How to Get (and Keep) a Job in PR / Advertising / Marketing

September 15, 2015

how to get and keep a job in pr and marketing I wit & whimsyOne of the most common questions I get emailed to me is how I got started in my career in Public Relations and marketing. Frankly, I don’t think there’s an easy way to sum it up but if I had to try… I’d say “lots and lots of hard work, internships and networking.”

But that’s not that helpful because there’s so much more to landing (and keeping!) a job in the industry you’ve deemed right for your career and therefore I decided to round up advice from some of the best people in the communications and marketing biz that I know. They are friends, they are former colleagues and they are folks I’ve had the pleasure of working with for wit & whimsy and I’m so excited to share their knowledge and know-how today in a special post.

And if you’re interested to hear more about how I balance blogging and working full time, check out this interview I recently did.

Christine Ngo, Digital Marketing Lead at Mountain Dew (PepsiCo)

  • Do not be afraid to email the most senior people at the agency/brand/company to ask for advice. People at the top didn’t just get there from hard work, discipline and diligence – they once had amazing mentors who took a chance on them.
  • Organize informal, fun get-togethers of other like-minded people in your age group. Make sure that they’re from all aspects of the industry – aspiring brand managers, media planners, PR professionals, creatives, strategists, publishers. As more of your friends advance in the industry, you’ll quickly build a well-rounded network of contacts to share opportunities with you.
  • Controversial, but if you have banked in a few years of working and are looking for a career change (specifically a change into marketing) consider business school. As a Columbia Business School alum’s ‘better half’, I witnessed countless young professionals entering b-school for 2 years, leaving with excellent experience via coveted internships and a wide network of future business leaders.

Hailey Tully, Public Relations Manager at Vita Coco

  • Since I started my career, I have always believed in the importance of being open and in constantly putting yourself out there because you never know where your next opportunity lies. My dad, who also started his career in communications, always taught me that every conversation, coffee, phone call, informational meeting, etc. is significant, no matter how distant the contact or how obscure the opportunity might be. The truth is that you just never know who will be a connector or facilitator to your next opportunity. I can’t even tell you the amount of people who were willing to meet with me or introduce me to a friend’s sister’s cousin’s neighbor’s colleague who maybe worked in PR. And every single email, text message, phone call, introduction was worth it. I was so thrilled at how many people were willing to pay it forward and I have always tried to do the same in any way I can. So my best advice is to be open and to be willing to put yourself out there. That’s what this industry is all about, right?

Stephanie Bevegni, Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn

  • If you want a job in PR and Marketing, you need to make sure your digital channels are up to date and project your professional self. When you apply to jobs, recruiters and potential managers search and review your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it’s up to date with a non-selfie profile picture (a photo makes your profile 7X more likely to be viewed), an eye-catching headline, and a killer bio. Hint: don’t write your bio in the third person. It’s your elevator pitch, so be sure to describe your skills, what you’re passionate about, and what you’re looking for. Don’t forget to give you profile some personality and provide links to your projects. You can find more tips here.
  • Networking is not a dirty word. It’s a great way to connect with current and potential contacts as you continue to grow and learn. And networking does not mean sending an InMail or an email to a person asking for job. I cringe at those InMails. Instead, identify someone with a job you aspire to have in the near or far future, and reach out asking if they have 30 mins to share their career experience. Ask them how they got into their current role, what skills are needed for someone in that job, what advice do they have? etc. You must share and receive knowledge first before asking for the job opp. And oftentimes you can find a common connection who can make the introduction for you.
  • I’ve always really valued my relationships with managers. One of my past managers said to me, “If you are growing and improving, that means I am doing a good job and that we as a team are succeeding.” Managers are oftentimes your mentors, so it’s important to build a good, open and honest relationship with him or her. You should feel comfortable when sharing new ideas, expressing your concerns, and asking for guidance. You should also support them and take the reigns when needed. If they are confident in you, they will continue to give you opportunities that help you grow and advance.
  • I know this sounds boring, but to be in PR or Marketing, you have to walk, talk, chew gum and do backflips all at the same time. You are hypertasking between pitching media, creating a marketing plan, writing social media copy, answering client emails, monitoring news, finalizing a coverage report and wrapping up a call with infographic vendors. You have a million things on your to-do list, and you have to do them all without being distracted. Being able to manage your time wisely will help you get shit done and stay (relatively) sane.

Jenny Richardi, Account Director at Barton F. Graf

  • If you can get an internship the summer before your senior year, take it! PR, advertising and marketing all pay on the lower side the first year or so because so many people are fighting to get in the doors. It’s fun and glamorous and appealing, so it’s an in-demand career path. The more you can do to stand out from the competition before you even interview, the better. I had an incredible internship at an ad agency the summer before my senior year and it set me apart once I graduated. I knew what I was getting into, I’d done aspects of the job before and as a result, agencies wanted to hire me. Not to mention the networking the internship provided for me. I still keep in touch with some of my bosses from that job who are off running agencies all over the world.
  • Network network network. This is a fast paced, chaotic and stressful industry. People like hiring people they know or know of. It gives a sense of automatic trust and reassurance. Network through your school, friends of friends, parents, siblings, whatever you can.
  • And one thing I wish I’d known prior to graduation, don’t stress. All of your friends in finance will have jobs locked in months in advance. Don’t let that worry you! Our industry operates differently. It’s constantly fluctuating and changing so hiring months out just doesn’t make sense and rarely (if ever) happens. You will get the offers, but later than some of your friends and closer to the time your company will need you to start. (And your job will likely be way more fun than analyzing excel docs all day anyways so it’s worth it!)

Simone McDermid, Account Manager at helloworld

  • I was an Aussie that came to New York to find a job and the number one way I was able to get a job in PR in New York was via LinkedIn. I know it sounds obvious but LinkedIn is such an amazing tool to show off your expertise, career achievements and most importantly make a connection with HR managers at different agencies of corporations. I made sure that my profile was up to date, uploaded my most recent resume to my profile and then sent personal messages to the HR managers asking to meet them for a quick coffee to discuss any suitable roles they may have on the horizon. As someone that knew nobody when she moved to New York this was a great way to put myself out there and in front of potential employers.
  • Get as many internships as you can before and after graduation and have reference letters from the people you work with handy. Ask for their permission to be a reference on your resume, too.
  • I know this is obvious, but once you have worked in at least one job, keep in touch with old colleagues, clients, bosses, whoever you may have worked with and hit them up with a message that you are looking for a new role. A lot of places don’t advertise roles and rely on people at their company to bring in suitable candidates so this could be another way to hear about jobs. My current role was secured when a former client of mine recommended me for the position that wasn’t even advertised!

Alyson Buck, Vice President at Day One Agency

  • Never be afraid to be your own best PR person. I got my first New York City PR internship (that then led to my first job out of college) by chatting up one of the members of the country club I worked at during a summer. He asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I gave him my :30 elevator speech about what I was studying and what I hoped to do. It turned out his step-daughter was a VP at a PR agency in New York and the rest is history.
  • Be sure you take a business finance course in school. Whoever said they went into PR because they hated math is a liar (maybe that was just me).

Erin First, Public Relations Manager at Stitch Fix

  • My biggest piece of advice for someone entering the PR industry is to suck it up, be humble and do the work. Your first, second, or even third positions may not be what you had in mind when you graduated college or made the job switch, but you have an enormous opportunity to develop the skills you need to get where you want to go. I can honestly say that while my first five years in PR could be very tough and I wasn’t totally passionate about everything I worked on, I learned so much about what it takes to succeed, the type of person I wanted to be and the type of place I wanted to work. I learned not only from the people I admired and emulated, but the people who I didn’t mesh with very well – even if it was just learning about what type of leader I didn’t want to be as I progressed in my career.
  • I’ve also learned that while it’s always good to have a dream job to aspire to, you may be surprised about what type of work you get inspired by. You may dream of doing PR for a cosmetics company and find yourself intrigued with enterprise software! Crazier things have happened. I tell anyone entering the industry to be open to new and different opportunities, be open to making yourself uncomfortable, and you may find yourself in a position completely different from what you thought your dream job would be when you’re 22.

Andrea Schubert, Account Director at The Outcast Agency

  • This industry is all about relationships and it is good to keep in mind that they are long term. People you work with now may be your boss in your next job or five years down the line (or they may be used as a sounding board on whether you’re a good hire) so be good to your colleagues!
  • If the place you’re working doesn’t feel right to you, don’t stay and be miserable. If your values don’t align or you’re not feeling challenged, it’s probably not a good fit and life is too short. Find your people and your home.
  • When you’re working in PR, be human and real with reporters — they appreciate informality as much as you do. Do away with the stuffy pitches and be normal. Get some “human points” in the bank – it will also help you when you make a mistake with a reporter. And assume you have equal power to a reporter — the power balance can be far more even than you give yourself credit for. You both have jobs to do and you are often as valuable to them as they are to you.
  • If it feels scary, that means you are probably learning. Being outside of your comfort zone is when you grow – this goes for your personal life too! Don’t let good opportunities pass you by because you’re scared of taking a chance.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness. Know what you need to be successful and ask for it — whether that’s being moved to a different client team or asking for all the ingredients you need to land a great pitch. Wallowing in self pity will get you nowhere and just make you an unhappy camper.
  • You don’t have to be bossy, to be a boss. When you’re managing people, take the time to be patient, give context, and be nice. Being respectful takes confidence.
  • Manage up! It’s an important skill to learn. Senior members of your team are often slammed and they actually appreciate when you help bring attention to things that really need their attention. Don’t be afraid to follow up — it’s not harassment, it’s appreciated.

Lauren Ludlow, Online Influencer Specialist at Marina Maher Communications

  • Take those public speaking classes in school! The ability to present with confidence is invaluable and presentation skills are a necessity in the industry. Understand how to speak with different audiences and fine tune your people skills.
  • Read, read, read! It’s so important to stay relevant and to be a forward thinker. Take time to understand the landscape that you’re interested in. For example, if you are interested in beauty or lifestyle fields, make sure you are reading key industry sites (The Cut, PopSugar, Refinery29, Ad Age, etc.), as well as reading the outlets that brands are targeting. Take a look at YouTube and see what partnerships are forming and which brands are collaborating with various influencers. You can also learn a lot by checking out a brand’s social media channels and learning about their audience.
  • Over the years, I have found that determination and resourcefulness are key traits to my success. Always come with a solution, not a problem, and remember it’s all a learning process! You’ll figure it out with time, I promise! Becoming an expert doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, patience, and persistence.


I want to say a heartfelt “thank you” to all these amazing folks who took the time to be a part of this post! And if you want to get a head start, find me on LinkedIn here.

[Image via Glitter Guide]

comments +

  1. This is a great post! Love all the advice. While some of it is brilliantly tailored to the PR world, it’s also chock-full of advice for anyone looking to get into the field they desire. Well done 🙂

  2. Abby says:

    Wow, one of my favorite posts to date. I’m a junior majoring in PR so all of this was very relevant to me and my future endeavors. I loved what Simone had to say about LinkedIn and what Erin said about “dream” jobs. I will definitely send this to my friends!

    Off to go check out your LinkedIn now! 🙂

  3. I think this is a good article – but I wanted to highlight a few things as it differs a lot from my experience. Of course, PR covers such a huge spectrum of job roles, you could never possibly represent them all within one post.

    I do think it’s unhelpful to say PR isn’t for introverts, some of the most successful people in the industry will identify as introverted. Perhaps shy is the word you’re looking for, but even then, you can make a success in this career if you have the right skills.

    The other area of PR for prospective students to be aware of is internal PR, often called corporate communications. This is a vastly different role to those in PR agencies and almost requires a completely different set of skills.

    The best part of the article was persuading people to intern. While you can, get as much experience as possible. You never know what you may find yourself enjoying doing!

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