Pick My Brain: 13 Tips for New PR Professionals + Aspiring Agency Owners

Tips for Aspiring PR Professionals and Agency Owners

Often, I get requests for coffee dates from soon-to-graduate public relations professionals with the goal of “picking my brain”, and to connect about how to best prepare for their career post graduation. Whether we meet in person or correspond through email, the questions tend to be similar so I thought I would take some time to answer common questions today, as I’m sure for every student that asks there are many others who wonder about these answers.

1. In your opinion what is the most important skill for a PR Professional to have? There isn’t just one skill. If I was going to narrow the skill set needed for a successful public relations professional, it would include: Excellent communication, flexibility, attention to detail, charisma and highly conversational and persuasive writing. Additional reading:

2. What skills should I be cultivating now / what do you think is the most important thing for PR students to be doing to prepare for a public relations career? Intern! Take advantage of opportunities to intern with agencies, and once there, take on as many writing projects as you can. Learn as much as you can and go above and beyond to gain increased responsibility — often, these internships turn into career opportunities and at the very least they will help you land your first job due to real-world experience.

3. Clearly media pitching is something you have a lot of experience with and excel at. How did you get to that point / how do you foster these relationships / any tips? Successfully collaborating with media members to secure impactful coverage is definitely an art. It takes time and a lot of practice. It’s not a skill attained overnight. Read everything you can about best practices when pitching media members and express your desire to learn this skill during your internship. Agencies are always looking for aspiring media relations specialists, and the basics like editorial calendar planning, pitch construction and outlet research can begin during your internship. Express your desire and ask for opportunities.

4. How do you stay in touch with and grow your network? I think networking is an area that can always be improved and it’s never to late to start building your network. I’ve shared my go-to networking tips and I encourage you to check them out and put them into practice ASAP. However, don’t get overwhelmed — you can start with one or two tips and build out as you begin to get comfortable with each.

5. What do you do to stay up-to-date with PR strategy? I read — a LOT. I read industry blogs, follow PR influencers on Twitter and I’m always reading one or two books on strategy, business and public relations.

6. Hardest part of your job? Business development, client retention and building a team.

7. Best part of your job? Business development, client retention and building a team. 😉

8. I know this question can be vague, but what is your typical day like as the owner of Belle Communications? I get up between 5-6am ET and workout, check email and meditate. From there, each day is can vary quite a bit. Read this post for more background:

9. Since you have a team working for you, can you now perform specific tasks or do you still find yourself doing just about everything? My primary roles are business development, client strategy, media relations mentorship and team leadership. I used to pitch a lot but thankfully I have a team to support this tactic.

10. How does a virtual agency work? I’ve written several posts about building a virtual team and maintaining a virtual office. Here are some of my favorites:

11. For a virtual agency, how many employees would make a great team; and what would their positions be? Harvard Business Review recommends ten employees or less — positions totally depend on your business goals and the services you enjoy offering as an agency. As we grow a virtual team beyond ten team members, I think it will take extra effort to ensure teams are grouped and facilitated to allow for optimal performance and connectedness.

12. How did you find your first client, and did you offer your services to them pro bono? My first client was secured through supporting an agency friend who had too much on her plate PR-wise. Initially we supported several agencies to provide media relations for their clients but now we only do that for a couple agencies. Most of our business has been through referrals or my cold pitching. Say NO to pro-bono unless you have a cause close to your heart and you can allocate time.

13. Did you have a mentor to point you in the right direction as you started your agency? First, I conducted a lot of research online and through peer conversations over coffee. I also had several really great mentors who provided me with real-world advice and resources to help guide my decision making early on. Here are some additional considerations for starting a business:

There you have it! I hope this post answered some of your initial questions about starting out in public relations and beginning your own agency. If you have additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will answer them in a future post! 

Kate Finley

Founder + CEO of Belle
Currently thriving in Columbus OH