There’s No One Path to Agency or Industry Life

SHIFT Boston

As with many industries these days, people come to agency life from all walks. I can personally attest to this after making my way from the world of college athletics (not as an athlete, mind you #NARP) to SHIFT this past year.

And I’m not alone. SHIFT has been around for 12 years now, and we’ve had many folks on staff who’ve successfully transitioned from another area of the industry or from another profession altogether. They prove that it doesn’t matter where you went to school or if you have a PR, marketing or design degree – or even any direct industry experience – to get hired at an agency and be a kick@$$ pro.

So whether you’re looking to make the move to agency life or to the industry in general, as someone who took a nontraditional path, let me be the first to say that it’s 100% doable. But don’t take it from me. Check out what three of my fellow SHIFTers had to say about their personal transitions to agency life and what they’ve learned along the way.

Here are some of the (many) great insights they had to share.

Working at an agency offers exposure to all types of clients. If you’re looking to get exposed to clients from a range of industries, an agency is a perfect place to do it. It allows you to work on something new and different every day. SHIFT SF Account Executive Ty Achilles, who worked in healthcare technology prior to SHIFT, also points out, it helps you get your feet wet in a variety of industries and become a more well-rounded professional. Furthermore, it gives you some additional guidance if you’re not sure what area of the industry you want to work in long-term.

Get ready to pick up the pace. The pace of agency life can be fast since you’re working with a variety of clients with differing deadlines. SHIFT NYC Senior Account Executive and former journalist Mary McGuire mentions the many different facets of being a PR pro – reporting and admin, writing, strategy and pitching to name a few. She also says there are many more meetings than in her reporting days, so staying organized is key to being prepared to answer to people on both the agency side and the client side.

But the culture helps slows you down. Sure, agency life is fast paced, but the culture itself can be fairly casual. A legal assistant turned graphic designer, SHIFT Boston’s Sarah Muscarella says the general vibe is very relaxed. Not only can you rock jeans, but when you need a break there’s Ping-Pong, comfy couches and a kegerator calling your name. Outside of the fun and games, you can also take comfort in the fact that senior staffers have likely been in your shoes before, which helps them better understand your workload and responsibilities.

Your nontraditional background can be a big plus. There are plenty of skills you can draw on from your experience to help you thrive in the agency or general industry setting. Mary says her writing skills are a huge help in PR and that she’s never intimidated by titles now after interviewing CEOs of major corporations and managing directors of investment banks on a daily basis. Sarah echoes those sentiments after working in one of Boston’s oldest and largest labor law firms. Ty adds that the simple fact that you’ve been in the working world will lessen the learning curve since so many of us are working on deadlines and forced to wear many hats regardless of our professions.

And don’t get hung up on your degree. If you don’t have a PR, marketing or design degree, never fear! Mary didn’t major in PR and says she never had an internship in the industry or even imagined she’d ever be a publicist. If you’re looking to transition into a creative role, a degree or a few extra classes can help. After getting her political science degree at Notre Dame, Sarah ultimately went back to school for graphic design to sharpen her skills and give her a leg up as she took that next step.

Speaking of taking that next step… Mary advises doing an internship if you’re still early in your career and can afford it. It’s the best way to spend a reasonable amount of time in the industry to see if it’s truly right for you. If you’re farther along in your career, talk to as many people as you can about their experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. For all you budding PR pros, Ty also recommends making time to consume as much media as possible. The more you know about it, the better you’ll be at media relations. If you’re eyeing a creative role, Sarah says not to feed into all the pressure that designers and other artists put on themselves since they’re often judged more by their portfolios than on the degree on their resumes. She would encourage you to keep creating and start building that portfolio of yours.

To all of this advice, I say PREACH! To all of you, I wish you the best of luck as you look to take the plunge. If you have questions or insights of your own to share, please do so in the comments below.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

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