How has working from home impacted the professional development of junior PR practitioners?

How has working from home impacted the professional development of junior PR practitioners?

One of the key challenges to overcome in the new working from home revolution is ensuring junior public relations practitioners continue to focus on professional development. So much of a junior practitioner's professional development comes from observing more senior members of their team, and without the day-to-day interaction, how are these members of the industry learning and developing? 

Recent studies show that the isolation and disconnectedness experienced during lockdown were particularly hard on the new professionals of Generation Z. In July, a study conducted in the US by Metlife about employee benefits found that 82 per cent of Gen Z workers said they feel “less connected” working remotely, while roughly half reported having communication issues at work and trouble getting the resources necessary to thrive.

Telum caught up with several PR practitioners at the earlier stages of their career to discuss how they continue to grow and develop professionally in the new working from home environment.
 
Analisse Mammone is an Account Coordinator at FORWARD Agency. She has prior experience as an Account Coordinator at Adhesive PR and as an Intern with TBWA\Australia and NAC Media Group. Georgia Price is a Senior Associate, Client Experience at Weber Shandwick. She joined the agency in 2018 as an Intern before climbing the ranks to her current position. Sarah Walker is an Associate at Weber Shandwick. Like Georgia, Sarah joined the business as an Intern in 2018, and she later became a Junior Associate with Weber Shandwick’s consumer team. Danielle Veivers is an Account Manager and a member of the PRIA NSW Young Guns Committee.

What do you think about the working-from-home model? Do you think the working-from-home arrangement has impacted your professional development as an emerging PR? If yes, in what ways?
Analisse: I think the working from home model can be really effective and conducive to productivity when established correctly. Having strong communication systems in place by enlisting the available technology such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom definitely helped me feel like I was still connected to my colleagues despite not seeing them every day. I think working from home has impacted my professional development in a really positive way, mainly that it kind of forced me to progress faster than I probably would have in the office. Despite being in constant contact with my colleagues, there was an implicit expectation of independence and responsibility that came with working from home which in my case saw me learn new skills and think of new ideas on my own. In the months we spent working from home, I enjoyed some of my most rewarding achievements in my career to date. So ultimately, I think the working from home model helped build me into a more productive, reliable and self-sufficient PR.

Georgia: While I of course miss the social aspects of the office environment, I have really enjoyed the working from home model for a change and do not view it as having negatively impacted my professional development as an emerging PR. With no commute, having an extra hour-and-a-half of my day back has given me more time to not only do things for myself outside of work, but also to focus on my professional development. I find that I am attending more industry webinars and undertaking more optional training sessions now than I was previously. I also have more time in the day to get up to speed on the news agenda and reflect on how this may be impacting my clients’ businesses. Weber Shandwick has also extended our flexible work policy and introduced core working hours from between 10am and 4pm. This initiative was designed to help us maximise the benefits of working from home, with the option to adjust our start and finish times around those hours. This has given us all greater flexibility to manage our working day to meet personal commitments, maximise our productivity and achieve a better work-life balance.

Danielle: For me, a silver lining of COVID-19 has been increased workplace flexibility, including work from home. Currently, we are in the office two days a week and working from home for the remaining three. I find this to be a really good balance of collaborative, social time and focus time at home to smash out ‘big ticket’ items, such as content and strategy. I have also enjoyed the flexibility to set my own hours, including starting earlier when I am my most productive and creative self. I have increased my professional development during working from home, as I find I am more efficient and have time to focus on other activities. There are a lot of free online courses for PR professionals, including writing, social media, marketing, and management, which I encourage emerging professionals to do. I also completed a paid course with the Australian Institute of Management on managing people effectively, which I found really valuable.

Working from home inevitably means less contact with senior colleagues in-person, many of whom are wells of information about the industry and a great support tool for junior PRs. How do you ensure you are still reaping the benefits of their knowledge when working from home?
Analisse: I think the key to our working from home policy was to mirror as much of office life at home as possible. We started each morning with our usual team catch-up which we maintained through using Teams and Zoom. This was a good opportunity to have some face time and check in with how everyone was going. In addition, we introduced an end of day catch-up to give everyone the chance to unpack their day. Asides from that, we continued all our usual project catchups and brainstorms virtually which meant that we could still have that regular communication with senior colleagues and continue to learn from them and receive their feedback and insights.

Georgia: I am very lucky in the fact that I still have quite a bit of face-time with senior colleagues in the business (albeit via video call). While working from home is very much second nature these days, Weber Shandwick has done a fabulous job, particularly in the early stages of working from home, at making sure employees felt connected to one another and supported by each other. Initiatives such as fortnightly "Weber Sessions", where senior employees in the business host lunch-and-learn style training sessions, and regional "We Stand Together" sessions, has given me opportunities to connect with senior leaders across the APAC region and reap the benefits of their knowledge, despite not being in an office environment with them.

Danielle: In today’s digital age, there are so many ways to stay connected, so I don’t think WFH should hinder junior PR professionals’ career development. As an Account Manager, a key part of my role is mentoring and supporting my junior team. During WFH we have established regular Zoom catchups for both client activity and professional development. As a broader team, we also have weekly meetings to connect and share information. If you have established a positive workplace culture of openness and connectivity, emerging professionals should still feel they can reach out when needed and leverage senior team members as mentors. Similarly, senior staff should be checking in with juniors to make sure they feel supported during this time.

How are you continuing to build your network when industry events are off the cards for now?
Analisse: All of us here at FORWARD have been taking advantage of the wealth of virtual industry events and training programmes that have been offered throughout the year including Telum Talks and most recently the PRIA conference workshops. We have also pivoted our work to the current situations, for instance we have been hosting virtual media events which was a great opportunity to "see" the media again after a long year of no physical contact. Additionally, while traditional coffee catch-ups with media have been off the cards, we have instead been touching base to see if journalists are available for a Zoom call as a way of keeping up with what is happening within their publications. 

Sarah: Building a network has never been more important! Some of the innovative ways we’ve been doing this at Weber Shandwick includes participating in an IPG-wide mentorship programme. This programme matches senior members of management and specialists from other agencies under the IPG network to junior team members like myself and Georgia. This has been so helpful as it gives you a sounding board that understands the pressure and uniqueness of our work but can also offer really valuable and seasoned advice. I’d encourage any junior PR professional to find themselves a mentor if they can. Other ways I’ve been building my network include sharing more of my wins on LinkedIn and coordinating virtual coffee meet and greets with media. If there’s someone you’d like to know more about in your industry or in the media, there’s really nothing stopping you reaching out and suggesting a virtual coffee - it could be an incredibly valuable connection later on.

Danielle: I am a member of the PRIA NSW Young Guns Committee and we are focused on ensuring networking and learning opportunities continue in a WFH environment, especially for young professionals. We had our digital PRinks Christmas event on the 9th December, which was a night of digital networking, trivia, and Christmas cheer. We also have a great line up of events for 2021. I really encourage people to follow our Facebook page if they are keen to network and stay connected with the industry.

What are you currently doing to keep across media and industry trends? Where do you access online resources? Can you recommend some?
Analisse: To keep up with media trends, the biggest thing I do is to constantly read the target publications for our clients. I think that is the best way to understand what they are interested in covering and how we can find ways for our clients to be included. In terms of industry trends and media movement, reading our daily newsletters and alerts from the likes of Social Diary, SourceBottle, and of course Telum, help us keep on top of all the changes happening, especially this year where there have been so many unprecedented changes.

Sarah: We are so lucky at Weber Shandwick to be able to tap into an entire global network of resources and support. Beyond our internal training and work sharing sessions, Weber Shandwick has also been publishing external updates for our clients on industry trends and developments. This included regional COVID-19 alerts sharing the latest developments as well as sector and brand recovery efforts, as well as Weber Shandwick’s "Trends in Two Minutes", a monthly bulletin of key trends hitting businesses across the APAC region, which have sparked some great creative brainstorms. We also compile weekly media updates for the wider agency which outline all the changes happening in the Australian media landscape, including new hires and any outlets being suspended. There is also an abundance of information online! We have a company subscription to LinkedIn Learning, which I recommend checking out if you want to sharpen some of your skills.

Danielle: I am a news (and coffee) junkie! As a specialist in financial communications, I read the mainstream papers, such as The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, and numerous trade finance publications. I also read publications that pique my personal interests, such as the New York Times, Mamamia, and sustainability / ESG focused press. As PR professionals, consuming a broad range of news and current affairs is essential to our knowledge, career development, and creativity. You never know where your next idea or opportunity will come from! For industry specific updates, I encourage young professionals to get involved with industry bodies. The PRIA does discounted memberships for students and those in the early stages of their careers. Of course, Telum is also a great resource!

Do you have any tips for emerging PRs who are new to the industry, especially those who started their career during COVID-19?
Analisse: I think my biggest tip would just be to constantly communicate with your colleagues, which I guess is a no brainer given we are in the industry of communicating. Let them know how you are travelling and do not be scared to reach out if you need help or further guidance. It is really important to take each day as it comes. Our industry is a rapid one where no two days are the same, so in the beginning, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. I recommend always writing a to-do list for each day so that you have a clear indication of what your day looks like so you can set realistic targets for yourself about what you want to do and what you will be able to achieve. However, you also have to prepare yourself for the likely occurrence that other things will come up and know how to adapt to that. Ultimately, this comes down to prioritising your tasks in accordance with deadlines.

Georgia: Starting your career is always going to be daunting but starting it in the midst of COVID-19 undoubtedly brings a few extra challenges. As a mentor to several interns and junior colleagues just starting their career, my key piece of advice to them has been to speak up, and to not be afraid of asking questions. It’s a lot easier in an office environment to quickly pop by someone’s desk to clarify and ask verses having to message or call the person, but in this environment, don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues virtually. I am also a big believer in building up your network from the moment you begin your career. Everyone knows we are a small industry, and connections can go a long way. A tip I have given to many PRs just starting their career, is to take note of who they are in meetings with and connect with those people on LinkedIn that day. A small action which could end up helping them immensely down the track.

Danielle: My key piece of advice for those starting their career is to nail the basics. If you show your team you can nail key tasks it builds trust and encourages your team to give you opportunities to work on more exciting activities, such as media pitching, content, or social media management. Don’t underestimate the impact of a well formatted report or media coverage sent ahead of deadline! I also encourage you to bring your best self to work and to speak up if you have a question or an idea. The great thing about having new professionals join the team is fresh perspectives and new ways of doing things. Showing you are a good culture fit is so important so reach out, schedule a Zoom coffee (or wine) catch up, and ask for help when you need it. We can get so busy that we forget the importance of connecting with our team, so I love when a grad is enthusiastic and keen to chat!

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