Agency-Side Communications: Making the Move from Corporate

Posted by Elise Van Buskirk on October 29, 2008

Having begun my career in several of the country’s largest PR firms, I know what it takes to be successful in an agency: the ability to juggle a seemingly impossible list of deliverables in one day; developing a finely tuned attention to detail; becoming an expert in multiple industries in order to speak intelligently to clients; maintaining a voracious appetite for the news; and the commitment to burn the midnight oil day after day – the list goes on. And despite the rigors of working for an agency, the demand to break into a communications firm world remains high – and it remains elusive for the majority of corporate-side communicators.

Having made the transition from public relations to recruiting, I meet candidates every week who work in corporate side communications departments and would love to make that jump – and they’re frustrated about the agency doors that have been closed to them again and again. Why the resistance from top management at these firms to hire from outside the agency world?

The fact is that agencies tend to “raise their own”. They have developed vigorous internship programs that often span four-to-six months and provide their emerging talent with the chance to make major presentations to clients, participate in strategy and braining meetings and the opportunity to author their first media relations documents.  Junior staff has been put through their paces, and they prove they can handle the lifestyle and the high caliber of work that clients demand – if not, they don’t survive long.

The majority of successful upper agency management have spent their entire careers in that world – albeit moving from firm to firm. They develop a unique mix of skills: the ability to deliver outstanding service to clients as well as develop new business. They’re networkers who are always strengthening relationships within the business community because they’re held accountable for generating revenue within their firm or practice.  The fact is that many corporate-side communicators simply are interested or passionate about this aspect of the business.

With all this said, there are the few who break into the agency world at the senior level. How do they do it? They offer a firm and their top clients something agencies haven’t been able to cultivate on their own – a truly deep expertise within an industry. Former journalists who come from top national media outlets are a perfect example. The former corporate communications manager from a global pharmaceutical corporation is another. The bottom line is that to successfully make the transition to the agency world from corporate, you need to find a unique value proposition that can make you invaluable.

What is yours?

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