By Elizabeth Nikolova
I joined Eskenzi PR as an Account Executive exactly a year ago, straight after I finished my (BA) Communication and Media course at Bournemouth University. As I admitted in my interview, I had done a bit of marketing through my university placements, but I hadn’t worked in PR before. I was aware I had to learn a lot (especially as Eskenzi specializes in cybersecurity PR), but I was up for the challenge.
I certainly feel like I’ve learned a lot in the past 12 months and so I wanted to share my key takeaways from the job:
1. Good communication is key
I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase a million times, but communication is, indeed, paramount so everyone on the team is on the same page. Whether you’re liaising internally with your manager, pitching an idea to your clients or passing along a key message to journalists, you need to do so with great efficiency and confidence. This applies both for your verbal communication and written correspondence. Also, make sure that you get back to clients, colleagues or journalists within an hour and try to be as helpful and proactive as possible (even if it’s just to say “Thank you”.) And in the case where you’re not sure how to respond, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Instead, you should make sure they know you’ve seen the message and you’re currently looking into the issue. Don’t leave them hanging. This shows not only your professionalism, but helps in the process of building strong relationships. And PR is all about building relationships. Finally, keep in mind that the way you communicate portrays an image of you and your company, so make sure you do it right.
2. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise (and be organised)
As an Account Executive, you juggle a lot of tasks for different clients all at the same time and if you’re not organized, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. Indeed, taking the time to prioritize your tasks upfront will pay off by increasing your overall productivity. So, what I’ve been doing to stay on top of everything (and what pretty much everyone in Eskenzi does) is making sure I’ve got a to-do list for the day or even the week. I usually write the list down in my notebook, but you can also use sticky notes on your Desktop or the good old Notepad/Word. Whatever it is you prefer, make sure you have that list and you stick to it. When you know, what needs to be done, it’s much easier to prioritize and efficiently manage your time.
3. Learn what constitutes as a newsworthy story
In the 24/7 news cycle, stories grow old pretty fast. So, it’s important to keep track of what’s currently happening in the media and think about what editors and journalists will find interesting, or exciting, or important. Of course, this will get easier with time, but it’s certainly valuable to get into the habit of looking for relevant stories both in terms of time and relevance.
4. Always be on the watch for a good one
Once, you know what defines as a good story (some clients or journalist might have a different set of criteria, so don’t feel disheartened if they don’t agree with you) make sure you’re on the look for it. You can create a list of publications or websites for monitoring or set Google alerts for relevant keywords. In any case, make sure you’re the first to learn the breaking news. If you find something good, then make sure you share it with your colleagues (you’re a team after all). And similarly, if you feel stuck and cannot find anything new or interesting, ask around the office – someone might be able to help.
5. Listen attentively
Apart from being a confident speaker, you need to be a good listener. You will need to be able to appreciate other people’s priorities and pressures. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is by taking notes and trying to understand other’s goals and priorities either during catch-up calls or face-to-face meetings (or through your day-to-day email conversations). For example, if a journalist doesn’t cover security/technology stories any more, it’s important to make note and don’t pitch him/her such stories (and make sure the rest of your team know that, too).
6. Write a pitch that a journalist will actually read
Writing good pitches is hard and even if you do so, there’s no guarantee that journalists will read them. Naturally, journalists and editors are bombarded with tons and tons of article pitches, quotes or press releases daily. So, what can you do to stand out? Build good relationships with them by making sure you get back to their comment requests with strong, useful quotes and show that you value their time by only sending them relevant materials. Once you’ve established those relationships, journalists will open and read your emails (and even have you as a first point of contact when a big story breaks).
7. Be a team player
At Eskenzi we’ve got small and big teams, internal and external ones, and I think this predisposes you to learn to be a good team player. Being a good team player means that you must work efficiently with other people who might have different responsibilities, backgrounds and levels of experience. It also means that you need to be reliable, encouraging and approachable, when someone is seeking advice. So, for example, if a team member needs help with one of the media monitoring tools, then you’d need to step in (provided you know how to help them). Furthermore, great team players step outside their comfort zones, put the team’s objectives above their own and take the initiative to get things done without waiting to be asked.
8. Have a clear goal behind every campaign you undertake
Defining clear goals every week, month, quarter or before you begin a campaign can help you keep track of progress and give you direction on where you need to concentrate your efforts and energy. After identifying what a successful campaign looks like, create a step-by-step execution plan and start off your campaign. You can do all that while you brainstorm with your manager or your whole team and remember don’t be afraid to make recommendations or suggestions about how something can be done.
9. Have a problem-solving attitude
In your day to day tasks, you’ll surely fall into a situation where you’d be asked to do something you don’t know how to do and here is where good communication and teamwork step in. However, if the matter is time sensitive or your manager is on PTO or your colleagues are also unsure of how to respond, then be proactive and throw out your solution. If it doesn’t work, then start over. Put your creative hat on and try to work out the best way to fix the issue (and do so without being asked). Having a problem-solving mindset is one of those things you gain with practice, so make sure you do it often. In addition, when you have this attitude, you become a valuable resource for your team.
10. Be ready to do your best (even if a story breaks on a Friday afternoon)
In the last couple of months, we’ve witnessed system around the world being hit by two cyber-attacks (Yes, I’m talking about WannaCry and Petya/NotPetya) both of which either happened over the weekend or on Friday afternoon. When something major like this happens whether it is Monday morning or Friday afternoon, you need to think and act fast and sometimes stay after hours to secure an interview or TV opportunity.
11. Do your own PR
When you’re working in PR, you focus so much on doing others’ PR, you sometimes forget you must do yours, too. What I mean by this is, when you’ve got an exciting project coming along or you’ve managed to get your clients in the FT or Forbes, be sure to share it with the world. Put it on your website, on your blog, share on your social media channels or mention it while you chat with journalists or clients.
12. Be genuinely nice to people
In an industry that is primarily built on relationships, it’s important to keep a positive attitude and just be nice to people. Whether it is at a networking event, face-to-face interviews or over email – be polite and try to understand others. Properly maintaining relationships with clients and journalists is crucial. You can do that by follow-ups, thank you cards, holiday gifts or simply checking on them regularly. What’s more, marketing and PR teams as well as journalists often work under a lot of pressure and get tons of emails daily, so make sure you’re polite and ask how they are – you’d be amazed how such a small thing can change the conversation.
And finally, remember that practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not quite there yet, just keep on trying your best.