At a recent staff meeting in SHIFT’s Boston office, our VP of Marketing said to us all with a grin, “When you feel like you’ve learned everything there is out there to learn, that’s when your career is over.”
It may have been tossed out casually on a Friday, but it’s absolutely true. At some point during your first year working at an agency, something will “click” and you’ll know you’ve finally hit your stride. But this isn’t the time to sit back and watch things roll. It’s the time to challenge yourself in new ways, test new limits and taste new experiences.
Be curious, inquisitive and experimental.
With the technology tools available to PR pros updating and evolving every day, letting yourself get too comfortable with your current toolkit is like asking to get left in the dust. Never stop experimenting.
Get your hands on new things. Poke and prod at them. Sign up for trial versions of new services. Play around with new features rolled out on your software platforms and social media networks. For every handful of mediocre ones you try, you’ll find one that’s awesome.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Remember how you set goals for yourself during your first few months? It’s time to reexamine those goals and set new ones, because you’re not a total beginner any more.
What part of your work makes you feel nervous? What do you suck at? What gets in the way of you doing better work? There’s your new challenge. It can be anything, from “I’m scared stiff of pitching by phone” to “I write terrible press releases.” Keep it top of mind every day and jump on every chance to work at it.
Become knowledgeable on your clients and their industries.
It can take months of reading industry news to understand what makes your client compelling. When you finally “get it,” you’ll be able to spot industry trends, instinctively see where your client fits in and jump on opportunities that never crossed your radar before. It’s invigorating, and you’ll produce better work while having a blast at the same time.
Dive in. Live and breathe what’s happening in your client’s industry. You might find that it’s fascinating.
Expand your relationships.
In an industry built on being connected, growing isn’t just about what you do in the office. Yes, I’m talking about networking! Start attending events to build your confidence and connect with interesting people. Your agency probably has an internal calendar of local events. If not, there are still plenty of resources to get you started: your coworkers, PRSA and EventBrite to name a few.
There’s a common misconception among PR newbies that networking is an extension of the workday. Sure, you need to maintain professionalism, but networking is a fun chance to chat with people who share your interests (often over food and drink). Some could become friends, collaborators, business partners or clients in the future.
For all of this to work, you have to take some risks. That means making a few mistakes, with the understanding that it’s okay if something doesn’t turn out perfectly as long as you learn from it. How can you challenge yourself to grow if you’re so terrified of messing up that you can’t take a step forward?
Failure, mistakes and imperfection all sound like negatives, but they are part of the process of professional growth – in other words, you need them. So ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen if I try this?” If the consequences are within reason, then you already have your answer.
Your first year of agency life is as good a time as any to start pushing yourself to grow in all of these various ways. This post gave you some advice on where to start, but don’t stop there. The most important thing is to never stop looking for places to grow. Always ask yourself, “What’s next?”
This post is part of a six-part series, in which we dive into the anatomy of the first 365 days of agency life and share methods for success for each stage.