Today’s young PR practitioners might find it hard to believe. But take it from someone who has been in the PR circus for many years: PR practitioners once could stay at an agency for many years, sometimes as long as they wanted to, if their work was satisfactory. I voluntarily left one agency after 10 years when I was recruited by Burson-Marsteller, where I toiled for almost 25 years before starting my own shop as a consultant.
Today, my advice to PR practitioners is to always have your “work suitcase” packed. Because for the great majority of employees, longevity at an agency is a pipe dream. Agencies always look for ways to increase profitability. The fastest way to achieve that goal is to replace workers – even good workers – with newcomers who will work for smaller salaries. And the coronavirus pandemic has made it easier to do so.
Some agency managers have always looked for ways to replace what they considered high-salaried employees, which in reality is a judgment call. For employees who produce unsatisfactory work, the decision is easy: termination. What is more difficult is when the target is a stellar performer who always helps others and is liked and respected by colleagues. In such cases, reasons for the person leaving the agency varied: A common management untruth is that the individual wants to start his/her own business.
Even in good times, PR agencies look for ways to replace higher-salaried employees with lower-paid ones. You can bet your last dollar, and be assured of winning, that agencies will take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to trim higher-paid employees and replace them with less experienced, lower–paid ones. Of course, those that wield the guillotine never think that they’re overpaid themselves.
The coronavirus epidemic has provided cover for PR agency employee firings. Now they don’t need to make excuses to terminate employees.
My “to do” PR Career Advice:
- If you have been “furloughed,” instead of “terminated,” don’t believe it’s a guarantee that your job is safe and you will be asked to return.
- Read all the on-line trade pubs; send résumés to those that post jobs. Be certain that the company is identified in the ad or you might inadvertently respond to an ad place by your current employer.
- Send resumes to headhunters and to other agencies and corporations. Use the online employment platforms like Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter.com. Also look into specialized or industry-specific job boards like USAjobs.gov and HigherEdJobs.com. Use a range of search terms including “communications.”
- Pay attention to ads on radio. Send your resume to those businesses regardless of the position they’re advertising. Address it to the H.R. department and include a note that you heard the ad on the radio.
- Volunteer your PR services to organizations that provide essential services during the pandemic. It’s a good way to expand your resume and might lead to a job offer.
- If you’re called to an interview, always notify those whom you are using as references.
- After the interview, always send a thank you note – not via email but by regular mail. In the note, always ask if there is any other information that you can provide. Send a handwritten note if you have good hand writing.
- There is no such thing as one resume that fits all situations. Tailor your resume according to the job you’re applying for.
What not to do PR Career Advice:
- Never use your corporate email account to send your resume. In Gmail or other public email system, use an account name that doesn’t precisely identify you. That allows you to block your name on the resume if appropriate, the same way headhunters do.
- Never assume that you’ve made such a good impression that you will definitely be hired. Keep looking until you are hired.
- Don’t give yes or no answers to questions. Always expand on your answers.
- Always provide examples of how you helped a client campaign. If you’re asked, “Can we contact the client,” say, “yes, but I first want to tell the client to expect a phone call.” Doing so goes against the agency tenet that employees should never reveal to clients that they are leaving. But not doing so can come back and bite you in the future if you need the client’s help. Remember: PR agency rules are crafted to help the agency, not you. Always call a client to say how much you enjoyed working on an account and say goodbye.
- If you are asked when you could start working, never say “immediately.” Always say you want to give your current employer a couple of weeks’ notice, even if you’re furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- If you’re asked what starting salary you want, always ask for more than your current one; if you hate your present job, ask for the same salary.
- You might be asked why you want to leave your present job, so before being interviewed research the company so you can provide a reply that includes why you want to join that company.
- And, importantly, never bad mouth your current or former employers.
Many corporations are hiring during the pandemic; others will “bank” your resume for possible hiring after it passes. Don’t sit around waiting for normal times to return. If you’re unhappy in your job, use this time to explore other options.
But always remember, what a new employer promises you is not written in stone. As Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince,” “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” Originally written in 1532, the quote is still relevant today. So don’t make spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Another proverb that job seekers should remember was written by the poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD). It is: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
So do your due diligence and investigate a company, its mission and clients, before submitting your resume.
And, importantly, for those of you who are not certain that you want to spend the remainder of your working life in public relations, now is the time to research and consider other options.
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.