For the latest addition to the Interview Series, we have Jessica Ben-Ari, an Account Manager from Bite Communications, joining us to talk about her career path, making the transition from journalism to PR, what it’s like working for an agency and the top 3 most important traits all PR pros should have.
PR is fast paced no matter what corner of the globe you’re on. I’d say the major difference is the fact that the US tends to be pretty US-centric – when I was working in New York, I only worked with brands and teams based in the US. Being in Australia is exciting because of the diverse cultural exposure the proximity to Asia affords us. I have clients based in Singapore and New Zealand, for example. The opportunity has certainly improved my time zone juggling skills!
Q2. What was your career path like?
I’ve been on the agency side my entire full time career. It suits me – I love the fast pace, the client diversity and the unpredictability of what’s coming up next. Though I mainly work with a tech clientele at Bite Communications, my background is rooted in the consumer sector. I’ve worked with clients from a range of industries including fashion, beauty, food, spirits, travel, personal finance, pet food, housewares, health and more. Told you I thrive on diversity!
Q2. You studied journalism back when you were in college but made the transition to public relations. Any particular reason for that?
Writing is a must-have core skill for every PR professional, and it’s always been one of my favourite parts of the job, which is one of the reasons I wanted to study journalism in college. Journalism demands certain disciplines that serve you well in PR, too – timeliness, the ability to craft a story, attention to detail are chief among them.
I actually never intended to go into PR. I graduated at 21 with a CV full of journalism internships, and while I was primed for an editorial career, it was more important to me at that young age to graduate school and find an office I liked to be in everyday. When you’re used to being a student, the biggest job within your first job is making the transition to a 9-5 mentality, and my priority was finding a company that I liked spending so much time with, and a team which would help me transition from student to professional. For me, that first full time job happened to be with a boutique PR agency, and the rest is history!
Q3.What sort of journalistic skills do you think would greatly benefit PR professionals?
As I said, writing is key. These days, it’s common for the first contact with a client, international colleague or journalist to be through email. Nothing makes me cringe like a poorly written email! Aside from writing ability, tact and diplomacy are key. Whether having a tough conversation with a client or negotiating costs with a vendor, you’ve got to know how to walk the fine line between assertive and stubborn or rude. Finally, sense of humour. PR is a fun profession, so let’s not forget it, even during the high stress times. I once had a boss who had to remind me, “it’s PR, not ER.” Even when things get super stressful, I try to remember that!
Q4. Craig Pearce, an Australian communications professional, wrote two great blog posts comparing agency roles versus in-house roles. As someone whose worked in PR agencies their whole career, what would you describe as the pros and cons of agency life?
For me, the opportunity to work with a variety of brands on any given day makes coming to work exciting. There’s not much of a chance of getting bored at a busy PR agency, which is a major pro for me.
Agency life makes you a well rounded professional and keeps you on your toes. I’ve also made many personal friendships dealing with the media so frequently, so I appreciate the social aspect of agency life. And another thing – agencies tend to be hot beds of expertise. On any given day, I’ve got exposure to digital experts, video gurus, extraordinary event planners and creative geniuses, all sitting within a few meters of my desk. How lucky am I?
Cons…hmm. Finding and maintaining balance in your day can certainly be a challenge. You might be out all day with one client only to find that another has a sudden deadline and needs your input. One day we’ll find a way to clone PR people, I’m sure of it!
Q5. What would you say are the top 3 most important traits of a great PR pro?
- Attentiveness to news and events: always be on the lookout for opportunities to tell your clients’ stories.
- Think and act quickly: whether it’s a journalist on a deadline or a client request, PR people need to be able to grab the ball and run with it to maximise results.
- Master the basics: it might seem obvious, but deserves to be said again and again. Written and verbal skills are still the cornerstones of success in PR, whether you’re writing a proposal or a 140 character Tweet.
Q6. And lastly, any advice for the PR students out there looking for their first internship / job?
You’ve got a long career ahead, so follow your heart and focus on finding a company that you love, where you feel you’ll be able to develop as a professional. You may think you know exactly what you want to do (I certainly thought I had it all figured out at 21!) but give yourself the permission to dabble in all sorts of industries. Ah, and another thing – don’t Tweet or Facebook anything you wouldn’t want your mother to read – chances are you wouldn’t want your first boss to read it, either!
***To contact Jessica, get in touch via Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org***