The Pros of Working at a Boutique PR Agency

This was originally posted on the PRSA New Professionals blog, but I wanted to share here as well. Enjoy! 

Searching for a job is almost like searching for the perfect college. The environment, the people, the cost (or in this case, the salary) are equally important. Having worked for more than two years at two different boutique agencies, I think, from my perspective, bigger isn’t necessarily better:

You gain visibility with the agency’s senior leaders.

When you work at an agency of fewer than 20 people, you get to have serious face time with your boss. CEOs at global agencies don’t know their account coordinators’ names, and they definitely don’t have lunch with them multiple times a week. Nothing beats having the eyes, ears and insights of the most important people in your company on a daily basis.

You’re allowed direct client interaction early in your career.

The first few years in public relations inevitably include building countless media lists and tracking client placements. Teams are smaller, so each member has a larger level of responsibility, which means you not only get to listen in on status calls to take notes but you get to have a voice on them, too.

You become a jack-of-all-trades. Larger agencies have employees who are each experts in their individual specialty. Media relations, blogger outreach, social media development, new business outreach… the person who has healthcare clients will only continue to have healthcare clients. That doesn’t happen at small firms. Your client roster will be extremely diverse, and you will have a role on multiple accounts, instead of focusing the majority of your time on one or two clients.

You have an opportunity to get noticed – quickly. Is it better to be the big fish in the small pond or the small fish in the big pond? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. The smaller the agency, the easier it will be to prove yourself to the entire team. The more you prove you are an asset to your company, the faster they will trust you with larger opportunities and give you more responsibility. These tasks could be anything from writing client press releases to developing and managing social media content to attending new business pitches. In turn, you realize that…

 …Your job title doesn’t matter. Small agencies are all about “all hands on deck” and assisting in all projects. A success is a true team success because everyone has a role in making it possible. The individualistic mindset doesn’t exist. There is no time for hierarchy or corporate structure. You can easily be doing the work of a senior account executive at a larger agency. In turn, the amount you learn about the industry from more experienced team members in such a short time period is unbelievable and priceless.

You gain many opportunities for growth. Proving yourself, developing your boss’s trust and forming client relationships are all invaluable tools to a young public relations professional. You may not have projects with the biggest of budgets or clients with the most recognizable of names, but you have a chance to have your ideas heard in brainstorms, you get to place stories in the media and you get to implement all of those strategies and tactics you just spent four years learning about in college.

 Your first few years after college are your chance to test out all different types of communications jobs. You may find that agency life isn’t the best fit for your personality and that corporate communications is where you are happiest. Or after some time at a large, global firm you may realize that a boutique agency will give you the mentorship you need and the one-on-one interaction you crave. No matter where you land, don’t discount any opportunity. Good luck!

 Do you work a boutique firm, a large agency or in another setting? What are the pros of your individual workplace?

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The Time United Airlines Customer Service Team Surprised Me

Airlines get a terrible reputation. Cancellations. Delays. Lost baggage. TSA security theatre.

I have trouble getting to work and I live a mile from my office, so I am a bit lenient with people flying millions of miles across the globe at thousands of feet up in the sky.

One of the most stressful arts of flying is worrying about making your connecting flights. (Reason #10,498 I try to fly direct whenever possible. Screw the extra mileage points/additional segment.) When I booked my current trip, EWR to YYZ (Toronto) to DUB (Dublin), I made sure I had three hours to layover. Enough time to get lost trying to find my next gate and maybe even have time leftover for an airport beer.

So as I watch my 4:07 p.m. flight get delayed to 4:40 pm to 5:25 pm, the panic starts to set in. My Toronto flight begins boarding at 8:45 pm. No worries. Hakuna Matata. It’ll be fine. Don’t panic. Don’t call your mother. Breathe.

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And then the desk attendant comes out. The only words I make out from her garbled announcement are “unforeseen maintenance problems” and “possibly 6:30.”

FUCK. Shit. Bloody fuck.

I sprint to customer service, dialing the 800 number for United as I stand in a line that’s bound to move slower than molasses dripping from a Canadian maple. It’s 5:40. Fine, we can work this out.

“We’re experiencing higher than normal call volume.” Of course you are.

“Would you like to speak to an agent?” Yes, always, please. 0. 0. 1 for English.

Elevator music.

I swear an eon passes (12 minutes) before a customer service rep picks up. I explain the situation, stress I would pay as much as necessary to get on a flight to Dublin tonight. I’m not sure what magic he worked, but this man was able to get me LITERALLY the last seat on a direct flight to Dublin, leaving at 6:55 pm.

It’s 6:02 pm.

“Sir, can you confirm that this flight is leaving from Terminal C?” “Yes, Gate 72.”

I’m at Gate 105. Alright, sprinting. It’s not like I went to the gym today anyway.

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“Can you absolutely promise me that when I show up at this gate, I’ll be able to get on the plane?” “Yes, you’re all confirmed. I’m emailing your updated itinerary as we speak.” (Damn Verizon for not being able to do two things at once. I hope for the best.)

Time check. 6:10 pm.

Off I go. Racing like a madman through Newark Airport. I am that person you see in movies, except I’m not trying to convince someone I love not to get on a plane with his new wife. (Okay, I’m not Rachel Green. Don’t be a buzzkill.)

Panting, I arrive at this gate to see that my new flight is delayed until 7:25 pm. With my new boarding pass in hand, I let out a deep exhale that would make my yoga teacher proud. And I finally call my mom.

I have no idea how it happened, but I am sitting on a plane, that I am 99.9% sure is going to Ireland, solely based on the number of gingers and brogues around me. My blood pressure is starting to calm own and I am excited to start my travelling. (Maybe celebrating my good fortune with a Guinness.)

Toronto, we will meet someday.

And now, I think I owe United Airlines my first-born. At the very least, I may have to send them a small portion of my soul. They may break guitars, but today they earned serious bonus mileages and my continued loyalty. Yes, it is their fault my initial flight was delayed, but they handled the situation with compassion and composure – two things I was lacking as I was thisclose to a full-fledged panic attack in the Newark Airport.

Cheers to you United and cheers to future flights together!

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Note: This actually happened almost two months ago, but in true procrastination form, it took me that long to transfer this story from my notebook to my computer to my blog. I had a wonderful time traveling and I can’t wait until my next trip! 

Women Who Were Badasses This Week: A Brief Summary

There’s been a lot of ordinary women this week doing extraordinary things so I felt a brief recap was entirely necessary. AND IT’S ONLY WEDNESDAY. Image

  • Starting off with my girl Wendy Davis. Have you heard about the Texas State Senator who stood yesterday for eleven hours in a filibuster to delay a vote that would lead to the most restrictive abortion laws in the state? (Wendy, looks like you’re well-prepped for a dance marathon.) She’s pretty incredible – Davis herself became a single mother at 19, she became the first in her family to graduate college and then went on to Harvard Law. Casual. I predict big things for her in the coming years. And since she gained 80k+ Twitter followers in ONE DAY, I think it’s safe to say the world iswatching her.
  • Most people in their 80s are retired, enjoying peaceful lives filled with shuffleboard, bingo and maybe a round of golf. Edie Windsor took on the Supreme Court. And won. And looked absolutely flawless in the process. Windsor has a busy celebratory weekend ahead of her – she’s the grand marshal in New York City’s Pride Parade this Sunday. 
  • Moving on to another female politician (why aren’t there more of them? A debate for another time). Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq War vet who lost both of her legs, straight SCHOOLED a federal contractor who said he should be a service-disabled veteran because of a football injury. From when he was on the football team at a military prep school. You tell that asshole. 
  • Honorable mention: Peggy Olson. Because she’s the new Don Draper. 

Anyone else I miss? Here’s to two more days of kicking ass. 

Addressing the Loneliness

Graduating college and leaving the comfort of a small, insulated bubble of a town puts you in this interesting predicament. You’re straddling the edges of two worlds and the people you felt closest to are off in different pockets of the country.

Two years later, I haven’t fully adjusted to being hundreds and thousands of miles away from my best friends. You Gchat. Text. Tweet. Email. Group text. Group chat. Snapchat (this is where I draw the line). You feel so uber connected and you know exactly what is going on in their lives but nothing compares to unexpected two-hour lunches or knowing exactly what happy hour you will be attending every, single night of the week. Nothing beats walking out the front door of your shady, seedy apartment building and bumping into familiar faces while walking to class.

No one tells you that graduation is lonely or that you’ll become a pro at figuring out the time in Colorado or California or Hawaii. (Time zones…fucking time zones.) Never mind if you have friends in serious relationships that need to schedule dinner dates and work around business trips. Planning six weeks in advance to see your friends blows. You become a slave to your Google calendar with its colored labels; you sign up for credit card that gives you frequent flier miles. No matter how connected you may be or how often you speak, there is the nagging truth that you will be able to count on your hands the number of times you will all be in one place again.

Once you start adding marriages and kids into the mix, the reality is every day has turned into major football weekends to once a year to only significant life occasions.

So how do you make this a positive thing? You sit back and look at the afternoons spent outside on your favorite bar’s back porch and and the nights spent in random living rooms watching bad television. These are the people who have made a monumental impact on the greatest four years of your life. Even if it you don’t seem them NEARLY as much as you’d like, you know they’ll always be a part of your life. Regardless of zip code, time zone, marital status or permanent address.

That doesn’t feel lonely at all.

Staying Connected When You’re Offline

Last week I went on my first vacation since December. Woof. Definitely well needed and in my mind, well deserved.

I have a plan to visit as many, if not every, baseball stadium in the county. With that in mind, I headed off to Chicago with my Dad in tow. There were plenty of other items on the agenda (eating deep dish pizza, visiting the Bean, heading to the top of Sears Tower) but our trip was planned around Wrigley Field and the Cubs’ home schedule.

Thursday morning I caught up on emails and social media before heading out for a day of sightseeing and tourist attractions. I saw that a key influencer in the communications industry was in Chi-Town for a business meeting and a speech. He asked if anyone was interested in grabbing coffee before he headed back to LGA.

Most of the time, I’m convinced my parents have absolutely no idea what I do for a living. My dad asked if I was posting pictures to Twitter of our carrot cake Wednesday night. He got an A for effort. The only reason he cares about Facebook is because they are now a publicly traded company and he owns shares of Zuck’s stock.

So when I asked if he was cool with me meeting an older guy from the interwebs for some coffee, I was expecting a pretty chilly reaction. Much to my surprise, he asked if this was important to me. It was. Off we went.

I’d like to thank Peter Shankman for sitting down to talk PR (and life) with me. There is nothing comparable to meeting someone you respect and admire for their success, especially when your passions align. I even had the chance to pitch a client’s new product. Now I get to leave the Windy City with great Instagram photos, a stomach full of Chicago hot dogs, and a new connection under my belt to bring back to my office. I’d consider that a successful four-day trip.

What did I learn about this when situation? Maybe it’s not that important to be entirely offline. Disconnecting is always healthy and a way to stay refreshed, but you never want to be so isolated that you miss opportunities that can happen outside of a cubicle. Another important lesson for professionals my age: there are people out there willing to chat with a newly minted graduate. Grow a pair. Put down the cell phone. Nothing beats face to face networking.

A Tuesday Morning Not Much Different Than Today

It was a Tuesday morning with not a cloud in the gorgeous blue September sky. A day not much different from today. An ordinary day.

If you looked at the front page of today’s New York Times, you wouldn’t know it was a day with such extraordinary history. A day of loss and sorrow and confusion. It seems eleven years later we are supposed to be ready to move on and go back to a life of pretending today is an ordinary day filled with schedules and tasks. Today has never felt ordinary to me. This day will never feel ordinary. Now, even more than ever, it is important for us to remember. To reflect. To vow no such thing will happen again.

I remember a seventh grade English class. A kid leaving to go to the bathroom and coming back to say the President had been shot. Teachers speaking in hushed whispers in the halls. Corralling us all into the cafeteria, no information and all speculation. Even the most imaginative mind of a preteen could not have accurately predicted the day’s events. That was the problem with a NYC public school on this day. You could not tell us what had happened. Every single one of us had a relative or close family friend working in Manhattan. And if they didn’t, they had a father or mother or brother or uncle who was a cop, a fireman. This was Staten Island. EVERYONE is related somehow to a cop.

So we sat. And we talked. Not realizing that so many of us would have parents who could not make it home that night because roads and bridges and tunnels were closed. We did not understand the extent of this destruction until we learned days later about the parents who would never be coming home.

Now, I remember all too clearly the dark, dreary grey smoke that blanketed every borough of New York City. I remember the continuous loop of the news cycle showing the planes hitting the Towers. I remember the inability to make any phone call for days because the cell tower had gone down with the Towers’ collapse.

The sudden slew of “I love New York” shirts and “FDNYPD” hats that became commonplace in our wardrobes. The America flags flown from every house, whipping in the wind of every car window. The learning of new words… Terrorist. Osama bin Laden. Cantor Fitzgerald.

Attending memorials, not funerals, for first responders whose bodies were never found. Hearing the bagpipes of Amazing Grace play in person for the first time at a service for a friend’s father, who was a member of the firehouse on Staten Island that lost the most men.

Years later, driving down side streets of Staten Island that have been renamed to honor lives lost and ordinary men and women who became heroes. The pride in the New York Mets for refusing to listen to Bud Selig as he said the team could not wear commemorative caps on the 10 year anniversary.

There is no way to entirely move on. It will not take eleven years. There is no way to accept an attack on your home, on your country, and continue to go about your day without remembering.

There is no way to diminish the price I feel every time I walk off a train to see the Freedom Tower rising proudly from the ashes, flipping off the terrorists who thought they could squash our New Yorker spirit and our American patriotism.

There is an obligation now to make sure the future generations learn about this day and its significance. It is our duty.

Because we must Never Forget.

Why Are We Getting Married and Pregnant at 23?

It seems every Sunday night, Mark Zuckerberg likes to play this game with my Facebook Newsfeed. People keep changing their relationship statuses and uploading photos of their left hands with sparkly diamonds. If I am REALLY lucky, a sonogram photo makes it onto the list of most recent news. I have no problem with people getting married (or the gender of either party). I get excited for old camp counselors and baby sitters and family friends when they announce their engagements, their pregnancies. My issue lies with the people I just graduated with, who are still struggling to find stable jobs, who have just recently moved out of their parents’ homes, and who are committing themselves to this one person who they met in the basement of a fraternity for the rest of their lives.

I can’t commit to a nail polish color without a minimum of six minutes of deliberation, let alone a husband. The word alone makes me break out in hives.

Maybe this has to do with me being selfish. My last relationship ended because the guy felt I prioritized every other aspect of my life over him. I didn’t see the problem with this. Happy hour invitations and Homecoming weekend at Penn State with my friends will always rank higher  than a date night. I refuse to be the person who drops her friends for a guy or changes my opinions just to appease someone else. At twenty-freaking-two, my priorities are my career, my gym’s class schedule, and the current sales in the Nordstrom shoe department.

I am still learning about chevron and the difference between left and ring wing politics and the rules of Olympic handball. I am still learning about myself and how to make myself a happy, fulfilled person. How are you so comfortable with who you are as a person, at 22, 23, 24, that you know who you plan to spend your ENTIRE life with? The way science is improving that equals EIGHTY years with one person. Hell, I wouldn’t even want to spend 80 years with Justin Timberlake. (JT, if you’re reading, I am lying.)

The people my age who are pregnant, on purpose, scare me even more. If you knew the current state of my bedroom or the backseat of my car or the inside of my purse… you’d know I am not responsible enough to take care of myself, let alone be in charge of another tiny human. I can’t sew a button, I can’t iron a shirt, and I can’t make a meal that doesn’t revolve around eggs and bacon. There would be a lot of googling of “how to change a diaper” and “are babies able to eat cold, leftover Chinese food.”

It’s not that I don’t like kids. I like them when they are clean and funny and smart and in cardigans and in bow ties. I just like returning them to their owners even more.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I was never the girl growing up who had planned her wedding and her fairytale family. I had plans to write books and travel and become a lawyer and a plastic surgeon and a forensic scientist and a detective. Whatever, my Grandma introduced me to Law and Order and CSI when I was ten. It happens. If a husband and two kids and a picket fence fits into my plan of “having it all,” it would be breaking news to me.

I don’t understand when we switched from being career-driven, focused, creative young professionals to girls fawning over baby onesies and wedding registries. I will continue to spend the next few years focusing on making myself a better public relations executive while these others girls get their official MRS. degrees. Maybe by the time I’m 36 I’ll consider getting married. If I have the time. And if I do get engaged, you better freaking believe I’m getting a manicure before I mupload that photo onto my Facebook page.