Job Spotlight: Agency PR/Communications
The Awareness Advocates
Advertising agencies work on the image of brands. But their PR and communications specialists work on the image of the agency.
Whatever journalists (like myself) may think, PR is about far more than pitching a story with a press release and following it up with a call. PR professionals endeavour to raise the profile and craft the image of their clients or employers. And this is equally true of those who work for agencies. Nowadays they’re as likely to be placing a speaker at a conference or editing a thought leadership piece as chasing press coverage. With the rush period of Cannes just around the corner, we asked three ad agency communications specialists about their jobs.
How did you arrive at your current role?
Katya Escala, director of communications at McCann London: “Starting out my career in journalism I then transitioned into PR and Communications. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it sort of happened organically when I started working for the European Commission and on a United Nations Development programme. After handling several creative agencies’ PR, I decided I wanted to focus all my energy on one client: McCann London. And I’ve never looked back.”
Ellen Broomé, head of international communications and PR, BETC Paris: “I’m from Sweden but I moved to Paris in 2008, a time when ‘international’ profiles were still a scarcity. After doing a couple of Devil Wears Prada-like internships in fashion I was introduced to the magnificent Héloïse Hooton, at the time communications director at BETC Paris. She took me on as her assistant helping with international PR. Only a few months into my new job, Héloïse left the agency. After a year of wide-eyed panic and incredibly patient mentoring from Stephane Xiberras, I started to feel in control and have since then been developing international communications for the agency. I have seen BETC grow from 600 people to 1200 and also gain real recognition outside of this cheese-loving country as one of the big players to be counted on.”
Nathalie Roland, founder, Blondie Paris: “At first I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I started with odd jobs. I worked for an art buying office, then internal and external communications for agencies and media. Ten years ago I decided to work freelance for agencies and production companies, handling press relations and events. Two months ago I launched my own communications, consulting, PR and influence agency: Blondie Paris.”
What are your main tasks at the agency?
Katya: “My main task is to ensure that our message is delivered both creatively and effectively at all times. I am in charge of all our PR, running our press office in-house – so marketing our own work, whilst giving our clients exposure. I also handle our internal comms – which involves close collaboration with our brilliant people, new business department and our terrific exec. Essentially, I’m responsible for raising the agency’s profile and that of its stellar team.”
Ellen: “My main mission is to build the BETC and (cultural and events space) Magasins Généraux brands across international media platforms, with the aim of gaining the kind of fame, respect and recognition that will help us win new business, attract international talent, bring visitors to our exhibitions and win awards. I define and implement the international PR strategy and I constantly look for new ways to valorize the agency and its key players. Firstly of course through the amazing creative work produced for clients, but also through speaking opportunities, thought leadership and public relations. On a daily basis it’s very much hands-on: the whole team share the tasks of liaising with account directors and creatives, gathering assets, writing press releases and Q&As, pitching media and conferences and so on.”
Nathalie: “To guide my clients as best as possible in their communications needs. To make sure they’re being talked about – in a positive way, of course. In that respect I have the role of a counselor. My role is to understand their issues and advise them on their approach. Communicating just to communicate is not always a good idea, for example.”
What key skills are required?
Katya: “There are so many moving parts to PR and communications. It’s fun, it’s exciting and so rewarding. But for me I’d say the key skills required to deliver are: always be two or three steps ahead, stay organized, like writing and be good at it, have an open door policy, be strategic in your thinking, don’t be afraid to take a chance, be calm under pressure and just enjoy what you do. It’s a full on a job – so you have to love it.”
Ellen: “As agency PRs we are always working with numerous streams of information at the same time, sometimes juggling several campaign launches the same week, drafting speeches, hosting visitors and so on. This means you have to be extremely organized – which I wouldn’t say I am but I try – and super resistant to stress. Hopefully you also love all things creative, have a positive mindset and express yourself well in speech and writing. You also need to be a bit tough.”
Nathalie: “The ability to listen. Curiosity. An interest in a wide range of subjects. Read a lot: my office is a bookstore. Spend time on social networks.”
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? And the most rewarding?
Katya: “For me I’d say the most challenging aspect of the job is spinning lots of plates at the same time. At McCann it’s all about ensuring messaging is aligned, on point and delivered in a bold, interesting and open way. But in truth…the most challenging aspect is also the most rewarding. Seeing McCann’s name in lights, shouting about award-winning work and being part of such a terrific gang of talented and creative people makes it all worth it.”
Ellen: “BETC is full of talented people and produces incredible creative work, holds beautiful exhibitions, publishes amazing books and signs super cool artists to its record label. The biggest challenge is to do all of this justice and make everyone shine. With PR you can always do more, push things further, but because resources aren’t unlimited we need to prioritize and be fair. That’s really bloody dull sometimes. Most rewarding must be the crazy launches: the PR Cannes Lions kind of launches that just make you buzz with excitement.”
Nathalie: “The hardest part is working in a hurry, sometimes for the day before yesterday, but it’s pretty rare. When this happens, you have to be on deck. You also need to know how to manage priorities, especially during a rush period. Sometimes you have to manage egos, although I’m luck to work with talented personalities, who are often the most modest. And sometimes you have to tell clients that their level of expectation is too high. Many people don’t really understand our work. The worst thing you can hear is: ‘We want to be on the evening news.’ The most rewarding: meeting clients and varied personalities. Today I work with a dozen clients, all of whom have quite different expectations. And of course when you get the coverage it’s very rewarding. For everyone.”
What advice would you give to a newbie?
Katya: “My boss here at McCann once gave me some great advice when he said: ‘Run into the problem. Not around it.’”
Ellen: “Good media relations are like any other relationship, so treat them that way. Be in touch with the journalists you like to work with. Be interested. Keep up to date with their work. Don’t pitch them stuff you know they won’t want to cover. Don’t just call when you need something; be attentive and generous. This actually goes for all the people you will ever work with. Also think about how your attitude affects other people: your team shouldn’t suffer because you’re having a bad day!”
Nathalie: “Be pugnacious. Have character. Do not let go. Go out a lot, meet people and surround yourself with the best. It’s a pretty difficult environment. I sometimes got discouraged, but I never gave up. When I fall, I get up pretty quickly. Experience saves me time today. I know from the first meeting whether the partnership will take or not.”