Teacher’s Pet: Big agency vs. boutique firm

Today’s Teacher’s Pet post is about the differences between interning at small firms and large agencies. It’s the time of year when many PR students start to look for internship opportunities, so this post should answer lots of questions for you. 

Natalie Schoffer is currently enrolled as a student in Humber College’s Postgraduate Certificate program. 

I am looking into internships and jobs right now and I am wondering what the difference is between working at a large agency and a small firm?
 
Michelle‘s answer: Both small and large PR firms offer interns a lot of solid PR work experience. It’s our opinion that the top two areas of distinction fall under day-to-day tasks and clientele, outlined below.
The Tasks
Small (boutique) firms: These interns get a lot of hands-on experience, including working events and receiving RSVPs, developing first drafts of media materials, building media lists, helping with media monitoring and tracking coverage, assisting with a company’s social media initiatives, and more. Interns have the opportunity to assist everyone from the president to junior staff, and the intimate atmosphere provides invaluable access to senior staff.

Large agency: The atmosphere can feel more corporate than a boutique, and these agencies employ many staff, so there are a lot of smart, savvy people to learn from. Large agency interns are part of an account team (with up to five staff members) and provide support on foundational tasks like media monitoring, managing press reports, building media lists and more. Many of the large firms have offices all over the world, opening the door to work-related travel, or relocation, which can be a fun perk (if you’re hired on after your internship).
The Clients
The size of company you choose also depends on what you are passionate about.
Small firms: Boutique agencies like rock-it promotions, Brill Communications and Pennant Media Group offer the chance to work with a range of clients, from local start-ups to national businesses to global enterprises. Boutique firms often work within multiple categories like fashion, entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, beauty, restaurants, etc. since there aren’t separate departments.  Budgets can be smaller than with big agencies, so creative outreach is appreciated.

Large agency: Large firms like Edelman, Strategic Objectives, Hill and Knowlton or National Public Relations are often separated into specific departments dedicated to client areas like consumer, health, technology and corporate communications, so you can benefit from tailored industry experience, which is amazing if you have a passion for a specific genre. Large corporate clients often have more regulations and specific branding guidelines, so getting a super creative idea off the ground isn’t always easy, but the larger budgets mean there are endless possibilities.

The Conclusion
An internship, wherever you do it, is really what you make of it. Make sure you ask senior staff about how you can help on an account, complete the tasks you are assigned impeccably, be cheery and personable (without being irritating), be eager to learn and go above and beyond. This will help land you a job, or at least a wonderful reference letter. Should you intern in an environment that just isn’t right for you, you can (and should!) easily transition between small firms and large agencies. 

Teacher’s Pet: How to get your name out there and get hired

For our third student inquiry, we’re tackling a question that applies to any job or industry. Sophie Garber, a Humber Public Relations Post-Graduate Certificate student, asks: When starting out in the PR industry, what is the best way to get my name out and land the job of my dreams?” We’ll answer it from a PR perspective, but many of the tips apply to other positions.

Twitter: @SophieMGarber 

Our Answer: Graduating from school can be both an exciting and scary time. Start off on the right foot with these tips and let the job offers roll in!

Volunteer – Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, and when you feel you’ve done enough, volunteer some more. If you’re into fashion PR, apply to volunteer at Fashion Week. Into film? Put some time in during TIFF. Volunteering truly is the best way for students to get practical experience in a corporate environment. 

Volunteering hot-spot: volunteering at the door of events is a great way to meet media members and industry professionals face to face. At rock-it, all staff are expected to check guests in at the door, as we all enjoy greeting people as they come in. It’s often a misconception that the door is a lousy place to be. It can actually be the best place to make good connections and ensure that you see everybody who comes in.
Informational interviews – If you have your eye on a coveted internship position, set up an informational interview a couple months before applying. Professionals working at the company will be impressed by your initiative, and will likely be more than happy to talk to those who share a passion for their work. These meetings give you a foot in the door, teach you about the company and make a contact or two. Always remember to follow-up with a thank you note. Bonus points for something handwritten and snail-mailed.
Use your school’s resources – Your school’s employment office, instructors and career counsellors are great resources for internship positions, jobs and job hunting tips. When in doubt about a job opportunity or internship dilemma, ask them!
Networking – Take advantage of networking opportunities both online and in person. If you aren’t already signed up, join LinkedIn now. The professional network is an amazing tool for connecting with the right people, and finding business and job opportunities in the industry. Volunteering at events is not only a chance to gain work experience, but also a break to network. Introduce yourself to people – now’s not the time to be shy (especially if you want to work in people-oriented PR!).
Do some research – This one is said often but deserves repeating: Research the name of the hiring manager. “To whom it may concern” fails reflect genuine interest in a company. Be sure to tailor your cover letter and resume by focusing on work and volunteer experience that is relevant to the company.
Pay attention to details – SPELL CHECK. We can’t say it enough. Spell check your resume and cover letter. It’s crucially important – this industry is all about communication, so all communications, both written and spoken, should be accurate. Have a friend who’s good with writing read over your application with a critical eye. Give yourself enough time to put together an application you’re really proud of. It will show your effort and that will get you noticed.
Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to carly.intern@rockitpromo.com. We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.

Teacher’s Pet: a new series

PR students who are still in school and trying to figure out how to start in the industry have many questions. Fortunately for inquiring minds, rock-it promotions has the answers. Today we introduce a new feature called Teacher’s Pet, where we will answer some student questions. Whether it’s about mentoring, corporate culture at agencies or how to contact a journalist, we have the right industry knowledge for budding professionals.

A little while ago, we invited students to ask us questions about working in the PR industry. We received some great responses, so we’ll be posting our thoughts every few weeks. Check back often to see if your question was chosen, or just to catch up on the latest in professional advice.
Today we’re answering a question from Ashley Cabral (@ashley_cabral), a fourth-year public relations student at the University of Guelph-Humber.
Ashley’s Question: When interviewing for an entry-level position or internship, what makes a candidate memorable?
Our Answer: Interviews can be nerve-racking, but they don’t have to be. Follow these six steps, and stand out for all the right reasons!
Make an entrance – Start off your interview on the right foot by arriving early. Coming in 10 minutes before your scheduled interview suggests to your company that you are both punctual and organized. 
Arriving earlier than this is not a good idea. Work is busy, and we feel badly making someone wait while we wrap up whatever we’re working on. We plan for interviews to be at specific times, and build our day around that.

If you are arriving late, it doesn’t mean your chances are shot. Call as soon as you know you will be late and let us know. Things happen, and sometimes you can’t help but be late. Calling ahead shows consideration and thoughtfulness.
Score extra points by dressing appropriately in a professional outfit that is simple yet current.
Come prepared – It is difficult to convince employers that you really want to work at their company when you aren’t familiar with their clients. To be an engaging, informed candidate, it’s important to be able to reference a company’s client list, campaigns and past events in conversation.
Know your media – We appreciate that you read Vogue and Vanity Fair; and we get that you’re fashionably up-to-date. But if you want start out at a Canadian firm, it’s important to be familiar with Canadian journalists and their outlets. If you are looking to start in fashion but don’t know who Lisa Tant is, start researching. (Hint: @LisaTant)
Be Yourself – Know what separates you from your competition. Whether you are editor of your school newspaper or are producing your own fashion show, discuss the unique qualities and experience you bring to the table.
Relax! We understand that interviews are nerve-wracking, but if we’ve called you, we’re excited about meeting you and getting to know you. We want to hire someone great and you could be it. Let your personality shine through. Bringing us to our next point…
Be confident – PR superwoman Kelly Cutrone suggests that sometimes in PR you have to fake it to make it. You may feel nervous, but now is the time to act confident. This means eye contact, and no hair playing. Be sincere and smile. If you’re going into this field, it shouldn’t be hard to do that.
Follow-up – After the interview, remember to send a thank-you email or handwritten note. For a personal touch, be sure to reference a couple of points discussed during the interview. Keep it short and sweet, and be genuine in thanking your interviewer for their time (we are busy people)! 
If you don’t hear back, follow up again. And again. And again, until you get a hard no. You aren’t being annoying, you are showing us that you want the job. 

Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to carly.intern@rockitpromo.com. We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.