From the Classroom to the Agency
By Kai Heslop, Account Executive
Just five months ago, I was writing final papers, putting together final presentations, and preparing for written and oral final exams to complete my graduate program. As I worked toward a Master of Science degree in Communication with a specialization in PR, I leaned on mentors, professors, friends, and family to help me navigate the transition from the classroom to the workforce.
Amid completing schoolwork to close out this chapter, I experienced excitement and apprehension about what the future would hold. Was I ready for my first full time role? Would I enjoy my work? How much of what I had learned in the classroom throughout the past six years would translate into my role?
A central aspect of working in PR discussed in university classes is the varied lines of work that communications professionals can pursue. It was clear from the beginning that there are many options to consider, each of which has its perks and drawbacks. The career trajectories possible within the field of PR depend on your experiences and interests, which prompted me to try different sectors including nonprofit PR, government agencies, and corporate PR.
Kickstarting my career with Waters Agency was the result of getting a feel for the vibrant nature of agency work and deciding that I wanted to engage with multiple clients working toward different goals. Working with an agency allows you to experience a variety of accounts and diversify your daily tasks. Through hands-on work, you can wear many hats and think creatively, broadening your knowledge of the PR landscape. For these reasons, the prospect of agency work greatly appealed to me, and my time at Waters Agency so far has taught me valuable lessons that I would like to share.
1. Client relationships are the backbone of PR
Agencies work to help clients meet their goals, whether they are to launch the company or product, to influence opinions or build awareness, among others. Most team members in an agency setting are client-facing by nature and nurturing these client relationships is key to continued success. While this aspect of PR was discussed in classes, it isn’t something that can be taught through textbook readings and its importance takes on a new light in practice. While working with Waters Agency, I have seen positive client relationships in action, and how they result in timely deliverables and effective communication on both sides.
2. Seek to make the many platforms and tools that PR professionals use your friends!
While this one might go without saying, key tools like Cision and MuckRack are essential in getting the information needed for outreach on behalf of clients. In my current role, I now see that I never fully grasped just how many platforms and tools exist, all with the aim of helping you achieve efficiency and effectiveness in your role. Due to paywalls and required subscriptions, I did not have full access to some of these tools while in the classroom, though through internships, I was able to practice using some tools to an extent. Before joining an agency, this knowledge and experience gap was notable, which only strengthens my belief that PR students need to pair their studies with real-world experience to complete their understanding of the field and prepare themselves for the workforce.
3. Find ways to enhance your knowledge of the PR sector that you work in
As a PR professional working in any sector, whether it be B2B tech or consumer goods, it is important to keep up with news and trends relevant to your work. In an agency setting, I have found that this is increasingly important as your clients will have varied goals and priorities that determine what kinds of recommendations you make and implement. In the classroom, the fact that PR involves continuous research, self-starting and agility is emphasized, however, applying these principles to work with real clients is a different task.
The defining disparity between PR in the classroom and PR in the workforce can be characterized by one word: application. Learning principles and practices specific to the discipline of PR can feel incomplete without putting what you have learned into practice and exercising your skills.
About the author:
Kai Heslop, Account Executive, Raleigh, NC. has experience writing PR materials for different types of organizations including technology companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Having received her Master of Science degree in Communication with a specialization in PR, Kai enjoys creatively bringing a client's voice to life when telling their story.