The Agency Business: Bringing the experiences of parenthood to the PR workplace

Parenthood is obviously a life-changing experience, but it also provides a terrific opportunity for a career change - and the PR industry might be just the sector to enter.

Parenthood is obviously a life-changing experience, but it also provides a terrific opportunity for a career change - and the PR industry might be just the sector to enter.

While many PR pros begin their career straight out of college, others find their way into the field after leaving the workforce for some time. Indeed, a number of today's PR pros have transitioned into the industry after taking time off to raise their children.

Although these women and men face unique challenges, they stress that their commitment and work ethic is as fervent as PR lifers.

Maria Cabal was a stay-at-home mother for 25 years in Colombia, but immigrated to Miami when the economic and social situation worsened in the South American country.

In her new home, she went to school for communications and started freelancing at Porter Novelli four months after graduating. Three months later, she began working full-time in her current role as AAE. She had maintained a store while in Colombia, so this was her first office job.

Marie Ortiz, AE at Bromley Communications, also started her PR career after her second child. She took on freelancing and project work in the industry while getting her master's in communications and having a third child.

One of the biggest challenges, Ortiz says, was changing from a flexible to an office schedule. She went from organizing her activities around her children's schedules, and being her own boss, to reporting to management and working under dedicated hours. But she says it would have been a harder transition if she hadn't first freelanced.

Cabal, however, describes child rearing and office life as very similar.

"You have to multitask in both, especially in PR, and spread yourself all over the place," Cabal says. Although she hasn't worked on the client side, she assumes this is especially true in an agency where the work involves juggling a number of clients.

Julia Tanen, head of her eponymous agency (JTPR), agrees that stay-at-home parents should have no difficulty transitioning to an office situation.

"Especially if [stay-at-home parents] have gone to college or worked prior to that, they just pick it right up," Tanen says. "They can manage a lot of things at the same time. Anyone who can manage their life or work in a way [stay-at-home parents] can, they are able to work [in this industry] very well."

Even if the transition is easy, perception is always a concern.

Ortiz says transitioning stay-at-home parents worry that management might think parental obligations could interfere with assignments or being a member of the "team." She worries how her time away will affect future advancement opportunities.

While employees cannot discriminate based on age, that issue too causes anxiety for transitioning parents.

Ortiz says parents often wonder whether their bosses think they've been out of the industry too long or have fallen behind on trends and techniques.

Cabal says she received positive reception when applying for jobs, which she assumes was due in part to graduating summa cum laude. She also noted, ironically, that employers might have thought it was a good idea to invest in someone her age because she would not get pregnant again.

She also recalls some funny incidents where visiting PN executives mistook her for colleagues on the same level.

Parents can also experience a bit of separation anxiety. Ortiz says she sometimes misses the freedom and joy that stay-at-home parenting brings, such as taking the children to a movie or park while others are at work.

JTPR is part of virtual agency umbrella Mavens & Moguls. More than half of Tanen's staff is currently, or at one point was, a stay-at-home parent, and all staffers work from home. Tanen was previously a GM and VP of tech firm Strategy Associates, which shut in 2001.

Tanen had assumed she would be a full-time stay-at-home mom during her second pregnancy, but former clients from Strategy Associates convinced her to handle a media tour, keeping her involved in the business.

Cabal advises former stay-at-home parents entering the field to be open about sharing their experiences rearing kids and how it helps them do their job.

Tanen says parents, whether currently in a stay-at-home status or transitioning, should be comfortable with their situation.

"People do their best work when they are happy and able to take care of their lives," she says.

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Tips for parents entering the PR world

  • Transition gradually by freelancing or taking on project work

  • Communicate your needs to superiors

  • Share your experiences as a stay-at-home parent

  • Don't be surprised if you miss your previous life

  • Understand that you can't maintain the same schedule

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