What They Don’t Teach You in Journalism School

By Kymra Knuth
The Hoffman Agency, Portland-Vancouver

I’m probably dating myself by confessing that when I was in college majoring in journalism and public relations, we only learned about in-house PR jobs— PR agencies were never discussed. So I assumed I would end up promoting and dealing with crisis for one company.

At the time, this didn’t strike me as unusual, and I was excited about my pending corporate adventure. However, once I graduated and learned that 95 percent of my classmates, including me, went to work at a PR agency, it became clear there was a huge disconnect.

The good news is that today students are learning about both career paths so they can evaluate and pursue the best option for themselves.

If you choose the PR agency route, there is still one more important decision to make — are you attracted to a bigger or a smaller agency?

Having worked at both, I thought I’d outline the pros and cons from my personal experience.

Big agencies provide the opportunity to work with large brands, which is exciting, but be prepared to work long hours because these giants don’t sleep. You’ll be exposed to a lot of different activities and campaigns, but your responsibilities will be pretty limited in scope and will grow a bit more slowly because there are so many layers on each team.

You’ll come across some of the brightest minds in the business and have access to experts in different areas — PR, social media, digital marketing — but you’ll need to share your client’s budget if you want to engage them, which can be particularly challenging — especially if the budget is limited.

The positive side of working long hours is that you’ll build great friendships. I still to this day keep in touch with people I worked with 20 years ago. We have good laughs walking down memory lane. That isn’t to say you don’t create lasting friendships at smaller agencies, because I have certainly done that too.

And speaking of smaller agencies … Although you don’t typically work with the largest brands, you do work with companies doing incredible things. With these clients you truly can help transform their business by securing positive coverage, as opposed to the larger brands where you are managing the coverage (because they’ll definitely get it).

Your growth path will likely be faster at a smaller agency, and you’ll find yourself “jumping” in more quickly and diving deeper into all the activities (as opposed to watching them from the periphery at a larger agency).

I wouldn’t change my career path because I think each stop along the way has made me a smarter professional. Personally, I’ve found a great home at my current agency, which is on the smaller side. But you’ll have to decide which route works best for you.

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