CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I have never really had a career path. After college I went to graduate school, and then got a teaching certificate. For seven years, I taught high school English. Teaching, however, was something I just kind of fell into, it wasn't exactly a vocation. Three years ago, I met up with an old friend who ran her own boutique agency. She asked me if I wanted to come work with her because she needed someone who could write well.

Q: I have never really had a career path. After college I went to graduate school, and then got a teaching certificate. For seven years, I taught high school English. Teaching, however, was something I just kind of fell into, it wasn't exactly a vocation. Three years ago, I met up with an old friend who ran her own boutique agency. She asked me if I wanted to come work with her because she needed someone who could write well.

Since that time, I have become more and more interested in PR as a career.

But the job I do in my friend's agency is strictly dull stuff - primarily writing and editing, and occasionally consulting with a client about an op-ed or something.

I can't see my role expanding here because business has fallen off considerably.

Also, I don't think my friend (and boss) believes I can really do the kind of PR that she does - the senior-level interaction on a strategic level. I rarely get to go out to pitch for new business.

My tools are underdeveloped, but I feel like I'm mentally ready to move on. How can I make another PR firm take me seriously?

Mr. A, Portland, OR

A: PR pros come from a range of backgrounds. Among the ranks you will find nurses, attorneys, engineers, stockbrokers, and yes, teachers. The skills required to be a good teacher are clearly compatible with those needed to be a good PR person. Don't try to hide your prior experience.

Instead, prove to prospective employers how your background has given you valuable tools they can use with clients.

Before you start sending out your resume, however, you should try to expand your remit with your existing employer. If you have not expressed interest in developing your career, your boss may assume that you are content to remain in your current role. Why not come up with a few ideas about how to tackle problems with a client, and ask your boss for a chance to implement them. Your present job could offer you the perfect opportunity to beef up your experience.

Q: My boss and I are having an argument that we need you to settle. We work in PR for a health-related nonprofit organization. We issue about three press releases a month. My boss insists on putting my name as the primary contact on the releases, but I am not actually allowed to make any statements to the press, not even on background.

I think her name and number should be on the release because she is the one who has to take the calls anyway. She says that it's my job to take the messages, and she will call the important reporters back. But then I get reporters calling me back 10 times because she is prioritizing which calls to return. In my opinion, that is a bad tactic because we are just alienating some members of the press. But she says that she wouldn't have time to answer every single media call anyway, so there's no harm done.

What do you think?

Ms. R, Boston

A: I'm on your side, honey. Journalists are simple creatures, and when they see a contact name on a release, they expect that person to provide answers. I have a few suggestions for dealing with this problem, though.

First, you should be able to handle basic questions on your own by putting together a simple Q&A with each release. For more detailed inquiries, you may then tell the reporter you need to get someone else to speak to them. Journalists will be slightly more understanding of that. Another option is to divide the media outlets into parts, with you taking some smaller outlets, and your boss handling the rest. Try and convince your boss that you must find a way to make her life easier.

Readers, any opinions to offer? Drop me an e-mail.

Do you have a problem that no one else has been able to solve? Try Pandora. E-mail her at pandora@prweek.com.

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