Agency Life 101: Nicole Bestard, Account Director

nicole_bestardFrom time to time, we like to open a window into what life is like here at SHIFT. We pride ourselves on our smart, dedicated (and who can forget ballsy) culture. This week, we check in with Nicole Bestard, an Account Director in our NYC office. Nicole gives us insight into the day-to-day as an AD and offers advice for those looking for a glimpse into the SHIFT life.

What are your main focuses as an AD? How do your day-to-day responsibilities play into this?

Very simply, I’m a problem solver. For my team, for my clients, for the Agency. No one day is alike. And rare is the day that actually matches up to what my calendar says.

My main focus: how to get more ink for our clients (and how we’d get ink for future clients). Ink, and the quality and quantity of it, is at core of most of the problems I’m trying to solve, and the core of every good PR practice.

My main concerns: client health and team health. This means sitting in on a lot of meetings, listening for needs and opportunities. But I can’t sit in on them all and be a good listener or a good helper, so I work in constant triage, jumping in where I’m needed most.

My main responsibility: cheering. It is absolutely the most important part of my job. You can’t be of service to anyone if you’re not taking the time to celebrate achievements and relish in tiny successes.

While the above doesn’t ever change, each day brings new challenges in each category.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about being an AD? What are some of the challenges?

I love the variety that comes with my job. With two teams, I get to work on both consumer and high-tech B2B accounts. One minute I’m participating in a brainstorm for ideas around a new lifestyle store opening, the next I’m editing a byline for a tech trade from the founder of an enterprise software company. It requires agility, and keeps me thinking creatively. And then throughout the day I’m checking in on email, monitoring client requests on multiple accounts, fielding new business requests, troubleshooting with the team, jumping in on impromptu discussions around a pitch strategy, media conversation or PR plan that I hear happening all around me. And cheering all the while because the wins are coming in throughout the day.

The great thing about being an AD is that every little win achieved by my team is multiplied. When I was in the AC, AE or even SAE role, each “win” just belonged to me. Now, as a director for two fairly large, awesome teams, if someone on my team gets a win, it’s multiplied, exponentially. There are so many wins, so many things to be happy about and so many things to be proud of each day.

Positive coverage for a client is always a win. But it’s not limited to that. Sometimes just getting a reply from a hard-to-reach journalist is a win. Drafting a well-written email to deliver candid feedback to a client is win. There’s a lot of cheering coming from my desk on good days.

The challenge is bandwidth. On busier days, there’s no cheering. And that’s not because the wins aren’t coming in. It’s because I’m running from call to meeting to call and so I don’t get a chance to witness, and to cheer, for the wins as they happen. I feel bad about that.

Also, while my focus is ink, I don’t actually get to talk to actual reporters very often. It’s important to stay connected to reporters. They are, in many ways, the “other” client. I try to ameliorate that by spending an hour every week with junior staff to pitch alongside them, or at least be present with them to offer prep/pep talk before calls, and then give instant feedback and support.

This dedicated group pitch time was intimidating for everyone at first, which is why I named it “Cliff Jumping”. The more you do it, the easier it is, and it helps to have peer pressure on your side to make the leap. It’s been a really successful program since I started making it a weekly practice, and it’s the one meeting I keep as an absolute constant each week. I like talking to reporters (I used to be one), and I think it’s really important to lead by example. It’s also important for junior staff to hear me make mistakes on the phone, too. It’s helped me re-connect with the core work of what we do in a tangible way, and it drives home that no matter what each person’s role or rank in the Agency, we all have something to learn from each other.

One of your primary duties is overseeing NYC’s account team. What’s your personal approach to management? What advice do you have for those newer to a management role?

LISTEN. To your clients. If we’re not getting results, it’s usually either a storytelling issue or a target issue. I’m constantly looking for ways to adjust the message or story, and to help the team hone in on the perfect target for that story. Listening to trends, reading, paying attention to the random news a client might drop in about the company and to things that are said by other teams is essential.

ASK QUESTIONS. Of your team. I cheer hard and loud. But I also push hard, and often. It’s usually in the form of lots of questions. I’m always asking, how can this be done better? What about this angle? Are you talking to the right person? What’s the plan for this? Where are you getting your data? Is this what the client asked for? What result do you want?

ASK FOR HELP. OFFER HELP. Getting the team involved not only helps you, it helps them learn, and ensures you have people trained for the job well in advance of emergencies. Delegating is a major challenge for new managers, as is knowing where you fit in. Asking for help encourages a team atmosphere at every level, and prevents feeling overwhelmed. Offering help to both junior staff and senior staff is great way to keep learning, and it ensures you go where you’re needed most.

You’ve been known to say that “No one walks alone” here at SHIFT. Would you talk about the importance of this in agency life, and how it connects to the larger culture at SHIFT?

I would not be able to do what I do, and be proud of the work I do, if it wasn’t for the support and hard work of my team and my superiors. NO is just not heard here very often.

I mention asking for help above. I wouldn’t recommend that if it didn’t actually lead somewhere. From our CEO to our interns, SHIFTers are genuinely service-oriented people. Many of us are probably capable of handling every situation on our own, but the truth is that smart people realize that working in a vacuum benefits no one. It’s service industry math. One is great, two is better, three is a team. PR can involve a LOT of rejection, a LOT of demands, a LOT of pressure. Likewise, it’s a super competitive world out there. The work we do — telling our clients’ stories and finding a place for them in the world — is competing against thousands, if not millions and billions of other stories trying to get told.

As such, we have to be incredibly competitive and aggressive in our tactics against the competition. If we had to compete against each other at the same time, it’d be an endless battle. At SHIFT, I’ve never felt that I was the one solely responsible for a win or a loss, a placement or a rejection. It’s nice knowing that you are not solely responsible for an outcome, good or bad. You are accountable to do your part. But if you’re surrounded by peers who do their part, you’re more likely to do everything you can to do right by them. It inspires everyone to do better work.

You’ve done your fair share of hiring over the years. For all the budding PR pros out there, what are some of the key things you look for in a new hire?

CURIOSITY. I believe that an open mind, creative mind, ability to roll with the punches and take on new challenges all stems from curiosity. If you’re not interested in random stuff, constantly reading, asking questions about what you don’t know, trying new things and approaches, then you’re going to miss opportunities. “Best practices” does not equal status quo, and curiosity is essential to that. A smart person has good answers, but without curiosity, they’re often limited to just a few answers. A curious person does not have all the answers. But they will leave no stone unturned to find a new contact or story angle or solution to a client problem. That’s far more valuable.

KINDNESS. Life is too short and our office is way too small to work with anyone who isn’t nice. Sure we all have bad days, but to paraphrase our EVP Cathy Allen about considering candidates: “If I were stuck in an airport overnight coming back from a business trip, would having this person by my side make it better or worse?”

Also, kind people tend to anticipate and consider the needs of others. PR is a service industry. We’ve got to anticipate and be cognizant of the needs of our clients and the media to be heard above the din of everyone else with a good story to tell. The tricky part about hiring nice, smart people is that they have a tendency to take on too much. Once they’re hired, it’s on us to train folks to anticipate—and communicate—their own needs in advance to avoid burnout or things falling through the cracks. I don’t want someone who can “do it all” on their own. That’s only great if you’re a one-person agency. And we’re not.

Finally, SENSE OF HUMOR. If a candidate has made it past the introductory round, it’s not unusual for me to drop on F-bomb or two somewhere in the interview process. I want to see how the candidate reacts. Can they handle the unexpected with grace? How do they try to win me over without stooping to my level? Despite the stress of the interview situation, can they still make me laugh?

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst


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