I’m frequently asked by junior staff and students how they could develop a career like mine. This is a hard question as I’ve been awfully fortunate in the opportunities that have been presented, and I didn’t necessarily set off on a particular course that led me to where I am today. That said, I think there are some basic rules worth considering when starting out in a public relations career. Here are my top five:
- Raise your hand. Demonstrate an active interest in the business. As new business opportunities arise, extend yourself to help a team or participate in an internal project. Yes, this may mean extra hours above and beyond existing account work, but it can be very rewarding and give you extra experience. Also, be open to time in another market either in your own country or abroad. The world is more global today than when I started and it is only going to become more so.
- Be curious. Be a “student” of the media. I have always read up to three newspapers (NYT, WSJ, FT) each morning, consumed an hour of NPR and have only missed one episode of “60 Minutes” when there was a national emergency (and programming was pre-empted!). Naturally, in recent years I’ve expanded my consumption to blogs (Huffington Post, Politico and The Daily Beast) along with industry newsletters (PRWeek and the Holmes Report).
- Step out of your comfort zone. If an account is presented that doesn’t seem to immediately match your skill set, go for it. My first account was for an Israeli computer graphics company that had just listed on NASDAQ. I knew nothing about computer graphic… admittedly little about Israel… and zilch about how NASDAQ was different from the NYSE. I was, after all, an English literature major. Yet that account was a critical learning experience for me.
- Remember: managers aren’t mind readers. Speak up about your goals, ask for advice and understand you won’t be handed everything you want but optimally, over time, you’ll get the counsel you need. Careers take time to build.
- Take notes. Dan Edelman taught me the importance of taking notes at meetings. Not only does it demonstrate active engagement during the meeting itself, but also it ensures that follow-up activities don’t deviate from what was actually discussed. I recently found a “Dan-o-gram” (one of Dan’s famous memos) from a 2001 meeting with Ernest Gallo. Ernest was 96 and Dan was 81, and they had known one another over the years from when Dan oversaw the California Wines account. Following our meeting, Dan sent an extraordinarily detailed memo that captured the conversation and then led to a variety of strategies and ideas for consideration. A reinforcing lesson of the power of notes.
Using these rules won’t just enable you to start your career right, they are critical to sustaining and maintaining your career’s path in a changing world.
Matthew Harrington is the global chief operating officer
Five Ways image by Elliott Brown