up

It seems most communications professionals truly dread making follow calls to the media or worry they’re annoying clients by nudging them about projects. More often than not, I’ve found follow-ups are actually appreciated by journalists and clients alike. I might go so far as to say they’re essential.

Many of us are moving a mile a minute with multiple and often conflicting priorities. A quick email, text or phone call can be helpful when things accidentally fall off the radar. Obviously, be mindful of frequency and contact people in the way they prefer. Early on in your career when you’re making those connections and developing relationships, ask what works best for them and share your preferences as well. When done in a respectful way, follow-ups can maintain positive two-way communication and keep things on track.

Remember everyone’s human first

When things are moving fast and tensions are high, it’s surprising how often the concept of putting people first can get missed. Thankfully, this practice is at the core of Sabo PR’s approach to projects and problems. It ought to be the same for everyone everywhere. When faced with an issue, try to first consider all the humans involved — their points of view, their feelings — before charging ahead with a response.

While we may truly love our careers, the occasional bad day or negative interaction is inevitable. I think it’s helpful to remember we’re more than our jobs – ourselves, our clients, our coworkers, the media, you name it. We’re all just humans trying to live our best lives, and I’ve found people usually have good intentions.

On the workdays you don’t love, have grace for yourself and others. Utilize affirmations if it helps. Some of my favorites are in this Work Life blog by Atlassian.

Be a part of the solution

I learned early on that negativity can spread quickly in a workplace. Is something really getting to you at work beyond what a normal vent session can fix? Be the problem solver I know all PR people have in their DNA and have an open conversation about it. It’s so important to try to gain an understanding of other factors that could be at play. Work with those who have control over making the situation better instead of silently spiraling.

The same applies to projects. Speak up if something feels off and try to come up with a suggestion that could help make things right. You could prevent a small issue from unraveling into a bigger one by sharing your thoughts. You can do it in a kind and gentle way, and ultimately save your client or team from a lot of headaches down the road. Your input is valid and shows you care.

Honesty is the best policy

This goes for all aspects of our work, and life in general. At Sabo PR, it is well known that when we make a mistake, we self-report. It’s in our social contract that we always are the first ones to own up to it with our teammates or clients. I know it can be hard to admit you’ve messed up. However, it’s so much better in the long run to own up to and learn from a mistake rather than trying to hide it.

I know I’ve got much more to learn and look forward to the other life lessons I’ll collect in the years ahead. As a young professional, I am humbled to have been recognized by my peers in the industry. I certainly hope to live up to the potential they have seen in me as I continue to grow in my career.

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