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?

My First Six Months in PR or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job

If I had to sit down and write out my thoughts of entry-level life in a public relations agency, it would look like this. 

“About one week into my job, I wondered if I oversold myself during my interviews. I’m not saying I lied—no one should ever lie in an interview—but I had to question if I made it clear that I had zero PR experience when I landed my first position at a PR agency in August.

I took the advertising and PR classes in college, toiled at the obligatory unpaid internships in marketing and promotions and gained more than two years of marketing experience after graduation. With that said, I still didn’t know what a media list or subject matter expert was.

I had a lot to learn, not only about our clients’ businesses, but also the business of PR; I was terrified.

I had more than a few sleepless nights in the beginning, worrying about how I was going to tackle my projects. But in the past six months, I’ve embraced agency life and realized that, when it came to my early fears, there was more than met the eye:”

More info on the author: Heather Sliwinski is an account executive at KemperLesnik, a Chicago-based public relations agency, providing media relations and social media services to a variety of B2B clients. She has held positions in marketing and event planning for corporations, nonprofits and higher education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis in strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sliwinski is the blog co-chair for the PRSA New Professionals Section. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

The Job Search Tips No One is Telling You

I don’t think I’m alone in saying one of the most frustrating moments/processes of senior year of college is applying for a job. What frustrated me the most was the lack of information provided by the people who were supposed to be helping me along in this process. The days have changed from when our advisors and parents highlighted openings in the classifieds and faxed their resumes places. Hopefully some of the things I learned while applying for jobs (twice since graduating in May 2011) will make your search a little less stressful. Happy hunting!

  • Indeed is one of the best job search websites because it compiles listings from the entire internet. You’ve probably already used it. But what makes it special is the ability to set up job alerts when new relevant postings are made. If you are searching for an entry-level public relations job, set up an alert for “account coordinator” (“assistant account executive” and “junior account executive” work too). You will now have the latest postings emailed to you daily or weekly. They do the heavy searching for you.
  • Facebook is for stalking ex-friends, Twitter is for stalking celebrities and LinkedIn is for stalking companies. With the follow tab, you can follow any relevant companies (and their job postings) and learn more about them. I would recommend going a step further – search within the companies for an employee who went to Penn State (or your respective school) and follow them. Leave a brief message in the message box and follow up with an email. Real life connections trump deep, dark resume abysses every day of the week.
  • Size doesn’t always matter.  There are an unbelievable amount of PR agencies within big cities. Just like picking a college, it is important to decide whether you want to work for a large or small firm. Each have their pros and cons but the small agencies (known as “boutique” firms) are a great starting point for a recent grad. I started at a small firm and can attest that you are given an amazing amount of responsibility. I was able to get clients placed in huge outlets (The Washington Post and Real Simple, for example), write social media proposals and sit in on brainstorm sessions with our CEO. Working at a big firm, you don’t get that kind of experience until your third year – if even then. You will rarely even see your CEO. You can’t beat the hands-on experience of a small firm. The things you learn in just a few months will make you more competitive down the line when looking for a new job. FYI: Craiglist is a great resource for finding openings at boutique agencies. 

  • And with that, I segway into: Consider taking an internship. There is no rule that says you need to have a full-time job immediately after moving that tassel. Sometimes you just need more experience. Companies know that. I took an offer for an internship after graduation, which lead to a full time offer. After six months, I had learned enough to move on to a different job (at another small agency) that better-suited my personality. The additional money helped too. Internships help you narrow down what you do, and more importantly, don’t like about the real world. You have three or six months to decide if this place is right for you. Think about is a long-term interview with the opportunity to boost your resume and portfolio, while making connections and gaining valuable hands-on responsibility.

If your parents freak out at this option, refer them to my blog. Less than a year out of college, I have already had an internship, a job offer and switched to a second job. With placements in top tier media outlets. Now exhale. You’ll be fine.

Additional Resources:


Job searching isn’t meant to be an easy process. I am not going to sugar coat that. You are going to have mini-breakdowns, you are going to cry and you are going to yell at your inbox for not having any messages but a stock email that says “thank you for submitting your resume.” Just remember you WILL find a job. It will not include wearing a uniform made of primary colors and asking if people would like fries with that.

And please, please, please dear friends who are communications majors: Stop comparing yourselves to the accounting and engineering kids who have had offers since Labor Day. This field does not work that way. You are not a failure by any means.