This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.
It’s been ten years since I launched my own independent PR consultancy and I like to think I’ve learned a little along the way. When I look around, the view is certainly a little different now compared to what my life and job looked like ten years ago.
A decade ago I was leading sizable account teams for a top PR firm. I worked long hours at the office and spent weeks working on-site at a client’s office in another city. Today I work for myself and for my small and medium-sized clients – most of whom don’t have internal marketing resources of their own. My office is one room in my home and I sometimes put work projects on hold for an hour in the day to shuttle my two children to their activities or to help them with their homework after school. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the past decade is my excitement for public relations and the satisfaction I get from using my skills to make a difference in my clients’ businesses.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the past decade:
There’s no “right way” to have a career. Smart, senior PR professionals come in lots of different forms. Some are most productive working in a traditional environment with traditional supports, and others only work best when they’re free to be their own person. Some people thrive when they have exciting, award-worthy campaigns and products to lead. Others enjoy more consistent day to day work and relationship-building. Some like to be perceived as “big thinkers,” while other fear flying solo.
There’s also no “right time” – whether you’re trying to plan for a career change, starting a family or jumping into an exciting new project. Rather than basing opportunities on some subjective timing – e.g. “by the time I’m 30 I’ll have reached VP-level,” – it’s more important to find the opportunities that feel too great to pass up and then give them all you’ve got.
You won’t get far at anything without support. Whether you get your support in-person, after-hours or online, clients, co-workers, peers, mentors and friends play a role in so many parts of our day. I credit a former co-worker, who struck out on her own about a year ahead of me, for giving me the motivation to launch my solo career. She also pulled me into her own practice and literally showed me the ropes. (Thanks, Marian!)
Sometimes you have to go with “it” and see where it takes you. Best laid plans and all that — then suddenly you look back on a decade…or even just the past year…and, while inventorying your experiences and where you’ve wound up, realize you’ve developed a nice little niche in a market you would never have known to pick for yourself.
Working alone means you have one tough boss. We’ve all heard about how we are our own toughest critics and that’s true enough. Working for yourself also means you are responsible for motivating yourself, critiquing yourself and pushing yourself toward improvement.
Never put off your life for your career. As I’m fond of telling people these days, “we have our whole lives to work.” While I sometimes create more stress for myself by shortening my workdays a bit, I’ll never regret making time to meet a friend for lunch or a walk.
Keep an eye on the competition. What I mean is this: by following others in the PR world, you can see how they are talking about themselves and their work, see where they’re going and what they’re doing. It’s inspiring to me to follow industry leaders or people who are in the thick of dynamic PR projects. Sales teams do this all the time, for more competitive reasons.
In PR, you are the sum of your work experiences. I feel this more acutely as a solo practitioner, but it’s true whether you work in a big agency, corporate setting or small office. Most of us get hired based on the work we’ve done in the past and the experiences we’ve accumulated. Knowing this has helped me realize that it’s important to be proactive about the type of work I say yes to. It’s not easy saying no, but I consider the industry, the type of work and who I’ll be working with very carefully.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.