Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

Working the bottom rung

It’s a bad time to be in the industry.  People are losing their jobs left and right, and as a junior employee who’s probably not bringing in new business, how do you keep your job?  Regardless of the economic climate, there are a few tips that will not only help you keep your job, but make you indespensible as an employee and make it easier for you to work your way up the corporate ladder.

Be reliable.  When I started in the industry, one of my team leaders gave me a piece of advice I’ve given to every junior PR person I’ve worked with.  Senior people are juggling multiple projects and clients and are generally extremely busy.  When they delegate something to you, they need to be 100% secure in the fact that it will get done.  Be reliable, and you’ll become a go-to person with a reputation for getting the job done, and making life easier for those who have the power to promote you.

Have an eagle-eyed attention to detail.  It’s not enough to merely get the job done.  If you’re given a task that needs miles of corrections, you’re not adding value – in fact, you may be making life more difficult for those who are delegating to you.  Pay attention to the details of your contributions as well as others.  Proofread, fact check, follow proper formatting guidelines, and make it a rule to submit everything letter perfect.  It’s a supervisor’s job to maintain quality control, but the less that needs to be controlled, the better you look.  Assume whatever you provide to your superiors will be sent to the client unchecked, and work to acheive that level of polish.  It will not only help now, but even more when you’re directly interfacing with clients.

Figure it out.  Training is the backbone of any successful PR firm, but certiain things are expected to be part of general education.  While performing a media scan may require formal in-house training, there are many things that can be figured out simply through a quick Google search.  Ask for guidance, but only after you’ve made a bit of an effort to figure it out for yourself.  It will make you a better person.

Become a better writer.  Even if you think you’re the best writer in the world, get better.  If you’ve got awards for your pithy prose and penetrating poetry, get better.  No matter what you do in this industry, you’ll need to be a great writer.  If you’re not – get another job.  It’s not enough to be good at a certain type of writing – you need to be able to adapt to any style, any voice, any message.  It takes practice, but work at getting better at it.  It might be a while before you’re writing copy or messaging, but work at it.  There’s nothing worse than a PR person who can’t write.

Enjoy the grunt work.  Your main job is to make life easier for the people who bring in the clients and keep them happy.  This means photocopying, web research, data entry – all of the exceedingly boring crap that nobody wants to do.  Enjoy it.  Revel in it.  Ask for more.  The more you understand of the minutiae of the work, the better you’ll be at the bigger stuff – strategy, estimating, etc.  Nobody really likes the work, but if you can do it with a smile, you’ll be respected by the people who rely on you.

Be patient.  It’s really difficult to work with a junior PR person who thinks they should be managing partner.  Sure, you want to move up and make more money, have a better title, and do the more interesting work, but you need to prove yourself first.  Show you’re hungry, but don’t be pushy about it.

Bring a big brain.  Nobody expects you to come up with the next big idea – and that’s all the more reason that you should be dedicating your spare time to building that.  Read, research, interview, understand – be voracious in your quest for knowledge, and apply that big brain to problems that your firm needs to solve.  Whether it’s a best practice for something small, a new process for developing media lists that will save time and money, or another supplier that will give better results cheaper, keep bringing those ideas to the table.  There is nothing more appreciated in a junior employee than drive and ambition.  Keeep it below obnoxious level, though, and never expect more for your trouble than a “Good idea.  Thanks.”

Those are my tips for succeeding as a junior PR person.  Have any that you’d like to share?

15 Comments

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  1. Sage advice for any industry! I'd add one: be positive and don't complain. I also don't think anyone likes working with someone whose negative outlook is a drag on office morale.

  2. I loved this post. It makes completely sense, and as someone still working on the junior level, I can say my manager would be thrilled if I followed these tips more closely. 🙂 Thanks for the spot-on insight.

  3. Totally true. It all comes down to being positive and proactive. If you can be that person – people will like working with you, and opportunities will present themselves.

  4. As someone who is increasingly working with junior staff, is willing to mentor but with high expectations, these tips are bang on… particularly the first two… what am I saying, they're all important!

  5. Cassandra Richards

    as a junior, this is great insight into the 'manager mind' – thanks Ryan 🙂

  6. Oh, and Cass, I still caught a few grammatical errors in that last draft… for shame!!

  7. Carter

    Really fantastic advice–as a senior manager who stuggled the most at those bottom rungs [damn binding machine] I think these are straightforward but absolutely vital tips…One thing I'd add that sounds ridiculously corny but is really helpful to keep in mind–use your accomplishments as a springboard. Because a lot of your job in the early going involves doing something for the first time, just getting it done can be exhausting. Keeping ahead of the to-do list is tough, but take the time to learn from your accomplishments and leverage what worked for next time. Land a big media opp? Great, what can you take from that pitch to land a few more? Deliver a kickass report? Okay, what can you do to make the next one even better? It's worth taking the time after the dust has settled to do a little post-mortem.

  8. Stacey Stewart

    This is wonderful advice. As a soon-to-be PR grad, I rack my brain not only about how I am going to get a job, but also how I am going to keep my job. I have accepted that I will be doing most of the grunt work for a while, and that I will have to keep my shining moments to a minimum 😉 These are tips that I will most definitely use as daily reminders while on the job. Thanks, Ryan!

  9. Great post. I have a few to contribute:

    1. Keep asking questions: Don't pester your supervisors or senior coworkers, but identify appropriate times to ask professional-related questions, like lunchtime (chances are because you're young, they might even pick up the tab, but don't expect it). "Why would you send a photo op announcement but not a full press release?" "How did you know a press tour was the right tactic to use for that event?" People like to talk about their work achievements and it's a great way to gain personal insight from a primary source.

    2. Scan RFP databases: You never know if supervisors have seen potential opportunities, so it doesn't hurt to bring them to their attention.

    3. Brush up on social media skills: Read everything you possibly can on emerging media. PR and social media go hand-in-hand because they both depend on establishing and maintaining relationships with constituents.

  10. This is also great advice for people looking to enter the job market ( I am extremely nervous to graduate in a few months).

    If we showcase these skills in an interview it might put us in a better position to get hired.

    I was wondering if you have any specific advice for recent graduates looking for internships?

  11. Beth Cleveland

    I second the point — "The more you understand of the minutiae of the work, the better you’ll be at the bigger stuff." I founded a boutique firm in 2007 (Elm PR) and wear many hats as a result. I do everything from research to media monitoring to planing and strategy, and the tedious, less exciting aspects of my day, often inspire the best story ideas or strategic solution to a client challenge.

  12. […] Anderson recently posted a blog about this subject. In his post “Working the bottom rung” he offered 7 tips for the junior PR people, like me. They are the […]

  13. […] Working the Bottom Rung: Ryan Anderson offers tips for junior PR professionals about making themselves valuable in a scary economy. […]