Peri Orbus

Five Rules for Starting Out Your PR Career



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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  • After 3 years of industry experience, this may seem a bit trivial. However, as a fresher, these are the very actions by which you can be seen. Listen, understand and talk. Pretty much sums up it here.

  • K2L

    These are excellent lessons and advice for any career! Thanks for sharing.

  • Paul

    What if you are trying to get into the business?

  • Travis Kessel

    Paul – in order to break into the profession, do something that would demonstrate that you possess the qualities above that Matt intelligently lists. For example, you could start a blog about issues you see within the Media showcasing your curiosity for the space. You could simply blog about something for which you are very passionate–this is like raising your hand to do something without it even being asked of you to do.

    Think of this as a “portfolio” you are building to showcase your talents. So long as you can show an employer you are truly interested in the PR field and communications, you should be set. Always remember #3 above, especially when starting a new career – you have to be ready and willing to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to learn something new.

    Matt – this is great! As a Recruiter for Edelman, I can attest to people who succeed within our business demonstrating these characteristics daily. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jacquitta

    Thank you for sharing! I’m applying all these concepts now to get better experience in PR.

  • These five rules are definitely spot on, especially for young graduates and interns!

  • Spot on rules!

  • Janet

    These tips are helpful but as a young professional of color it’s not that easy. I work at Edelman as an intern and it seems that following these and similar tips are not enough for people in my position. I would love to see the leaders of this company address the issue of biases or discrimination against professionals of color as in my office I have seen very little diversity in any communication departments and a minuscule about of diversity in junior staff.

    • Matthew Harrington

      Thank you for your thoughtful and candid comment. It’s my goal for everyone to have a positive work experience at Edelman and I’d want the same for you. I, along with the firm’s entire executive leadership team, am committed to ensuring that Edelman reflects the diversity of the communities in which we live and operate. Some of the steps we’re taking to do so include appointing our first Diversity & Inclusion Officer in the U.S.; partnering with organizations like Posse, JANY and Howard University; and establishing Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN). But we know we still have ways to go. I will be sure to reach out to you early next week so we might discuss further.

  • Hannah Rose

    As a PR student, I am very glad you shared these rules! Thank you.

  • Well said! May I add one more- create your own style too! Make yourself known.

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