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Those dreaded three words.
“Agency experience required.”
I say “dreaded” because for many, that’s exactly what it is. It’s actually quite a conundrum for many (including this guy as of about 10 years ago).
“How do I get agency experience when agencies won’t hire me?”
That’s what I kept asking myself before I was hired on by the lovely folks at Beehive PR about 8 years ago. But before then, I was kinda in that trap–agency experience was required, but I didn’t have it.
For me, this always raised the bigger question: SHOULD agency experience be required? Why do I NEED agency experience–especially if the job is on the corporate side! And if it’s an agency job, how am I supposed to GET agency experience when you won’t offer it to me?
To answer that, you need to fully understand what “agency experience” really means.
Let’s break it down.
When they say “agency experience required” what they’re really looking for is:
* Your ability to juggle about 4,521 tasks at the same time–this happens frequently on the agency side.
* Your ability to come up with big ideas–agencies DEPEND on big ideas to make their money.
* Your ability to work with all sorts of people and difficult personalities–let’s not kid ourselves, agencies are full of people who think they’re the cat’s ass (and by the way, “cat’s ass” was my nice way of putting this ;). If you can work with these people, you can work with anyone. (To be fair, agency people are also some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet)
* Your ability to deal with intense pressure–client pitches, staying on budget, exceeding expectations. The agency business is tough. They want to see if you can survive.
* Your ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done–a lot of times, this is what it comes down to on the consultant side.
* Your ability to “hack” a problem–in corporate speak “your ability to find creative solutions to business problems.” But really, this is all about finding new and different ways to get things done. Period.
* Your ability to manage, work with and navigate the agency/client relationship–after all, if you can manage clients, you can BE the client!
* The ability to make it up as you go along–again, we’ve seen agencies do this before, right? Right or wrong, it’s the reality of the landscape. So, agencies need people who can say “yeah, we can do that” and then figure out a way to get it done without any people on staff who have that experience.
So, these are the kinds of things they’re looking for when they say “agency experience required.”
They don’t actually CARE that you’ve worked at an agency. What they care about are the skill sets required of anyone who succeeds in the agency environment.
It took me a while to figure that out.
OK, back to my original question: “Should agency experience really be required?’
As much as I want to debunk this long-running trend, I think the answer is “yes, it should be required.” At least for certain corporate jobs.
For all the reasons I listed above, agency life weeds out weaker talent. Heck, I should know I got weeded out!
I didn’t even survive Beehive PR for a year. I was out in 9 months. Now, granted, I had a lot of life events that got in the way that year (I won’t bore you with the list, but let’s just say it actually was life-and-death-type stuff), but still, I didn’t last a year. Essentially, I gave up.
But, now I have “agency experience” on my resume.
And, I would argue, I now have 5-plus years of “agency experience” since working as a solo consultant is very similar to working for an agency (OK, separate post, but I’m making a point here!).
But I can attest to the intensity of agency life. I learned more in my 9 months at Beehive then I did at multiple years in other jobs. It’s just a different pace. A different culture. A different mentality. And, those are all “skill sets” or, I don’t know, “qualities”, corporations crave.
So, they ask for agency experience.
Is it fair? Hell no. But, the last time I checked, not much in this life is “fair” (outside of my 6-year-old’s park soccer league).
Now, go get some agency experience why don’t ya?
In this week’s edition of the Talking Points Podcast, Kevin Hunt and I discuss a post written by a former journalist turned content marketer. It’s a classic rant (mostly lamenting the demise of modern journalism), but in the post, the author also raises a good point: Are we, as PRs/marketers, pushing executives to product TOO MUCH content? With content fatigue front and center lately, I thought this was a good talking point. Listen to the podcast for the complete discussion.
We also talked about a number of other topics, including those Kevin heard at the recent SocialMedia.Org event in Chicago this week, where big brands from around the country get together to discuss best practices. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Volvo/Jean Claude Van Damme video below. Amazing.
“Volvo Trucks – The Epic Split feat. Van Damme”
“Content Used to Be King. Now It’s the Joker”
“Corporate Social Media 2014: A Stage of Maturity?”
“Study: Sponsored Content Has a Trust Problem”
“Twitter Tells Brands They Could Reach 30% of Their Followers for Free”
“Meet Minneapolis Creates Hashtag For Visitors With ASG Questions”
Betsy Anderson first asked me to speak to her University of St. Thomas PR class a number of years ago. Ever since, I’ve been a regular guest speaker–I think mostly because I beg her to do it
But, over the years I’ve gotten to know Betsy quite well. Many lunches and coffees later and I’d go as far as to say we’re pretty good friends. So, this interview today is entirely biased–just so we’re clear
But, I’ve also come to admire Betsy a great deal over the years. First, she has one of my “dream jobs” for lack of a better term (teaching–which some day, in some shape or form, I will do). Second, I can see first-hand the impact she’s making on kids’ lives. In fact, I hear it from the legion of kids who have graduated from UST over the years–and believe me, there’s a lot of them. And, not coincidentally, most of the are quite successful.
So, let’s hear more about how this agency pro-turned-educator is helping to shape the next generation of PR minds.
I decided I wanted to be a professor while I was still in college. I was inspired by my favorite professor at Bethel (Kathy Bruner – now at Taylor University). So going back to grad school was always in the back of my mind; but first, I thought I should learn something about the subject I wanted to teach.
I loved my PR agency experience. A couple of things I miss are the great people I worked with and the fun of working downtown. Overall, though, I feel like I’m still connected to the industry enough that I still feel part of that world to some degree, so the career shift has allowed me to experience the best of both worlds.
What’s the one thing you absolutely love about teaching?
I love when a student really connects with the topic, and when I feel like I’ve been really helpful to students. There’s nothing better than having people come up after class and say they didn’t know much about PR before, but are now excited to have found the perfect major.
It’s also a great feeling when students really get into an activity, such as a crisis simulation, and immediately see how it has enhanced their knowledge or skills.
There are basically two tracks: you can teach a course as an adjunct while continuing in your day-job, or go back to school for a Ph.D. and pursue a full-time faculty position.
For those considering an academic career, I’d recommend: doing informational interviews with faculty; trying it out first as an adjunct; and/or attending the “Help Wanted in the PR Classroom” session at the PRSA International Conference, which focuses on transitioning from a professional role to the classroom. For a full-time faculty position, the schooling is obviously a commitment, and then it takes many years of hard work to develop a line of research.
If you’re really lucky, you may be able to find what St. Thomas calls a “clinical” faculty position – which is a full-time faculty position that requires significant professional experience rather than a Ph.D. (there are fewer of these positions available). One thing that’s important to know is that faculty salaries aren’t what you might expect given tuition costs, and most professors I know work extremely hard so the hours aren’t quite as cushy as some people might think, but it’s definitely a fun and rewarding career.
I’m glad I don’t have to do it all over, but I’d try to enjoy the process more and stress less.
Students LOVE hearing from real-world professionals. And given how quickly our industry is changing, I love learning from them too – especially on newer or more technical topics such as SEO, SEM, analytics, or content strategy & management. I’ve experimented this past year with having “professional writing experts” come into our PR Writing class to give students feedback on their writing. That way, students aren’t just writing for one audience (me), but are learning that not everyone reading their writing will necessarily have the same opinion.
This is a good transition from the previous question because all of the professionals you mentioned have come back to UST as guest speakers! I can’t take credit for Mike and LeeAnn – who graduated before I started at UST – and there are students like Bridget and Allison who will be successful no matter what, but hopefully I helped interest them in public relations as a career. Even when I worked as a PR professional making hiring decisions, the St. Thomas PR program had an excellent reputation, along with places like the U of M, St. Cloud State, and even St. Olaf for its English major.
One reason for UST’s strong strategic communication program may be its location. We have access to incredible adjuncts, guest speakers, professional development opportunities and nearby internships. This creates a culture where junior/senior students who do a good job at an internship are able to recommend younger students when they leave, and it just becomes the norm to see students in your classes gaining great experiences – which inspires others to follow in those footsteps. Also, St. Thomas currently places great emphasis on quality teaching and provides excellent professional development opportunities to faculty.
The industry changes have, of course, impacted the content of the classes I teach, and it’s both fun and demanding to try to keep up along with other research and service responsibilities I have as a faculty member. Take PR Writing, for example. I taught this course in 2013 for this first time since 2008. I felt pretty cutting-edge by including a blog assignment in this class in 2005, but think about how writing tasks have changed from 2008 to 2013. Students still need to know how to put together a media list, media alert and news release, but also how to write a good tweet, Pinterest caption or social media news release, and how to generate relevant ideas for a social media content calendar.
But beyond content, teaching strategies also have changed. Active learning activities such as case studies and discussion have been popular for a while, but we’re getting to a point where some students have a low tolerance for a 60-minute lecture. Professors are starting to experiment with “flipping the classroom,” where students view a (hopefully engaging) lecture module online, for example, and come to class ready to participate in an activity that applies the information. Professors are also having to get more creative to capture attention.
There are probably at least a couple of reasons for this.
Often there can be some red tape (curriculum committees and approval processes) that can slow down how quickly universities are able to offer new courses. Also, there can be a philosophical divide between offering too many “how-to” skills classes (where a social media class may be categorized) vs. providing more of a well-rounded liberal arts education that emphasizes abstract and critical thinking skills. My personal opinion is that sometimes this point is over-emphasized, and that skill development and thinking work together. For example, I took a year-long video course in college. The equipment and software I used is completely out-of-date now, but today I still use what I learned about storyboarding, good shot composition, and how to teach myself new software programs (lifelong technology learning skills).
Not all administrators realize the extent to which social media and digital technologies are completely reshaping our field, and the advantage that students have over the competition if they’re able to gain skills in social media strategy, graphic design, video, etc., in addition to more traditional communication skills. TopRank’s Lee Odden reflected this sentiment in his MN Search Summit keynote address this summer with this quote from Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist at Google: “You can no longer be good at just one thing… It is a 10-thing world now.”
There is a practical reason for a lack of social media courses, as well. It takes an incredible amount of time for a full-time faculty member to keep up with social media today, along with other teaching, service and research responsibilities. I love to quote what Hugh MacLeod wrote in a copyblogger post a few years ago: “Some time ago I found out the hard way that keeping up with social media, keeping ahead of the curve, was impossible. You might as well try emptying the Atlantic Ocean with a bucket.”
Finally, it can be difficult for an adjunct professor who is immersed in a 24/7 social media job to commit to teaching a social media course on a long-term basis. I think universities that can find this type of professor or adjunct should recognize this rarity and take advantage of it. In my opinion, the ultimate benefit to students would be a team-teaching approach between a full-time faculty member and a social media professional expert. Attention universities: Arik Hanson would be perfect for this. Want to team up?
By now, many of you have probably read the LeBron James letter in Sports Illustrated last week.
I know there have been the requisite “What we can learn about X from LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated post” posts already.
But, as I read the piece, I kept thinking of a different angle. A corporate communications angle.
Think about it this way. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is a business, this move signifies tremendous change for the organization. In essence, this is the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company announcing a new CEO. It’s that big.
So, huge change for the Cavs. This decision impacts everyone from Dan Gilbert (and his pocketbook) to the folks who take ticket orders (the Cavs sold out of season tickets in just eight hours last week!).
As you read the letter, think about a message like this from your CEO. That’s kinda how I looked at this–even though I know LeBron is not the owner or CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers. At least not yet
But if you read the letter through that lens, you’ll notice some pretty interesting commonalities with corporate communications practices.
And, you’ll note that “King James” did a lot of things right from a change comms point of view.
Let’s take a peek:
Successful leaders are great at creating emotional connections with their employees. LeBron does this right out of the gate as he talks about growing up in NE Ohio. Also, using phrases like “holds a special place in my heart” and “It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled.” Leading this way was not accidental. LBJ was building (or re-building, really) an emotional connection with the Cavs fans, employees and players he so rudely jilted four years ago.
This is where most execs struggle. They’re so focused on “the message” they forget to just speak like a human being! Specifically, this sentence meant a lot: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I still would have left.” In essence, this is LJB apologizing to the fans of C-town. But notice he still said he’d leave. He apologized for the WAY he did it–not for the act itself. Extremely honest. And extremely human. Something that certainly did NOT come off the first time he made an announcement like this (um, Jim Gray anyone?).
Being thankful and recognizing employees is one of those tips you hear a lot in the corp comms world. But, what most execs forget is not simply to thank the people/employees who help them out along the way–it’s to actually NAME NAMES! Again, LBJ does well here. He goes out of his way to thank the Miami Heat. But, he also names specific players–Wade, Bosh, Haslem and Mario Chalmers. He didn’t have to do that–but he did. Execs could learn a thing or two here–don’t just thank employees. Thank SPECIFIC employees!
Another area where LBJ excelled. A few times in the letter, he sought to inspire. “…what’s most important to me is bringing a trophy back to Northeast Ohio” for starters. But, he follows that up a little later by saying, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is going to be to deliver. We’re not ready right now.” Perfect. Inspire, but set realistic expectations. This way, if somehow LBJ DOES get Cleveland to the NBA Finals next year (which is a serious possibility) it will be considered a huge win. His goal is clearly to win championships, but he’s also realistic about the timetable. Executives sometimes get caught up in the “inspiration” phase–trying to motivate employees to achieve goals that are often, to be honest, unrealistic. I tend to think employees would appreciate this “inspire with realistic expectations” approach better. Feels more honest to me.
This is an area where CEOs specialize–the vision. LBJ’s “vision” consisted of talking exactly what he’s planning to do, and what he’s looking forward to. Specifically, being more of a senior leader on this team and mentoring some of the NBA’s bright young stars, including Kyrie Irving. Again, love that he called out specific teammates by name (but did NOT call out Andrew Wigggins–conspiracy alert Wolves fans! :).
Those organizations with a higher calling tend to have a easier time rallying employees than those just trying to sell widgets. Think of the difference between tech giants like Apple and Samsung. Samsung makes phones. Apple improves people’s lives. There’s a big difference–which, in part, is why Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world. In LBJ’s case, his higher cause is Northeast Ohio–and kids. He closes his message by talking about his “higher calling.” Case in point: “But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling her goes above basketball.” What is your organization’s higher calling? What do you stand for? And how do your executives rally the troops in the context of that higher calling? That’s an area where executive leaders could improve, too.