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News & Views

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  • 20 October 2017
  • Steve Earl, Managing Director

30 ways to survive and thrive in a communications agency today

Lists tend to make good blog posts don’t they? For me, one list has got tongues wagging and keyboards clicking more than others.

Back when blogging was in its relative infancy, I did a post after an agency training session on how to get your career moving when you first started in PR. It went a bit bonkers – piles of comments, extracts quoted at events, people I interviewed referencing it. Then a few years later I updated it and PRWeek ran it (though I can’t seem to find the link).

Anyway, it shows how lists can work in getting people thinking. You might agree with these points, you might disagree. When I first put them together, PR was PR and digital was digital – today, we live in far more integrated times, data is more central to how we do things and the quest for definitive value has come on. So having had a few requests from other agency bods to do so, and having been reminded of it by David Brain’s recent management common sense post, I’ve updated it for today’s integrated communications agency environment.

The funny thing is mind, most of the points are strikingly similar to 10 years ago, and doubtless many would have applied since the dawn of agency time.

Here goes, then – 30 tips on how to be good at doing an agency job and get ahead:

  1. You’re a communicator. Remember to use your ears and mouth as well as your eyes. Staring at a screen and typing all day is just part of it
  2. Have a persistent curiosity about the world around you: news, trends, socio-political change, sport, whatever interests you. But stay on top of it
  3. Demonstrate that you are listening actively, and considering what is said
  4. Start the day with a blast of news: Twitter may be a good portal, but we all have favourite news sources. Few beat Radio 4’s Today programme
  5. Be data-driven: in particular, have a clear focus on the audience you want to communicate with and work out the likely (or, given some data sets, the assured) reaction
  6. Read more in-depth, long-form editorial, for context. Weekend newspaper supplements when you can, magazines, newer hybrid media
  7. Work hard. Don’t burn yourself out and keep a sense of perspective, but know that you have to apply yourself fully
  8. Chart media change. Get to grips with how earned media is evolving and intertwining, and think about it holistically
  9. Speak up, be audible and clear. Per point 1. You have a gob, use it (wisely)
  10. Do something to advance every client every day. Multitasking is challenging, but there are always ways to bag wins, from the smallest to the biggest
  11. Understand the basic mechanics of the agency business: the commercials aren’t overly complex, but understand the main levers and you’ll be much more au fait with why things happen
  12. Understand the client’s job and the pressures upon them. Not just their focus, but what it’s like every day. Mentally-speaking, you need to be able to wear their shoes
  13. Learn what makes news. Seriously, think about it. What makes the information a story that is editorially compelling at that moment
  14. Get your head around the implications of two-way media. For listening and planning, for earned media dissemination and for measuring value
  15. Arrive at work each day looking like you want to get things done. Don’t strut, but equally don’t just shuffle in meekly
  16. Remember that what many people are looking for in you, and relying on you for, is confidence
  17. Always look like you truly care about what you’re doing
  18. Learn how to write short, sharp sentences. Often without commas. So they get read
  19. Ask questions, be inquisitive. But learn from what you’re told
  20. Get to know the individuals you’re working with, individually. Colleagues, clients, media, influencers, everyone
  21. Put your hand up if you’re drowning. Don’t just take on work if you can’t cope. Ask for help and solutions can be found – you’re being responsible by doing so
  22. Do your own PR well. Don’t be a shameless self-publicist or a brazen trumpeter, but do make sure people get to see the results you’re most proud of
  23. On your way home on a Friday evening, have a little think to yourself about what you’ve really learned that week
  24. Learn how to cover your back. Don’t be paranoid, but do create audit trails so that people can understand where something has gone wrong, and learn from it
  25. Read up on great examples of integrated communications campaigns – yes the award-winners, but also those competitors have done, and those that have used a killer insight to deliver a neat idea which drives value
  26. When pitching media or crafting social content, think clearly about the headline or central emotion you want to trigger, and acid-test it with others
  27. When you’re recommending something to someone, use the word recommend
  28. Don’t be late, unless timeliness is beyond your control
  29. Control your own quality. If you’re bad at spelling, punctuation, grammar or accuracy, get better fast. The consequences could be grave (or could just expose you to an intolerable pedant)
  30. Use your words wisely