Is there a PR career sweet spot?

A PR career is a funny thing. The account exec role births you into a chaotic world of frenzied media relations and client report deadlines. But no sooner do you get a grip on these fundamentals than the skillset gives way bit by bit to a dynamic of planning, strategy and deeper client management.

In my experience, both requirements are deeply satisfying but in enormously different ways.  What I’m wondering is if there’s a sweetspot somewhere along the career ladder where you get the best of both worlds. After all, there are only traditionally so many positions available- AE, AM, AD/ AssD, MD.

Careering towards destiny?

Perhaps it comes at different points for everyone. Perhaps it depends to some extent on your agency and what strengths your team requires from you. Perhaps the ‘Senior’ roles (SAE/ SAM) bring a not insignificant granularity too. After all, you’re still doing the same job but for more money and with the excitement of learning the next level’s skills.

Sitting as I do near the middle of this chain,  I suppose I can’t comment on the big picture but I do know that things get more and more interesting as I move up the ladder.

Tell me the truth

So what’s your perspective? Is there really a best role? Are you in it? Have you just moved to MD and long for the days of call-ins? Or would you never go back? And where do freelancers come into all this?

Interested in the thoughts of some of you more experienced readers…

- Max Tatton-Brown

July 30th, 2010

  • Funda

    While I was still in agency life, I enjoyed being an Account Manager the most. Depending on size and structure of agency of course, you get involved in some of the planning and campaign development – yet you’re still very much ‘making things happen’ on a day-to-day basis.

    By that, I mean you are still very much involved in talking to media and analysts, writing content and all the other ‘classic PR activities’. Once I moved up to AD level, I had less time for hands-on PR but was more involved in strategy, financial planning and managing teams.

    Now, as freelancer, I’m very much enjoying the whole spectrum again, everything from putting press lists together to developing campaigns.

  • Sophy Norris

    Hey Max,

    Long time – no leave a reply!!

    Interesting question – not sure I have an answer. As a multitasking woman (he he he) it depends on my mood as to what I miss and don’t miss. But, there was something someone in marketing once told me – and I think is so true…

    Account Manager is the hardest job in MarComms – you are truly the middle man. Not protected by AE status, when you can easily pass the buck up the line, yet still required to oversee much of the mundane “drudge” work. Not yet an AD and therefore “in charge” but so often firmly in the line of fire when things go wrong. You are caught between a rock and a hard place.

    I do remember being so RELIEVED when I passed though this stage of my career, and could focus more on the path ahead than the continual barrage of the 360 artillery!

    Perhaps this is/was just me – and says more about my work ethic than anything else…

    Sophs

  • Charlie Spencer

    I definately think Account Manager – hands on, protected by your AD, still able to come in with a hangover and do a days work on a Tuesday, running events and getting excited when that amazing piece of coverage comes in!

    It definately gets more boring the further up the ladder you go, budgets, staff management, constant threat of the ‘bottom line’, pre pitch sweats ‘was it the right strategy???’ and not able to come in with a hangover and wing it!

    My sweetspot is AM … and that is where it will stay … unless i become an MD, sell my company, make £5million and retire in the Maldives … then that will be my sweet spot!

    Charlie

  • http://www.cleverrecruitment.co.uk Sarah Cooper

    From a recruiter perspective, I feel I can comment on the feelings of the candidates I get walking through my door.

    The grads hoping to become AEs are a little naive and tend to think PR involves a lot of glamour and parties! As they move up the ladder, it entirely depends on the agency that takes them on. Some agencies provide SAEs / AMs with challenges, autonomy, structure, opportunity and rewards. It’s not all about how much money they earn but these agencies make them feel valued, part of a genuinely strong team contributing to the success of a growing agency.

    The unlucky ones are left to do the job of 3 AMs, train a succession of disenchanted AEs (read press-cutting monkeys), get blamed for client losses, are sent out unprepared to pitch in place of an AD and kept on the same salary for 3 years +.

    I think career satisfaction in PR is much closer related to employer than level and the happiest employees have the most stable CVs in the business as they have no reason to look elsewhere.

  • http://www.epochpr.com Liz

    I think it depends on where your strengths and interests lie as to where you think the sweetspot is…. or in some cases was. Some people are meant to be on the phone, others are destined to hide behind strategy and planning.

    Personally though, if you like doing strategy and thought leadership work but also like cutting your teeth in a traditional sell-in, I think working for a small agency allows you to have benefits of both worlds.

  • Debby Penton

    Am I older or elderly Max? Either way, I’m with Charlie on voting for being an AM. However, I was too busy trying to climb the ladder that I probably didn’t recognise it at the time.

    I also think it had something to do with the timing. The crazy dotcom days, when clients were chucking money around and we got to do all sorts of crazy events and press trips. It also had a lot to do with where I worked and my age. I was young, had no responsibility and life was 100% about having fun.

    Enjoy it while it lasts 🙂

  • Max Tatton-Brown

    Thanks for the input guys- interesting to see mixed love for the Account Manager Role.

    I suppose these days the lower roles have also been made more lively by social media bursting onto the scene. It’s a good fertile battleground for AEs to get stuck in and stand out plus nobody has any greater advantage since we’re all relatively new to it.

    Would be good to hear from some Account Managers to see if they agree on the views bandied around about their daily life.

  • http://www.substrakt.co.uk Eleanor Giles

    I think it depends what you go into PR for. If you go in because you like writing and speaking to journalists and you think it’ll be a good outlet for your creativity, then you’ll be fed up as an AC and an AE because of the cuttings and reporting monkey aspects. You’ll be happy as an SAE because you’re doing less rubbish ring rounds and people are starting to take your ideas seriously in brainstorms. You’ll be delighted to be an AM because you get to train AC and AE people, go to client meetings and have them take you seriously, and do a bit of new business pitching. You will, however, be gutted when you make AD/SAD and you realise it’s all about capacity planning, fire fighting in long conf calls and emails about lack of performance and writing proposals. Oh, and dealing with staff management issues.

    But if you went into it to manage people, change businesses, lead and direct strategy and get experience of how to run a company from an operational and financial perspective, you’ll be well chuffed!

    It’s a strange career – one of the only ones where you go into it because you think you’re talented at one thing, and the you end up doing a completely different role. Yes, you keep the communications aspect and your experience of persuasive argument and consultancy pervades all the job roles. But, being at the coalface of media relations and influencing the press fades into the background – you become the person making this happen for the more junior members of staff.

    The sweet spot is where you are happiest isn’t it? So for me, SAE – I made my best friends, did my best media relations, drank a lot and saw stuff. But career wise it would be associate director – wonderful chances to learn lasting skills, travel and great experiences.

    I would advocate that you keep assuming the sweet spot will be the next spot.

  • http://dannywhatmough.com Danny Whatmough

    It’s easy to look back with rose tinted glasses. I think it’s like most things in life, wherever you currently are, you’re always looking for the next step, the next challenge and the next ‘upgrade’. Of course, this doesn’t mean the next step will be an improvement, but its sometimes hard to be objective about it when you’re there.

  • Louise Andrews

    My sweetspot? Being an SAE. Really felt like i was getting stuck into so many things and yet there was the promise of so much more to come. Account manager – truly the hardest job in PR, but can be the most rewarding. And now? Like Danny Whatmough says, it depends on wherever you currently are (and where you’ve come from too). So while I loved the SAE thing nine years ago, I really am enjoying not being on anymore but being in the position to help it become someone else’s sweet spot.