Every task, big or small, will be a valuable lesson. That is one thing I learned when I began a career in communications as a public relations specialist. So, if you think that you will “hit the ground running” at your first role, I am about to burst your bubble.
Public relations is a strategic communication function for any organisation, and one of its most visible fields is media relations. But, no one really tells you the reality of starting a career in this industry. It is not by organising glamorous events or securing media coverage. The fact is that your first tasks will be “boring”.
How I started…
My first role in the communications field was as a Press and Communications intern at the British Embassy in Mexico City. I was quite excited! I imagined myself dealing with the press, helping craft messages, and spreading the word about UK projects in Mexican media. If I am honest, I was a bit too naive about the scope of my role, at least in the beginning. To be fair, it was my first proper job, and I was still in uni.
The truth was that my first task was to update the media and journalist database. I put a smile on my face and nodded to my manager when he told me what my assignment was. But, inside, I was disappointed. Really? Is my first introduction to media relations going to be looking at a long, plain spreadsheet? I had dreamt of my first day, which was not even close to how I pictured it.
Still, I spent the next few weeks calling journalists and newsrooms, asking to confirm or update their contact information. I got to know a bit more about the main media outlets and who covered the Embassy’s topics.
Once I finished, I was ready for my next assignment. I thought, “Finally, I will get to do more exciting tasks”. Wrong. The next thing on the list was to research and summarise relevant events and news to put on a brief for the Ambassador.
I won’t go into much detail, but my responsibilities became a mix of “boring” administrative tasks and helping with more “strategic” duties after a while. However, I left that role with a more realistic approach to media relations and a clearer idea of what a press office did on a daily basis.
Fast forward a year later when I landed my first full-time role as an Assistant Account Executive at Burson-Marsteller, now Burson Cohn and Wolfe. I was going to work in a global public relations firm, and my client was an international beverage company. I was finally going to design and implement media relations strategies, write press materials, and secure coverage for my client.
Guess what? My first assignment was once again to update the media database. As we worked in pairs, and my senior colleague had rank over me, I couldn’t delegate the task to anyone else.
So, again, I shrugged the disappointment and put all my energy into calling editors, journalists and writers in the database to confirm their emails and phone numbers. Meanwhile, in my head, I was thinking: “When will I be able to showcase my skills? Will I be able to do more strategic tasks?”
The answer was: not that much later after updating the database.
What I learned in the first year as a PR executive
My senior colleague and partner — a very wise woman and friend — said: “You know why I am asking you to update the database? I know it is dull, tedious work. But, it will help you understand the media landscape and what journalist covers the beat and topics we want to create awareness about.”
And, she was entirely right. When I began to support pitching and designing communications plans, I knew exactly what beat to target and what journalists I should contact.
Even back at my job as an intern at the British Embassy, going over the database allowed me to know what journalists were key to increase awareness about the UK government activities. I might not have been in charge of contacting an editor to pitch a story, but I did not feel out of place when my manager and colleagues discussed media plans.
I also learned that doing research and reading news, articles, and opinion pieces are more crucial than you can imagine. Putting together briefs, researching my client’s biggest critic, and finding potential allies for issues we wanted to push forward was not as tedious as I thought. Those tasks helped me understand the context that these organisations were navigating.
They also allowed me to transition from public relations to public affairs and strategic communications. Little by little, I grew into my role at Burson-Marsteller, and I was suddenly working closely with my client’s Public Affairs team, supporting them with communications, messaging, and media relations. Witnessing first-hand the interaction between public and private sectors made me realise that I wanted to pursue a career in public affairs.
Six years later and I am still doing the “unglamorous” tasks. The monotonous duties of a communications and public affairs consultant have allowed me to expand my knowledge of various industries, understand Latin American, US and UK media landscapes, and know who to reach out and pitch to secure coverage, and what is the sociopolitical context my clients are facing.
So my advice is: enjoy the boring, unglamorous tasks and have confidence that your moment to showcase your skills will come. You don’t know what you might discover on the way.