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What Does a PR Agency Director Do?

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Becky Olson is a Director at Golin with more than 10 years of word-of-mouth (WOM), social media and public relations experience, working with CPG, travel and leisure and food and beverage clients. Today she shares with the HooHireWire some insight on what it’s like to be in this role and some great tidbits of advice for professionals starting their PR careers.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Becky!

What does a PR Director Do?

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Becky Olson

At Golin, we do things differently. Using our g4 model, our specialist communities – Catalysts, Connectors, Creators and Strategists – use proprietary tools to plan and execute powerful campaigns designed to create positive change for our clients. I serve as a Director in our Catalyst community, primarily in consumer food and beverage PR. As a Catalyst, I tap our various specialists to help with planning, media outreach, social media campaign management, analytics and reporting throughout the course of our programming. I work to ensure that our campaigns are being executed according to our action plan/timeline and budget. Whereas I used to juggle all of these responsibilities, the g4 model allows each individual to develop expertise in their given area; I’m now able to focus on delivering the best results for clients.

What’s the typical day of a PR Director like?

I start each morning by skimming a variety of industry websites, e-newsletters and Google Alerts so that I’m up-to-speed on inspirational PR campaigns, social media developments, PR best practices and any breaking client news.

Lately, I have been spending the majority of my time working with our clients and g4 community specialists to develop PR plans for the next calendar year. We assess the work we’ve done by analyzing our performance against campaign goals, as well as key learnings. We brainstorm ways to improve and build upon what we’ve already accomplished. As a Catalyst, I then review recommendations presented by our internal creators and connectors and gut-check them against what I know about the client’s goals and their brand strategy.

Many clients employ multiple agencies to support their brands, so I also spend a lot of collaborating with these integrated agency teams to confirm that our respective PR, paid media, shopper marketing and digital elements work together to tell a cohesive story.

On a day-to-day basis, it’s my job to make sure that our programs are running according to schedule and budget and that all of my team members are being fully utilized. There are also ongoing status calls with clients to talk them through current projects.

I always close-out the day with detailed time entry! While it can be an annoying, labor intensive task, it’s crucial for agency leaders to keep a pulse on utilization and profitability.

What skills and expertise would someone need to be a PR Director?

  • It goes without saying that strong written and verbal communication skills are essential. This goes beyond the ability to simply write well. Can you adjust the nature of your writing for client emails versus social media versus a press release? Presenting is another area where verbal communication skills are on display. Learning how to avoid extraneous “likes,” “ums,” “ahhs” and other distracting behaviors will ensure the audience pays attention to the message.

  • The ability to “read a room” is key so that you can maintain a successful client relationship. How are they reacting to a presentation with their facial expressions or by the tone of their voice on the phone? Know when to fight for an idea and when to let it go if it’s simply not gelling with the audience.

  • Know how to merchandise the value of your work. More and more clients are asking how PR can directly impact or support retail sales, or how they can measure the value of a Facebook fan. It’s essential to move beyond boastful impressions counts and demonstrate metrics that resonate with the entire marketing department.

  • Senior-level practitioners should know how to properly delegate amongst a team and leverage employees’ unique skillsets and strengths. It can be hard to “let go” if you believe you’re the only one who can get the job done. Give ownership to people by specifically outlining their roles and responsibilities. Are some team members constantly staying late while others leave early? Keep an eye out for unbalance and identify ways to address it. Similarly, learn how to give praise and reward good performers for their contributions with both personal and public gestures.

  • Know how to keep an eye on the big picture and when to pick battles. This also helps to set a good example for junior staff who look to see how their leader reacts to small setbacks.

What experience did you gain in your previous positions that helped you land an agency director role?

Since my first internship as a junior in college, I’ve been fortunate to be able to follow my career interests and passions, which have built nicely upon on each other. This not only includes developing a niche with top tier food and beverage brands, but evolving with the industry, including prioritizing my experience in social media.

How did you start in the communications industry?

After exploring a couple of different majors in college, I settled on PR as a junior at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, WI. The program required at least one internship prior to graduation and I got my start early at an agency called Hoffman York (now HY Connect). At the time, I looked up all of the local PR agencies in town in the phone book and mailed my resume to each of them. I was lucky to have great mentors and a well-rounded internship experience to get me started. From there, my client experience and interests led me to each additional position.

What got you interested in the first place?

After struggling to find the motivation to continue in my initial law and education classes, my parents suggested I try Public Relations because of the great experiences they heard about from a friend’s daughter. I didn’t know anything about it at first, but was thrilled to learn that PR focused on many of my strengths – including writing and creative thinking.

What do you love about the PR profession?

I enjoy the variety each day and client can bring. We might have just finished a plan only to learn that a client has new goals and we need to revisit it with fresh thinking. There are also ever-changing developments in the industry that require you to stay on your toes.

It can be exhilarating to travel for client meetings and activations – from a day-trip to New York City to a global planning meeting in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s really difficult to be “bored” in PR.

What is challenging about being in PR?

It’s very easy for friends, family and the general public to see the glamorous side of PR (e.g. attending awards shows with clients, traveling and meeting celebrities) and think what we do is all fun and games. PR requires a lot of hard work, planning and late nights to pull off many of those events they hear about. It’s not surprising that PR makes the list of most stressful careers each year.

The requirement to be “always on” can be somewhat challenging. I’ve spent the majority of a weekend, vacation or wedding reception working through an issue with a client when the need arises. This has only increased with the influence of social media on our brands’ reputations.

What advice would you give to a college student or anyone who wants to start a career in public relations?

  • Start building your resume early! I was fortunate that my university encouraged internships during our junior year. There are also plenty of other ways to demonstrate your experience during college, including serving in PR, marketing or social media roles for fraternities and sororities or other clubs. You can also volunteer your time in these roles for non-profit organizations in the community.

  • Approach any alumni or other “connections” with a clear task and plan. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone I don’t even know asks me, “Does your company have any openings?” expecting me to do the heavy lifting. It feels generic. I am more inclined to help someone who has taken the initiative to check our website for openings and explain to me how their experience and career path are a fit for the role. A person’s approach to finding a job can be an early indicator of the initiative a potential candidate will have if they land the position. If there aren’t any positions available, you might also consider sharing your resume with your connection for feedback so that when the time does come, they remember you and your resume is in solid shape.

  • Don’t balk at continuing to work in internship-level positions after graduation. Many candidates come in with the expectation that they should have a full-time position upon graduation. It’s commonly the case in larger cities and PR agencies that you may need to continue as an intern until a full-time position opens. Many companies hire from within at the entry level. It can take time, but remaining dedicated and determined will help.

  • Don’t give up on the industry if your first experience isn’t what you imagined. PR can take you in so many different directions – many times just by chance. I lucked out by falling immediately into a consumer food/beverage and travel path that just-so-happened to align with my personal interests. I’ve seen recent graduates start off on a highly-technical medical or business-to-business/trade client and wonder what happened to the glitz, glamour and celebrity-event filled vision they had of PR and quit. Once you prove you have the basic skills and determination to succeed in this field, you can talk with supervisors about shifting to other accounts that align with your passions (if they are available). There are many options to explore before getting out of PR altogether.

You can find Becky on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @NapaCabulous.

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