Basic Agency Organization
The PR agency world can be a confusing one—especially for someone looking in from the outside. Let’s take a look at the basic agency organization of a PR firm and what the different people do. We’ll start with the most essential part of the organization: the teams that serve clients. These teams look similar across most agencies with a few cultural twists at various firms. Functionally, however, most agencies operate in roughly the same manner.
At the beginning of the PR career track is the intern. Internships are all about learning. Interns learn the PR business through the most basic of tasks and learn whether the agency and the PR world is what they want to pursue. Meanwhile, the agency learns about the interns and decides who best matches the culture of the organization. At the end of an internship, it’s not uncommon for the highest performers to be offered a full time position.
The first full time position on the PR career track is the Account Coordinator, or AC. ACs spend a great deal of time writing, compiling reports, working with media lists, doing social media and traditional media monitoring, maintaining databases and lists, and generally providing a solid foundation for their team to build on. Generally, ACs remain in their role for 1-3 years, depending on the agency organization and individual performance/initiative.
If an AC exceeds expectations consistently, their next step up is the Account Executive, or AE. AEs are the relationship people. Great AEs build relationships with journalists, analysts, influencers, publishers, and anyone who can get the word out about what clients are trying to publicize. Very often they’re the ones writing press releases, media releases, analyst briefs, social posts, etc. If you get a pitch from a PR agency on behalf of a client, chances are it’s an AE sending it to you. If they do their job right, you’ll welcome it because it will be relevant, timely, and valuable information. As with ACs, AEs remain in their roles for 1-3 years depending on the agency and individual performance.
Senior Account Executives
AEs become Senior Account Executives (SAE) when they establish a solid track record for relationship building and a long list of wins under their belts. When a pitch needs to find a home under the most difficult conditions, the SAE is the one at bat. They have the “golden rolodex” of everyone in their vertical or niche and are on such good terms with their contacts that a quick text, Tweet, or message is all that’s needed to get the ball rolling. They facilitate in-person meetings, do media training to prep clients for difficult interviews, and even help to win new business. SAEs remain in their roles for 2-3 years or longer (by choice), as they are PR practitioners at the top of their game. The SAE position is traditionally the last non-management position in an agency organization—though at some agencies they do help manage ACs and interns.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at what it takes to manage teams in agency life.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology