This past summer, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary at Prosek Partners. Before I joined Prosek, I spent the previous decade with five different public relations agencies. For those doing the math at home, that’s a new agency position every two years.
This experience is typical for many public relations agency professionals during the early days of their careers in the industry. It is also why it’s so important to be able to separate the good employers from the bad. The challenge for me was that I couldn’t tell if a job was the right fit for me until after I was hired. If only I had asked better questions during the interview process, I would have been able to avoid some bad career decisions.
With the benefit of hindsight, here are five questions that anyone – especially those earlier in their careers – should ask during the agency interviewing process.
Is the agency growing?
Agencies that do not grow are not ideal landing spots for the ambitious. New and larger clients mean more interesting and challenging work. For those looking to grow their careers and skill sets, it is important to land at a firm that is growing its revenue.
What happens if I lose an account?
Agencies often hire people to work on a specific client account team. In this case, it is very important to ask what happens if and when that client account goes away. The reality is that agencies lose clients for reasons often beyond their control, such as mergers and acquisitions, financial difficulties, etc. The last thing you want is to have your job security dependent upon your agency’s ability to hold onto that client or clients.
Who will I actually be working with?
It is important to know who you will be teamed with on a day-to-day basis. Are these people you can learn from? Do they work collaboratively as a team? Or do they thrive on cutthroat competition? Will you be working with the same people on all your client accounts, or will you have an opportunity to work with a variety of people? These are all very critical questions, as the quality of your experience will likely depend on who you spend your time working with and learning from.
Who will be my manager?
I’ve had a number of managers during my agency career. In one instance, when I worked on the West Coast, I had a manager based in Miami that I only met one time and rarely worked with. In another situation, my manager was the managing director for the entire office and had little bandwidth to focus on me or my career. A manager should not be someone that merely signs off on your timesheets and approves your vacation requests. He or she should serve as a hands-on mentor and career guide.
What do you offer beyond media relations?
It is common knowledge that the media landscape is transforming and evolving at a breakneck pace. Newsrooms are shrinking and editors are struggling to produce more and better content with fewer resources. The days of relying predominately on the media to help tell your clients’ stories and distribute their news is coming to an end. That said, agencies that will be successful in the future are those that can support clients not only with earned media, but paid and owned media, as well. Agencies with limited or no expertise in areas such as digital and social media, content development, and creative services will have difficulty growing in the future.
There’s no surefire way to avoid making the wrong career decision. But by proactively asking these questions, agency professionals can hopefully make better decisions about their futures.
Josh Passman is managing director at Prosek Partners.