This might be hard to believe, but before yesterday, I had never been inside a PR agency. Now that I have, I don’t know why I waited so long. The experience informed, enlightened, and motivated me, and I encourage every student to participate in an agency tour either individually or as part of a group.
As an executive board member for USF’s PRSSA chapter, I collaborated with the rest of the e-board as we planned our first agency tour in over two years. Our Vice President, Carissa Caricato, suggested touring Roberts Communications, a leading integrated communications firm located in the historic Ybor district in Tampa. Roberts is renowned for reaching out to PR students at USF, and immediately agreed to host our members for a tour of its offices.
When I arrived at Roberts with our president Theresa Sharkey, I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as I stepped into the office, I relaxed. The physical layout of Roberts is conducive to creativity and productivity—large open spaces, calming yet colorful walls, and trendy art décor. I’m beginning to appreciate the various cultures of different agencies, and this is why touring an agency is important in the job search process. Experiencing the professional environment can help you formulate an opinion about the type of work the company produces, and will give you a better idea about your level of compatibility with the firm.
After the tour, we participated in a dynamic question-and-answer session with four Roberts employees: President and CEO Colleen Chappell, Principal Christine O’Connor, and recent USF graduates Katy Parsons and Meggan Mabry.
Each person offered their own perspectives based on their statuses in the company, and they provided some outstanding advice for young PR professionals:
- Constantly Raise Your Hand – President Colleen Chappell encouraged us all to take every opportunity we could to advance ourselves professionally and to learn about the industry. She said she got where she was today because of her curiosity and tenacity, and that’s what she looks for in future new hires. She said she never cowered from a job because she didn’t meet the qualifications—instead she proved her determination and commitment to educating herself, which helped her land prominent roles throughout her career. So don’t be afraid to raise your hand to ask questions and accept new challenges.
- Send Thank You Notes and Build a Portfolio – Principal Christine O’Connor echoed Colleen’s advice about being courageous, driven, and committed. She also said that Roberts will not interview anyone without a portfolio, nor will she hire anyone who does not send a handwritten thank-you note after an interview. This is practical advice means students need to start collecting work for portfolios ASAP. Christine said that the work could come from internships, extracurricular activities, and even classes. And whatever you do, go stock up on stationery for those thank-you notes!
- Go for your Dreams – Both Colleen and Christine told students to go for their dreams, especially while they are still young. Colleen explained how when she graduated she only wanted to work in Miami or New York, and there was no stopping her. She said the experience she gained while working in another market helped her immensely, but she also got the “Miami bug” out of her system and was able to happily relocate back to Tampa. This motivated me to keep looking for jobs in the D.C. market, which is where I want to live after graduation in May, and I hope it does the same for other students looking to work in markets outside of where they go to school.
- Reach out to Professors and Professionals for Assistance – Meggan and Katy stressed developing mentor relationships with professors and area professionals. They said this can help when creating your résumé and portfolio, finding jobs, networking, or preparing for interviews.
- Set up Informational Interviews – Christine said that students should set up several informational interviews with various firms or companies, and should not actively seek employment, but use these opportunities to learn more about the organization and the industry. Even though that particular company might not have an opening, if you impress the interviewer, he or she might pass your information along to a friend who does have availabilities.
After the discussion, we all went to lunch at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Several other Roberts employees joined us, and while it was a great networking opportunity, it was fun to have casual conversation with people who are doing exactly what I want to be doing in the future.
PRSSA is planning another agency tour at Spark Brand sometime in April. We’ll keep you all updated. For those readers not in the Tampa area, I hope you will suggest this to your own PRSSA/IABC/FPRA chapters or plan one for yourself!