jobs guide

How to Get a Marketing Job: Landing a Position in PR and Comms

Your guide to landing a job in a post-2020 PR/Comms landscape
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Francis Scialabba

· 12 min read

Oh, to be in PR during the biggest PR crisis of our lifetimes. Whether you’re already a PR expert or are looking to get your foot in the door, you probably already know the industry has had a rough year. And on top of the obvious, as of publication, about 50,000 marketers have been laid off in 2020 on the agency side alone.

That’s why we created this guide to landing a job in a post-2020 PR landscape. Inside, you’ll learn how to get it done from the team at Small Girls PR (including two who landed PR jobs since March) and marketing career expert Amanda Nachman.

Advice from a hiring manager

Small Girls PR

Mallory Blair is the CEO of Small Girls PR

Generally speaking, how has hiring in the PR/Comms world changed since March?

Now that many industries are coming back online, clients are starting to reopen comms and marketing budgets, and are planning for 2021. Subsequently, we’ve found ourselves simultaneously opening up several roles all at once, and in several cases these are “reimagined” roles we could not have forecast for pre-COVID.

For example, we’ve seen a much stronger emphasis on our community relations/public affairs work during this period, and, relatedly, have bloomed a crisis practice during this time, which has translated to opening new roles homed in on these expanded capabilities.

When you’re evaluating candidates, what qualities in a professional are you looking for now that weren’t AS important to you before the pandemic began?

We always look for candidates who are deeply creative, and can easily think on their feet, but now that we’re in a period of ongoing uncertainty, adaptability from an operational perspective has moved up the list.

Evaluating candidates for this quality could range from seeking those who are industry agnostic (either having worked in diverse industries or being open to doing so) or someone who can point to clear moments where he or she not only embraced change but actually leaned in to create a new, even better outcome.

How can people trying to find a job at a PR or Comms agency stand out in an application?

A great first pitch—reach out to us using the same best practice you’d employ in reaching out to a journalist for the first time: Keep it short, demonstrate you understand the “beat” of the agency, and concisely connect how you have something to offer in our area of interest.

For example, SGPR works with a mix of publicly traded brands and fast-growth startups, so if an applicant has taken a startup through [an] IPO, they can use that example to share in one sentence how they’ve seen both sides of the fence.

Or, knowing we offer both influencer marketing and strategic communications, a candidate who concisely shares they’ve been personally responsible for securing journalist coverage and influencer posts alike (and can embed links to both results within that email) might make our talent lead double-click.

Have you looked at our Instagram account? Followed our client campaign work in media? My advice is for applicants to take that research and knowledge and make a parallel to their own client work or interests in less than three sentences—those are the candidates who often go to the “Yes, let’s chat with them” pile right away.

Is there anything you want to see in a LinkedIn profile, cover letter, or resume that instantly puts superstar status on a pandemic-era applicant?

If applicants who were laid off have creatively pivoted during this time or learned a new skill, secured a new certification or have come up with a standout creative campaign, tell us about it. Taking an otherwise unfortunate situation and making the best of it shows resilience, which is a quality any employer would be excited to have on staff.

Have you seen an uptick in the number of applications coming in?

We have seen an increase in the number of applicants for all of our Associate Director and Senior Account Executive roles, and most especially to our Account Coordinator role, as this new class of graduates navigates a narrowed job market. And we’ve also had an uptick in the number of applications to our open application and candidates reaching out through our website, and even via Instagram DMs!

What’s one thing you wish every applicant knew about getting hired in PR/Comms right now?

If you haven’t tapped your creative muscles in awhile, it’s time to start. We’re experiencing an incredibly challenging comms landscape, in which media outlets have not only been hit hard by layoffs but available space for brand news is shrinking with staff dedication to election, Covid, etc. Creative storytelling and extremely quick pivots are table stakes in this environment. Anything you can do to work out those creative muscles, come up with news when there isn’t any—even if it’s tracking creative campaigns that are currently in-market for inspo you can reference, to start—will give you a leg up during the interview process.

What are your thoughts on cold emailing right now?

I say go for it. We’re always on the lookout for candidates who are interested in what we do at Small Girls PR and want to be part of what continues to be a fast-growing operation.

My advice to candidates is to make sure you’ve already applied to relevant roles the company has open. Oftentimes companies have rolling or open applications they pull from when new roles open up. And I can’t stress this enough, outreach only after you’ve researched the company thoroughly and have something to add. Maybe it’s a comment on something they’ve recently posted on social media or you saw an example IRL of their client work.

Advice from people who got jobs during the pandemic

Small Girls PR

Sara Giles is Senior Vice President at Small Girls PR

What was your job search like overall?

My former job had shared a client with Small Girls PR for years before we ever spoke about me coming over. That exposure gave me a long time to evaluate their culture. Meeting after meeting, program after program, SGPR played nicely in the sandbox while making every plan stronger. Plus, you could just tell they were having a ton of fun in the process.

When we discussed a potential role, I already knew that the company met my number one criterion for culture. From there it was a simple matter of evaluating if the role itself was a match.

How did your job search compare to past job searches pre-pandemic?

I began discussions with Small Girls PR before we understood the scope of the pandemic. When it came time to sign on the dotted line, the stay-at-home orders were just rolling out. I was considering leaving a great job with a lot of stability, and suddenly that became a much riskier idea than it had been a few weeks prior. It prompted me to ask more questions about the strength of SGPR’s business and their scenario planning. Where there had already been complete honesty between Mallory and myself, now there was radical transparency. We needed to be even more vulnerable with and committed to each other than we had been. Ultimately these conversations reinforced what I already knew about the company: Its leadership and culture fit what I was looking for. A crisis brought those strengths into full focus, whereas at another company it might have exposed hidden weaknesses.

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Do you think now is a good time to cold email your way into a PR position?

I worked for Gary Vaynerchuk for six years, so I think it is always a good time to work hard and to go after the job that is going to make you happy.

One way to think about getting a job is the same way we think about developing a communications strategy for clients. Who is your audience? What do they need? How can you help them? In the end there is an outcome you want—the job—and an audience you need to convince in order to get there.

Do you think this would've been an easier experience or a more difficult one if you were a more junior employee?

I graduated from The University of Texas in August 2008, so I know a little something about trying to get your first job in the middle of an economic crisis. In some ways I got the job much faster this time around, but like with anyone who seems like an overnight success, when you check under the hood you discover they were grinding for a long time. I spent more than a decade learning the craft and six years building a relationship with Small Girls PR. It was a very different path vs. hitting the job boards when I graduated. Back then I applied to every single job I could find, and it took months before I could get an interview. I didn’t have a reputation to rely on, so I had to prove it with each and every cover letter and interview.

What advice would you give to someone else looking for a job in PR/Comms specifically during the pandemic?

Don’t give up. This is a time to be resilient. You may hear a lot of “no”s right now. Heck, you may hear a lot of silence right now. I know that’s what I heard in 2008. There is no option but to just keep going and keep trying. Take every email introduction and phone call someone is willing to give you.

In my sometimes unpopular opinion, you may need to be willing to take a job that gets you on the path even if it isn’t your dream job. I left Austin, Texas because the only jobs were small outposts of the big agencies taking on specialty technology assignments, and I had no interest in tech. I’ll give you one guess what my first job ended up being: tech! I was in no position to turn down the only offer I had. NYC rent is serious. Eventually that job led me to VaynerMedia, where I was staffed to a client who had Small Girls PR on the partner agency roster (which now has become my ultimate home).

Find a way to get started, and craft your dream career from there. Some people carefully plan their lives and their careers. That isn’t me. I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time, and I’ve loved every second of it.

Small Girls PR

Jenn Garofolo is an Associate Director at Small Girls PR

So you got a job in PR during the pandemic. How’d you end up in that situation?

Honestly? Really bad timing. In 2019, I decided to shake up my career and leave the only workplace I’ve known since graduating from college. The goal was to travel around the world and get some solid “me time” before I switched jobs. I gave my notice in February and my last day was March 13, 2020. The following week, nearly everyone I knew started WFH permanently. I stuck to my plan as much as possible, so I spent four-ish months doing a lot of reading, cooking, and playing videos, and around August I started my job search.

What was your job search like overall?

The job market had changed significantly compared to pre-pandemic. I remember looking around April and May out of curiosity and not seeing any new postings in the SoCal area for three weeks straight. Opportunities started to come through near the end of summer and I interviewed for several positions.

Do you think now is a good time to cold email your way into a PR position?

Not traditional email, but I've definitely leveraged LinkedIn's Premium feature to message PR managers and directors. I’ve “cold messaged” my way into some comms professionals’ LinkedIn inboxes and they’ve been fruitful in helping my job application bubble to the top with HR. Otherwise, you’re just one of the many hundreds of applicants that the recruiter has to sort through.

What did you do to make yourself stand out as an applicant that worked?

Making it a point to showcase my passion for the product and bringing out my personality whenever possible. Also, being very, very nice and patient with recruiters!

What’s the number one thing you learned from this experience?

Keep your options open. Talk to everyone even if it’s not a perfect fit. You never know what other positions might be opening within the company until you chat with the recruiters.

What advice would you give to someone else looking for a job in PR/Comms specifically during the pandemic?

Be patient and don't be discouraged. I constantly reminded myself that the pandemic (and recession) is much bigger than myself and I have no control over it. It’s not because I’m not “marketable,” it’s because businesses need to preserve themselves and don’t have the budget to hire me yet. It always bounces back!

Career expert’s opinion

Amanda Nachman

Amanda Nachman is the Founder and CEO of College Magazine, TEDx Speaker, and author of #QUALIFIED

What's a piece of advice that everyone should remember when applying to a job in PR, regardless of the state of the world?

No matter the state of the world, building your network in the PR industry is essential. 85% of jobs are found through networking…so that’s where you want to spend 85% of your time. Show that you are a fantastic communicator with excellent follow-up for the very industry that values these skills most.

How can PR/Comms applicants give themselves an edge in their application process during an economic downturn?

If you’re feeling that you don’t have enough experience while job hunting in PR and communications, then start building your experience during this time when there are [fewer] opportunities. That way when opportunities do arise, you stand out. How can you do this? Volunteer your time for nonprofit organizations you care about that would appreciate and greatly benefit from your help while you grow your skill set and build your portfolio. For example, let’s say you’re passionate about achieving gender parity in Congress, and you’d like to work in PR/communications for organizations that support women leaders. You could reach out to Ignite National, for instance, and offer to help them with their PR and communications around their current voting initiative, encouraging more young women to vote.

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