How to get a role in comms: Learnings from creative industries that can make you stand out

It was towards the end of a three-hour history of journalism lecture, that I realised the hack life may not be for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the writing and the underlying sense of duty/purpose to act as a democratic check to government and business. But the solo, individualistic nature of the role hit home when hearing about Hemmingway’s struggles of wartime reporting.

Wanting to stay very much in the heart of the media, I gravitated towards communications – a catch-all term for PR/marketing rather than any Telco equivalent. In my head, I’d be part of the lavish parties, free press trips and media lunches.

Obviously my naïve lust for the gratis-lifestyle overtook any sobering notions of the reality (which involves more workshops, unsexy attempts at persuading clients/journalists and a lot of administration).

Recently I was fortunate enough to speak to the next generation of would-be PR folk at the PRCA’s National Careers Week event. Here are a few tips, picked up from working across media/advertising clients on how to get noticed.

The social network and beyond

It would be criminal not to check the social media feed of the agency or its competitors ahead of an interview. It can give you a flavour of what to expect in the role but also starting points for questions around how their ‘agency culture’ is so unique. All will say it. Test their reasoning.

Our team shares an active social life with events and outings. Like many agencies we post these on our social media. Questions around recent activities would earn a junior candidate a brownie point.

It’s not just your social networking that is advisable. Attend events. There is an unending list on the likes of Eventbrite and Lanyrd, many of which are free. At Propeller PR our latest VR discussion featured industry heavyweights from Rebellion, Framestore and Thomas Cook, but you could have come by registering online. It is a good chance to meet contacts, follow up with questions via LinkedIn and learn soundbites which you can name drop during your next interview. In my role I’ve been lucky enough to attend Ad Week NY/Europe, SxSW and Cannes Lions in the last few years, so there are glamorous moments between meetings.

How to win interviews and influence employers

One from my chief executive’s playbook, is Dale Carnegie’s advice ‘to be interesting, be interested’. Read the media you think the clients of your ideal employer would read. Still not sure what this would be? Search the agency’s website for their client list and Google News search results for that company.

Anywhere with a quote from a company spokesperson, it’s fairly safe to say that publication is a key title for the agency's client. And ensure you’re ready to discuss nuances of differing target media outlets at interview.

Look the part, be the part

In PR agencies you’ll find that promotions come quickest when you can prove you’ve already been doing the role you’re applying for. And it’s no different at entry level. So act as an aspiring member of their team. Write a release about one of their clients from a news story you’ve seen recently. What is the next topic their most famous client could comment on?

In consumer PR there are stories every year about debatably cheesy tactics wannabe employees adopt; like CVs written on shoes claiming “now I’ve got my foot in the door…” Be original, but also useful. It’s a lot easier for an interviewer to say yes, when you’re bringing ideas from their world. If appropriate even think about producing a video of yourself.

Failure to prepare

Interviews will last for the length of time you’re able to keep the conversation going (with a limit obviously). So come armed with testing questions that allow you to wrestle control and initiative back from your interviewer. Attitude is the most important thing I look for, as we can teach the skills needed, but the desire to learn more and adapt to new environments/situations is invaluable.

Be sure to bring examples of any published work you have under your belt or intend to refer to in the meeting. A cutting speaks a thousand words (especially if it is a thousand -word article)

Always remain calm and reasoned with responses. More often than not I will go on body language, and decide whether you’re a good fit for our team, rather than worrying about where/if you went to university. Particularly in a smaller team the wrong hire could negatively affect the whole inner workings of an agency, so we need to be careful. For those wanting to be on the front line, crafting and presenting ideas to chief executives and founders and acting as an integral part of a team from day one, I couldn’t recommend working in a smaller team enough.

I'll end with a quote from the man who first hired me at Propeller – chief executive and founder Martin Loat, as it encapsulates the foundation to a successful communications campaign, "What matters, is what matters, to the people that matter". A useful tip to drop in during interviews too.

Liam Fitzpatrick is an account director at Propeller

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