The public relations and corporate communications industry attracts many young communicators every year. I have had the privilege of guest lecturing on corporate communications and reputation management at a few institutes and seldom fail to share what I think is the right career path for a public relations professional. In my opinion, I would recommend that every communicator to be should join a reputed large PR firm in their early years and, after between five to seven years of rich, diverse experience, join a corporate communications team at mid to senior level.
While this may not be everybody's advice, my recommendation is based on a good PR agency being a great training ground for young communicators to hone their skills by working with diverse industries and client needs and to learn the full communicator’s toolkit. Over the years, they would get more and more opportunities to client service strategise and play an integral role in PR campaigns for their key clients, while getting an opportunity to execute multiple shorter projects. In the company of their peers and via agency team meetings, best practice sharing; they would have a great start to their resume, skill sets and expertise before they reach mid level experience – some of them would move to a good solid corporate communication roles and others continue to agency leadership roles.
Agency life gives you great width of industry experience and many opportunities to get to grips with the various tools of PR. Many agencies also have formal six month to one year training programmes for young professionals. If you have good clients who see the value of PR, you get deeply integrated into the company and play an advisory role to its management even while you are relatively young in the team / work experience.
Corporate communications professionals obviously develop deep industry domain expertise in their specific vertical and are by virtue of being a company insider, firmly integrated into the company offering strategic counsel to its leaders and often having a seat at the table in the leadership team. If you were to start on the company side, unless you work in a very large corporate spanning diverse industries, it is unlikely that you would get that width of experience. You could even could get specialised into a role focus and your career growth may take longer.
I actually did walk the talk.
The first seven years of my almost 17 year corporate communications career was spent at two PR agencies – I spent a good six years at Clea Public Relations which I joined straight out of Mass Communications and also spent less than a year at Good Relations. I then joined Kaya Skin Clinic as their first Corporate Communications Manager, then a year at Marico Industries and the last eight at eBay India.
In my agency career, I got to work with beauty majors, tourism boards, engineering companies, Internet companies, industry associations, consumer companies, coffee chains, television channels and even the Municipality. From each client, especially the longer retainers, I learnt and grew as a professional and a team leader, as well as shared learning from my agency colleagues via both formal and informal forums.
What do you think about this piece of advice? Do you agree? Did you have another path? I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Deepa Thomas is Head of Corporate Communications & Pop Culture at eBay India