Having a bad experience during an internship or job can easily convince you that you’re not suited for an entire industry or career path. But don’t give up so quickly.
Just look at Gergana Stoilova, Client Executive at Burson-Marsteller. One unfortunate internship experience had Gergana swearing she’d never work in PR again, but luckily an unexpected job interview caused her to re-evaluate.
Now she loves her job and she’s grateful she didn’t let her first internship convince her to abandon PR altogether. Here’s Gergana’s advice about working in PR and getting your career off the ground in any industry.
What is your current company name and job title? If you’ve changed titles since you started at your company, what was your job title when you started?
I started as a Client Staff Assistant at Burson-Marsteller and have since then been promoted to a Client Executive.
What is a typical day on the job like?
My days usually start with early morning calls. I work with a lot of people who are based on the East Coast or in the UK, so internal team and client calls tend to be fairly early. This also means that late afternoons are usually spent prepping for the next day’s AM calls.
Other than that, the world of PR is vastly different on a day-by-day basis. Clients sometimes come out with last-minute announcements or they have an urgent request that needs to be fulfilled within minutes, so the pace can get very fast at times.
Normal activities include: monitoring for coverage of a story in which our client(s) has been featured; emailing/talking to reporters about a recent story they wrote or an announcement we’re pitching; updating media lists of reporters who cover a specific beat or area of expertise; or developing briefing materials to be used to prepare an executive for an upcoming interview.
What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?
I love the people I work with and the team atmosphere. It’s a creative environment where your ideas are heard and appreciated. It makes you feel stimulated and motivated to do better and continue developing.
In addition to the people, I really enjoy talking to reporters about what their readers are interested in and finding a way to insert a client in a relevant story. It’s like putting a puzzle together and when it’s finally completed, it’s very exciting.
I’m not sure what I would change if I could.
What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?
I studied Business Administration with a Concentration in Marketing, which is a very relatable major to the public relations profession. In my marketing classes we learned about how to sell products and use analytics to improve sales operations. As a PR professional, I don’t sell products, but I do sell ideas and stories. My goal is to sell reporters stories that their readers will find interesting, so in essence each time I pitch a journalist I’m marketing an idea.
How did you decide that PR was the field that you were interested in?
It was actually not a strategic decision. In fact, my first job out of college was as an Administrative Assistant at a commercial real estate company where I worked with the Marketing Manager to create flyers, new business presentations, marketing messages, and help out with overall administrative duties. I wasn’t too impressed with the industry and knew that I wanted to change jobs, but I decided to travel for a bit before really deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
When I came back from an eight-month trip, I applied for an internship at a PR agency because I wanted to test it out and see if it fit my personality. At the end of my four-month internship, however, I was ready to close the door on PR and never look back.
From an intern perspective, it seemed to me that public relations was just way too tactical and lacked strategy.
My day-to-day activities consisted of pulling countless links to articles relating to our clients’ industries and managing a massive Excel file, which was shared with clients on a daily or weekly basis. The goal was to keep clients “informed” of what was going on in their field. The thing I didn’t enjoy was that my team never talked about how our clients’ products or services competed in the market and there wasn’t much brainstorming about how to find and target reporters who would be most interested in covering them.
After my first try at PR, I decided to go back to marketing and began applying to various positions, but an unexpected call from a recruiter at Burson stopped me dead in my tracks. At my interview, I met with some very interesting and intelligent people and something told me that I’d like working for this specific agency. Three years later, it turns out that I was right. The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is that public relations is very different from agency to agency and from client to client. It’s important to find your spot or to move on if your current position isn’t allowing you to grow.
What are some of the challenges of working in PR?
The most difficult PR tasks deal with communicating and “following up” with reporters. It can be very frustrating when we try to pitch an announcement and nobody responds to our emails. So the most successful and rewarding thing in our world is when a reporter, especially a top-tier reporter, responds to an email. Even if he or she responds to say how uninteresting what we’re offering is, it’s still so exciting that we received any kind of feedback!
One particular example of our work is when a client came out with a release that “announced” something that every other company has done and didn’t really have any news factor. In situations such as these, it’s the job of the PR team to pull out any and all semi-interesting, or “mediable,” points and create the best pitch possible. My team and I got together and discussed the problem. By brainstorming we were able to come up with a solution that involved collaborating with another Burson team representing a different account for the same client. The key was identifying a common angle/hook that connects two stories together. As a result, my team was able to offer something that reporters might have not heard before, helping us secure two interviews as well as two pieces of coverage and make the client happy.
What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?
I would advise students to focus on their writing and analytical skills. These two are absolutely crucial when you’re first starting out and the better you are at pulling key messages out of a news article, the easier it’ll be to keep clients happy. You need to be able to consult clients on how to pitch top-tier publications like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes, and you need to be able to do it with confidence. Begin by reading LOTS of articles and paying attention to the reporter’s name, executives who are quoted and why they’re quoted, what the focus of the article is, and what the key points are. Lastly, is there anything missing that would make the story better?
I’d also suggest taking control of your career by seeking out an internship and doing so well that they hire you. Once you’re hired, you need to continuously talk to upper management about your advancement opportunities and what you could be doing better in order to be promoted. Even though hiring managers sell you messages of great benefit packages and room for growth opportunities, nobody really cares about your career as much as you do and if you don’t push for growth, you will not get what you deserve.
Does your company hire interns in your field? If so, how would someone go about applying?
Yes, Burson does hire summer interns. The best way to apply is to go online here.
Homework time! Gergana was lucky to realize that company culture could make a HUGE difference in how she felt about her job (and what the job itself actually involved). When you’re applying for jobs, be sure to consider which aspects of company culture are most important to you. Not sure how to do that? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.