Meet the Team: The opportunities and challenges of joining a PR agency in a senior role
Starting any new PR job inevitably brings a period of adjustment, but some of the challenges differ depending on the level of the newcomer. A graduate coming in, for example, might have no – or at least few – previous agencies to compare against and may be learning principles and processes from scratch. For a senior joiner, while the principles of PR remain the same, processes, tools and even priorities are often different from agency to agency. My first practical challenge on entering the Neo PR office, for example, was getting to grips with my new Mac computer (I had never used a Mac in my life – and am very much a Microsoft girl – but I’m getting there!).
A senior joining the team has the potential to bring huge benefits for both sides. I’m excited to be working on some new clients, meeting new people, manning those accounts day-to-day, and learning from my new colleagues – of all levels – who might have different ideas or ways of doing things. There’s a lot of crossover between my new clients and some that I’ve previously worked with, so I’m pleased to be able to bring some of that experience and knowledge which might prompt a new perspective or approach. For example, I may not be familiar with my new clients’ specific technologies, but I am familiar with the challenges they are seeking to solve and the messages they need to highlight to their customers. Similarly, once you’ve been in PR for a while you’ve also naturally seen a lot more, and are less fazed by certain situations or challenges – you have plenty of prior experience to draw on to handle whatever might be thrown at you!
Nevertheless, there is inevitably a period of adjustment as the agency and new joiner get used to each other. From my side, it takes a little bit of time to get to know the team, the structure, the clients and how the agency operates. Some agencies, for example, put a big emphasis on the profitability of accounts and monitoring of team time, others – like Neo PR – operate much more on an output approach and are more determined that work is produced on time and up to standard, rather than how long it takes. Different approaches suit different people.
For the incumbent team too, there is a process of getting used to a new joiner. Does this new director have strong ideas about how things should be done? How determined is he/she to follow those ways? What kind of manager are they, and how does that compare with the other managers in the team? Does their personality fit with the team? Where does their experience lie and how much is there? How open are they to new ideas? What new ideas might they have that could benefit the agency?
The role of Account Director also varies widely from agency to agency. For some agencies, a director is hired simply to direct; to operate very much in the background, ensuring accounts run smoothly, that targets are hit and that the team operates effectively. Others want their directors to be much more ‘in the thick of it’, leading from the front, and knowing their clients inside out. It’s personal preference, but I’ve always found myself much more effective when I’m fully immersed in my clients and involved in the day-to-day activities. Depending on the size of the agency, the role of the director in the running of the agency itself also changes. In a large agency with an extensive hierarchy you might have no involvement on this side of things at all, whereas in a smaller agency there is much more opportunity to influence how the agency operates.
From my point of view, I’ve been grateful to have been afforded the time to ‘bed in’ at Neo PR. I’ve been subjected to some fairly brutal induction schedules in the past and being given time to sit back, process the information you’ve been given and combine it with your own research into the clients is priceless, and sets the tone for the first few weeks in a role. And, whatever their level, there’s no point in bombarding a newcomer with too much information at the start – it just puts them on the backfoot.
I’m also incredibly lucky that the Neo PR team have been clear from the outset that they’re open to new ideas and thoughts I might have from previous roles and experiences. And generally, I can’t fault the welcome of the team who have gone out of their way to support me in the transition and be on hand for any questions (Mac related or otherwise!).