Landing a PR Job After School: What Employers are Looking For and What You Can Expect to Make


Okay, so you are about to graduate with a PR degree. Now what? What kinds of jobs are out there? For that matter, are there jobs? Do you have what employers are looking for? How much can you expect to make?

Our panel of experts are here to help: Plank Center Board member, Rick White, led the discussion with Board members Keith Burton, Rick Looser and Mark Harris; Lisa K. Hart, Program Leader, Communication Leadership Development Program, GE; and Jessamyn Katz, Director, Heyman Associates.

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RICK WHITE: Leaders and role models in public relations. Working with public relations students, educators, and professionals, the Center provides research grants, fellowship opportunities, professional development publications, programs, workshops, and symposia, and serves as a repository for the professional papers of recognized leaders in the field of public relations. Today our discussion is focused on students who will be entering the workforce, either this spring or sometime in the foreseeable future.

Our topic was suggested at our last Plank Center advisory board meeting by Rick Looser, who you’ll meet in just a few moments. Rick observed that those of us who have been in the profession for a while always enjoy the opportunity to visit college classrooms. In fact, I think, yesterday Rick was lecturing at Ole Miss. We always enjoy the visits and those visits always usually generate a lot of questions. But two questions are always asked. Where are the jobs and how much will I make?

So, we’ve assembled a group of public relations and communication leaders, each with a slightly different perspective, to talk about those questions. Of course, we also want to hear from you. So, we’ll leave plenty of time for expanded discussion and answer any questions you may have. Now, if you have a question, you may write it any time during our call in the box under the Q&A tab in live meeting. Or when we get to the Q&A, you can just ask your question over the phone. But in the meantime, as Keith mentioned earlier, we have lots of folks on the line with us today and I’d ask that you please ensure your phones are muted, so we won’t be competing with any extraneous background noise.

So, we have a great group of presenters today. Keith Burton is President of Insidedge. Keith leads a global group of counselors within the Interpublic Group, who are focused exclusively on improving organizational performance by building employee trust, improving internal communications, and affecting overall change at many of the world’s leading corporations.

Mark Harris is Vice President of Communications for IBM Global Business Services, the international consulting unit of IBM. Mark has external and internal communication responsibility for this business unit that has over 100,000 employees in 90 countries. Lisa Hart is from GE. Currently, Lisa is the Program Leader for GE’s Communication Leadership Development Program and the new Executive Communications Program. She leads and coordinates the Leadership Program’s recruiting efforts, program design, rotations, and training conferences. In addition, Lisa has worked in several of GE’s major business units.

Jessamyn Katz is Director of Heyman Associates, an executive search firm specializing in senior-level professionals for corporate communications, public affairs, media and public relations, investor relations, and internal communications position. In addition to a recruiter’s perspective, she is the youngest member of our group today. And going through the process of finding that first job is a fairly recent experience for her.

And finally, Rick Looser is Chief Operating Officer of the Cirlot Agency, one of the southeast leading business development and retention strategy firms specializing in brand strategy, public relations, the rate of production and execution. Rick’s clients range from government agencies to Fortune 100 corporations.

So, let’s get started. And let’s find out what’s out there. Each of us has a slightly different perspective– agency, corporate, recruiter, PR professional. What kind of positions do we see that are either out there now or will become available to someone just entering the workforce and where are they? And Keith, would you start us on this discussion?

KEITH BURTON: I’d be delighted. I would just thank everybody who’s joined us today, Rick, and you for your role in moderating this terrific group of people. On a larger agency front, I’ve been a part of major agencies now going back to 1984 in Dallas, as well as here in Chicago, working in markets throughout the United States and, for that matter, globally now.

And a larger agency has a slightly different need than I find some organizations have for new professionals, particularly, as they’re coming out of school or beginning their preparations to leave school and graduate. There are always a need for internships. In fact, I would suggest if those who are on the phone with us today, if you haven’t graduated or not graduating in the May period or in December of this year, I know your faculty advisor and those who are with you will encourage you to look at internships if you haven’t. That’s essential really to make your way into a larger agency.

The first entry position in an agency is the assistant account executive role. The title may vary depending upon the agency, but essentially it is the entry point for a young professional coming out. And that classic role will be in the area of a consumer or marketing communications, as well as corporate communications. And in some cases, where the firms have it, a health care specialty or a technology specialty or one of the other disciplines that are growth disciplines today.

Increasingly, we’re also finding as well that young professionals coming out of school are also moving into specific disciplinary areas, such as the work we do at Insidedge on the internal and [INAUDIBLE] front, as well as in a group known inside of our other firm that we’re a major part of and work very closely with– Golin Harris– dialogue, which is our social and digital media group. We find increasingly that young professionals who are coming through school are very adept with these media and can help us right out of school in working in these areas, as well as in the area of corporate social responsibility.

And I can mention some of the others, but– we are finding that while we’ve had these classic areas that people would move into– the core areas that I mentioned– more and more young professionals coming out of school or moving into these new specialties too. So those are the areas of opportunity as an AAE you can move into, but clearly, you have to have experience doing it. It’s very difficult to come directly from school without having internship experiences we’ll talk about along the way.

RICK WHITE: But the point is, though, that there are positions available and large agencies have been hiring.

KEITH BURTON: Absolutely. One of the things that I would make a comment on here for the group is that we have been in a hiring mode– a very active hiring mode– as agencies over the past year. And the reason for that Rick, is that as the pendulum swings with the economy often what corporations are unable to do in their own hiring, agencies make up for as they’re brought in to help carry the load for a great deal of the work that needs to be done. It can’t be staffed internally in corporations. So even though the economy has been suppressed over the past 12 to 18 months, we still have been in a fairly aggressive mode of growth on the agency front. So there certainly are positions available and will be in the foreseeable future as we continue forward this year.

RICK WHITE: Rick Looser, your agency is a slightly different type of agency. Are you seeing the same thing?

RICK LOOSER: Well, sure. And again, thank you all for tuning in today. Our agency is being located in Jackson, Mississippi. And we didn’t really see the real high end of the economy when it was just on fire and we hadn’t seen the low end of just the dismal part of the economy. We’ve stayed fairly constant. Being a midsize for our area agency, we’ve got about 25 employees. And a lot of the things that Keith just talked about are the true at any size agency, as far as the path to getting to where you eventually end up.

I would also reiterate what Keith did about the internships. It’s interesting in that probably 25% of our account executive staff came to us through internships, because that’s where you really do prove yourself to that future employer. The other thing I would reiterate is that beyond the traditional path that Keith walked through, which it’s great the way he pointed that out, is some of the things that we’ve looked for especially in our younger hires is to give us some insight on the things that you all know better than some guy sitting there that’s in his 40s, like I am. And that’s the social media front.

I mean, many of the folks who are in college right now grew up and know the ins and outs of Facebook and the other things that in their personal life. I would challenge you right now to start finding the business applications for those same social media tools, because more and more one of our hottest fads of our business right now are those clients that are coming to us saying what’s our social media strategy that we’ve talked to them about it. Now they’re coming back to us because they’re seeing their competitors and other people begin to get into that part of the arena. And that’s everything from your small businesses to your large publicly traded businesses. So, to me, that would be a great opportunity to capitalize on something that you’re already doing and just learn the business side of that.

RICK WHITE: And let me ask also then from another perspective– the corporate side. We talked a little bit about the agency side. We have some folks who are in the corporate side. Jessamyn, of course, is a recruiter. What do you all see happening on the– do you expect that corporations are hiring as well? And what are they looking for, just based on your experience? And I’ll just throw this out to Jessamyn, or Lisa, or Mark, even.

MARK HARRIS: Hey, Rick. It’s Mark. I’ll just start and let the others join in. But we are hiring. I think that the earlier comment that we would look to our agency partners to probably help us buffer as we try to ramp up and engage how robust the economy is actually becoming is the reality. So that’s one point. The second is, the last person I hired was hired expressly for their social media skills.

So again, just to follow up on the point. If you’ve got that aptitude, you can leverage that into a very productive and, in my opinion, pretty well-paid position at an entry-level in a lot of corporations, for the very reason that was stated earlier, which is I am not going to be the person that teaches my staff new tricks on the use of social media to advance our messaging. I’m going to need to hire to acquire that kind of skill.

JESSAMYN KATZ: This is Jessamyn. And I will just add that I think that in general there will always– I have seen people getting opportunities on the corporate side. I think that there are always fewer opportunities at an entry-level on the corporate side than there are on the agency side. But that they are absolutely hiring. There will always be a market for smart, eager, young talent with relevant experience.

KEITH BURTON: Jessamyn, can I just add a comment to what everybody has said here? It’s Keith Burton. I’m actually in a house in Chicago. I led the Golin Harris headquarters office here in Chicago for a number of years, continue to be a part of the leadership team for Golin Harris, as well as in the work I lead for Insidedge. I can tell you clearly that on an annual basis, to give you an idea of how robust the demand is and the interest is in working on the agency front, we have about 800 intern applicants a year– 800. And I want to underscore that for all the people who are on the phone. These internship applications come literally from across the United States and some frankly from other markets globally for us.

And from that, we screen down to about 40 applicants that we’ll then have long conversations with, we’ll look at writing samples, and yes, writing tests are very, very important for us and what we do, as they are for Mark, Lisa, Rick, and Rick White as well. And Jessamyn certainly looks at that. That’s a big part of what we do as well as just leadership in the college and other communities in which you live and serve. But out of those 40 applicants at the end of the day, we will end up hiring between 8 and 12 people as interns for the summer– for the summer period. We also have a winter intern period. But the important part of this moving to that AAE designation that I mentioned taking off, we will hire about 8 to 12 of those people in the course of the year.

So, we are hiring, we have been hiring, we’ve been maintaining our entry-level salaries. I’ll talk about this in a minute. And it’s about anywhere in the Chicago market it ranges from about $36,000 to $38,000 a year, depending upon which of the agencies you may enter. And then in the markets in the south, for example, $33,000 to $35,000. Out on the west coast, about the same thing. And I talked to my colleague Jen Cohan who runs our office for Golin Harris in New York, and she told me it’s in the $35,000 to $37,000, $38,000 range for agencies there. So that will give you an idea of what a starting salary is for an assistant account executive level. But the demand is high, the opportunities are there, but they’re there for– as I think all of our participants will tell you– for qualified applicants.

RICK WHITE: And what I’m hearing is that the rumors or stories of no jobs at all are probably exaggerated. The jobs are there, but they have to be– they’re selective jobs. And you have to be ready for them and ready to make a good impression when you go in and talk. Which is in my role of moderator I’m going to move the discussion really to our next topic. And Mark, I’m going to start with you as we change directions here.

We know what’s out there a little bit. We’ve heard about social media skills and some of the other specific practice areas. But what qualities are hiring managers looking for when they’re looking at candidates? I mean, especially a candidate that’s just coming new to the workforce?

MARK HARRIS: Yeah. Well, look thanks and thanks everyone for making time for this. Let me just go– I’m going to go down the left side of this next chart and then Lisa is going to take the content on the right side. But she and I developed this together. And so, what I’ll say reflects a lot of the ideas I got from Lisa in our prior conversations.

So, this point about a minimum 3.0– when I thought about this, I remembered something and it was an idea that I first heard I believe in Morgan Hall when I was an undergraduate at Alabama. But this professor’s point was you’ve always got to be taking care of the job that is closest at hand. And so, for the last several years your job was to be a student.

And your grades are going to be a baseline to people like me and Rick and Barry and others that on a baseline for how you did taking care of that job. And that will tell us something. Now, that said, I think most of us would tell you that we want to hire aptitude and we want to hire attitude over grades. But that means that a candidate has to be convincing about their ability to think, their ability to learn, and that they demonstrate a natural curiosity about things, which I place a premium on.

Next point– geographically aware. This could go in a number of different directions. One question you might ask right now is, do I have a passport? If the answer to that is no, I would encourage you to get one. And try it out a few times. I didn’t start out in corporate communications. I started out in journalism. But this is where I ended up. And my experience tells me that most of the brands in the corporate realm are already very global. If not, they’re going that way.

If you’re going to work in the agency world, most of your clients are going to be global brands. So, you might also then want to think about the fact that a lot of the job growth that we’re going to see in the next several years is going to come in the emerging markets of the world. And I’ll tell you, China, India, would be very interesting places for a young person to spend a few years, and people will pay you for that experience.

The point about sharp business acumen– all I’d say is that is going to come. That will be developmental. I would be hiring you because you have training, you have skills, you have an attitude that appeals to me, not because you’ve got an MBA. Now, having said that, you’ve got to be able to learn. Because if you’re going to head into corporate or I would say PR, advertising, any kind of speech writing, your ultimate value is going to be based on your ability to engage with the business at levels of actual strategy, and the understanding of an industry, the competitive dynamics of that client, that the client is facing, technology trends, things of this nature.

So, you might want to think of it in terms if you’re going to get the first job based on a certain set of skills and the way you present your personal brand to a prospective employer, but you’re going to keep the job based on what you acquire along the way and then how well you can apply that. Analytic and judgment skills– the point I’d make here is, yes, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet, and we want people with good judgment. That’s pretty obvious. But what I would add is that you might want to think about employers who will be paying premiums for people who can apply the most advanced analytic tools and technologies to the kinds of work that we all do.

So how can analytic tools help us get a better understanding of the return on marketing investments or any advertising campaign, get a better insight on your customers buying behaviors? How do we monitor the attitudes on the issues that we’ve got to handle? So, the application of advanced technology, where I think you guys have probably got a lot of built-in advantages, is something you ought to be thinking carefully about.

Writing skills– again, fairly obvious, but I’d make a very simple point. Great writers are always great thinkers. So, when we talk about strong writing, the way we say it is clear thinking, well-expressed, but it has to happen in that order. Most of the writing you’re going to do when you exit school is going to be done to persuade. And that could be persuade a group of investors that they ought to put their money in your company, a group of analysts to move a workforce, persuade one reporter that your point of view is correct.

So, this is really about the ability to mount an argument and then build a case for whatever point of view you want people to believe in. And by the way, if you can do that, make me believe it in the interview, because that is not a common skill set. And even in a world where there’s going to be a lot less print, a lot more social media, web-interactive, people will still pay for strong writers.

Now, these next three points– leadership, interns, passion for the profession– I think these are very closely related. So, leadership– this is a statement of ambition. It proves that you recognized that’s a variable that can separate you from other candidates. The internship point I think is similar. In addition to bringing very, very valuable practical experience with you, it also indicates to me that you’ve sampled the work. You’ve actually– you’ve checked out what you’re going to be doing. You know what you’re getting into.

And from that, you’ve got a basis to decide whether I want to commit myself to this and invest my– at least the next little part of my career in this. And then that leads to this last point on passion. If you’re confident about those things, and you have a real conviction that journalism, or advertising, or public relations– those are important professions– then make sure you convey that to us in the interview.

And I’ll just close on one very recent experience that I was thinking about. Myself and two of my staff came down to three very good candidates for one role. The one we hired was the one that convinced all of us that they actually understood what we were doing and they wanted to be part of it. So back to that idea of a personal brand. They all had skills, the personal side is what separated it in the end. So, with that, Lisa, I’ll let you take over.

RICK WHITE: And Mark, thanks very much. I would, just to jump in here for a minute, remind you that if you have some background noise or what have you, if you could just mute your phone for a few minutes until we can get through this. And then we’ll open back up again for the Q&A. So, thanks very much. Lisa, you’ve been very quiet.


LISA HART: Sounds good. Thank you. Thank you, Mark. And thank you all for joining today. If you look to the right-hand side of this page, we want to help you take that next step in your journey to find a job. So now that you have information on what we’re looking for, what is it that you need to do? What are some action items?

Well, here are a few suggestions that we’ve come up with. And the first is be sure to highlight your relevant work experience on your resume. For instance, if all you have is babysitting experience, you do not want that to be the first thing on your resume. Go out and get some experience writing, volunteer for your town newspaper, write articles for your school, library, whatever it is, and highlight that on your resume.

And also, Mark just mentioned that excellent writing skills are necessary. Remember, your resume is the first way to show that off. So be sure that your resume is written in a top-notch form and there are no grammatical or visual errors or inconsistencies. That’s a quick turn-off for me.

Secondly, check company websites often. Employers do have a choice where to post their open job. Many don’t need to use the big websites, such as or And if you have specific companies in mind that you want to work for, log on to their own website and check their open roles. And get in the habit of doing it frequently. For instance, I only have to post the job on our GE website for five days.

So that means, you have to frequently come back on a rolling five days and check to see if there are any new jobs up. So yes, this sounds like a lot of work. It is. You might start hearing the phrase or you’ve heard the phrase, “It’s a full-time job to find a job.” It is. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of follow-up. And also, the other thing is by checking the company websites often, you’ll be able to keep up on their news on any new products they’re rolling out, on messaging styles. And all of this will help you in your interview.

So, moving on, and speaking of interviews, you need to practice your interview skills. Most likely, your first interview will be by phone. So, whether your phone interviewing or in-person interviewing, first impressions do matter. So, make your impression count by being well-prepared. Practice, practice, practice– I can’t say that enough.

Next bullet is really, really be sure that your voicemail and any other social media tools are all a professional reflection of you. For instance, if I call a candidate and their voicemail message is either 30 seconds of music or a random unprofessional message, my first reaction is not good. And because that first person is not a positive one, my vote is not going to be for them.

Let’s face it, the competition out there for jobs is great. The jobs are out there, but the competition is tough. So, you need to take every opportunity you can to rise to the top of the competition. And that goes for all the Facebook, digital media, email accounts that you have.

Also, Mark pointed to get your passport. Seek that experience. If you don’t have a job when summer comes, seek out some experience. I’ll give you an example. If I’ve got two candidates with the same credentials and they both graduate in May, and then they’re both interviewing say the following September, my question is to the candidate, what have you been doing since graduation? So, what you want to do is you want to go seek that experience versus sitting on the couch playing Wii, or video games, or whatever. Because the person with the experience has built perspective and definitely is going to get my vote.

Next bullet, really be ready with your elevator speech. Wherever you are, whether it’s the grocery store, or the soccer field, or actually in an elevator on your way to an interview, be ready to explain yourself, your job aspirations clearly and articulately in no more than two minutes. So, practice your elevator speech with your relatives. It’s a great thing at graduation or whenever you see them. When they ask about how you’re doing, be yourself, but be ready to clearly articulate what your future looks like for you in your mind. And you never know who you’re going to meet and where, so you just might lead to an interview or a link-up or a lead.

And lastly, do your homework. Know the company. Show you are engaged. Google your interviewers. Understand the current company messages and the messaging styles. Your homework will immensely help you. And with that, best of luck in your job search.

RICK WHITE: Yeah, listen, thanks very much Lisa. There’s a lot that you have to do to get ready just obviously for the interview. And you want to make a good impression when you get there. We’re going to take questions and open the dialogue in just a few minutes for everyone that are on the line. But at some point, we all like to get paid.

So, let’s assume we’ve gotten that first job offer, and we want to know what we can expect in the way of compensation. Keith alluded to this a little earlier. Jessamyn, I’ll just go to you for an overall statement on where we are there. Then others can jump in a little bit about some more specifics from a regional perspective or what have you. But Jessamyn, any comments on that?

JESSAMYN KATZ: Yeah, one of the things I wanted to just bring up as something to think about, and probably not one that you are thinking about and certainly not something I thought about when I was looking for a job, because it was about the now and needing to pay rent and all of those other things. But I would encourage you, as you start your career, as you continue down your career path, however that leads, to think about total compensation in the long-term.

And Keith can give some more details in terms of New York. I think that on the agency side in New York entry-level is probably in the 36 to topping at 40 for entry-level. Corporate probably goes a little bit higher, but like I said, probably fewer roles there. But in terms of your compensation trajectory, it might look different on the agency side or the corporate side. On the agency side, you’ll likely see more significant and quicker growth in terms of base salary, but you might not see as much in the way of bonus– on a cash bonus side. And there might be limited long-term incentives in the way of equity or [INAUDIBLE]. Not things you’re probably thinking about.

But again, I just want to educate you a little bit, because this is something that because I deal with candidates at a more senior level who maybe have been in one environment for 10 years and that may be what you do and you need to think about these things. And on the corporate side, you might have slower base salary growth, but you would likely have more significant growth in the long-term aspects of a showcash bonus and long-term equity. So, I would just encourage you to think about the total package as you embark on your career.

KEITH BURTON: These are great comments from Jessamyn, and I’ll just join her in this conversation about total compensation. The panel that you see, the slide that you see up, is the 2010 PR Week Bloom, Gross and Associates survey. Bloom, Gross is a firm here in Chicago that helped conduct this survey. PR Week has going at this for some time. And all of us who’ve been in the profession for a long time know there are a number of different studies and data that is available to look at what compensation is. And what I would first tell you is that compensation continues to grow in this profession.

It’s an interesting thing that we sometimes find that young people who are going into college haven’t really thought of public relations as a growth discipline. They don’t really see the opportunities or the total compensation growth that will be available. But when you look at some of the great companies that we have in our profession or that have specialties in this profession, like IBM and GE– and I can mention many others that are of that caliber along with the agencies– these are great organizations that reward growth and provide the kinds of opportunities and total rewards and recognition that will be very important for young people who are thinking about a longer-term profession.

I’ve been in the agency world now since 1984, and I find it to be as competitive and as rewarding as any profession that I could possibly be in. I will tell you that one area that I would look at is this whole issue beyond even what your compensation may be, is culture and work-life balance. These are very important things in the workplace today overall, but they’re certainly important in our business. I find that younger men and women really make up the majority of the professionals inside of the agency field today.

And having a culture in which you feel a part of that culture, it’s your home, it’s where your peers are, but also where you build social networks inside of the organization. And being able to feel like you’re a part of something larger, and that there is a commitment to the communities in which you live and serve in that agency are very, very important as a part of that overall rewards package. That will be significant for you. But the growth, I believe, is there from an agency perspective. And people are rewarded very well, and they move up just as quickly as they’re prepared to do this, as they show their aptitude and their competencies in the areas in which we work. So that’s the agency side of it.

I mentioned earlier the entry-level compensation. Again, you should expect an average of about 33,000, up to around 38,000 to 40,000, as Jessamyn mentioned, in the larger markets. It just depends on the agency. And then some markets may vary depending upon the size of the market or the specific needs that are there in those markets.

RICK LOOSER: Yeah, this is Rick Looser speaking from a deep South perspective. And some of the numbers that are being thrown out are a little high for our area, but there’s a couple of other things to consider. Number one is when I graduated University of Alabama, the day before I graduated, the school newspaper headline was “Graduates About to Enter Worst Job Market in History of the United States.” And I know some of you out there listening to this have probably had that same thought. That with the economy like it is, what are my prospects?

And I hope you’ve gotten some encouragement from what you’ve heard today. Not only the folks who have said they’re hiring, but even in agencies our size and where we are, we’re hiring as well. But one of the things to consider is beyond the published reports of what PR professionals make or what entry-level professionals make, do a little homework that’s real easy. I love it when I get calls from folks that are about to graduate. And they say, look, I’m not calling to ask you for a job interview, I’m just trying to get some information. If I’ve got good grades, and an internship, and some good experience, and you thought enough of me to hire me, what would be the salary range that I might expect?

And that way you don’t show up at an interview like here where the salary range would be more like from 25 to 29 for a beginning assistant, AAE in public relations. Then you’re not showing up at my place having just read a national report that gives figures that are from New York, shows that 38 to 40 is the normal. And I just think I’ve wasted an hour, because I think [INAUDIBLE] made here.

So, if you do a little homework, just like it’s been suggested earlier, about the place you’re interviewing, then do a little homework about the industry regional averages. Because it is just a two or three phone calls away, and I can promise you there’s no agency folks that like anything better than talking about where they work, and about themselves, and what they do and how they do it. And so those calls at the right time, when somebody is not working on a deadline, will be answered and they will gladly give you that information.

RICK WHITE: That’s a good tip, Rick. I guess Mark and Lisa and I are on the corporate side of things, and I’ll just throw this out and see if I get agreement or disagreement on it. But I would say that number one, certainly the region you are in is going to have an impact on that. But also, is it– I think we’ve acknowledged that the corporate side probably will be a little higher to start with. And I would say certainly, and what I’ve seen in the Upper Midwest and other places, that that would be true if you were just coming off the campus into an organization like mine, that it would probably be above that 35,000 to 40,000, probably closer to the mid 40s. Would you agree with that Rick or Lisa and Mark in terms of the corporate environment?


LISA HART: Go ahead.

RICK WHITE: No let’s go with Lisa. We haven’t heard enough from her today.

LISA HART: OK. Well, I think I have to answer this two ways, because there are two different ways that we hire into GE. One is direct hire and the other is Leadership Program. So, if you’re a direct hire, I definitely think that the range of salary offered is much more locationally-based. Versus coming in through a Leadership Program, it does not take into account location at all. It’s flat across the board. Our communications program, no matter where you are placed, you all start at the same level.

MARK HARRIS: Yeah, Hi. This is Mark. I would just add that, Rick, as we’ve discussed, a lot of the hiring we do is actually people that come to us with an agency background. So, by virtue of that, they’ve already had a few years experience, sometimes more than that, so their salary reflects it. But again, I’m in the Northeast United States now, and that definitely skews the ranges that we’ve got to consider [INAUDIBLE]. Even off a campus, I’d say considerably above the 40, 45 that you mentioned.

RICK WHITE: Sure. So, I guess what we’re saying here is generally if you’re looking at an agency– and we’ve agreed today that a lot of the opportunities are going to be in an agency– probably from a salary perspective, we’re looking at anywhere from the mid-20s to mid to upper-30s, depending regionally. And on the corporate side, we’re probably starting in the lower 40s, or around 40, to perhaps above 50, for an entry-level position, depending again on location. And is that a general– do we have a consensus on that?

Well, no consensus. But nonetheless, it’s hard for us to speak for a lot of other companies. But nonetheless, the point being is that you need to do a little research before you do that. Clearly the corporate side is going to pay you a little bit more. And as Jessamyn indicated earlier, maybe the base salary is going to grow a little slower, but there are other benefits that may come along with that. On the other hand, your chances of a base salary increasing a little more rapidly in your early years of employment are going to probably take place at an agency. So, there are pros and cons on either side. Yes, sir?

KEITH BURTON: I just I agree with– yeah, I would be in consensus with you on these ranges you’ve pointed out, depending on the size of the organization and so forth. But I will make one comment. We sometimes have people who elect to move immediately into a master’s program or graduate level program with the hope or the thought that that will increase their compensation commensurate with their experience going immediately from a bachelor’s program into a master’s program.

In my experience– and maybe the other members of the panel feel a little differently about this– nothing replaces practical experience. I told my own kids this as they went through college. While having graduate work is really key, you’ve got to go out as you’ve heard Mark, and myself, and Lisa and others talk about, and frankly, do the work. You’ve got to be out and be a part of a culture and a community where you’re doing the work.

The graduate level work will be important for many. It was for me as well. I went back after I had time in the field and did that work as well. But I don’t find that it changes in ways that are measurable for us the level of the quality or the interest that we have in a candidate, nor is it really going to change our entry-level compensation ranges. So that’s an important thing for people to keep in mind. Now it may be that as a distinction that we’ll have someone who brings very unique talents to bear.

For example, in health care, or in corporate social responsibility, or even, I think Mark as you pointed out in one of our earlier calls, with someone that you hired recently in the area of social and digital media. This person brought great educational background both undergraduate and graduate level, but also had a unique set of experience in work and leadership in the area of social and digital media. And that in fact may bring a higher value to that candidate. But it’s rare that you find that. Most candidates come in, as Lisa points out, at the same level and they prove it based on their experience. I think that’s important to point out.

RICK WHITE: Thanks very much for that, Keith. Listen, I will confess, I’ve done a horrible job of keeping this on time, because I had hoped to get to a broader discussion in the Q&A right now. So, we’re running a little late on that, but now is the time to do that. So, I’d like to continue with that. And to help with that, I’m going to ask Dharma to come back on and to walk us through the Q&A process. Dharma?

DHARMA: Yeah. Thank you, Rick and everyone on our panel today for that great overview and discussion. We now welcome all of you to submit your questions. Like Rick said, please use the Q&A function on the top panel of your Live Meeting screen and I will field them to the panelists. But if you do experience trouble with your Live Meeting, please feel free to un-mute your line and ask you questions over the phone as well.

Looks like we have a question from [INAUDIBLE]. I’m sorry if I got your name wrong. It says, “I graduated from college with a bachelor’s”– sorry.

RICK WHITE: Can you– whoever– we have some background noise. Can everybody make sure you mute your phone at this point, unless you’re a participant. Thank you.

DHARMA: Thank you. The question is, “I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in journalism cum laude last year and completed numerous internships. I have landed several freelance positions in web design and social networking but have had trouble finding work in public relations as an account executive. I have had solid relationships with my business partners and clients. Yet, as I apply to numerous firms, it seems as if nothing results from the other end. Could it be because of the number of applicants for a position?”


RICK WHITE: Who was that? Keith, you want to start with that?

KEITH BURTON: Yeah, I’ll just start. It could be to the person who’s provided this question, it may be that it depends on the market and it depends on where you’re pursuing your level of interest and the work that you are trying to do there. In the larger markets, we have a number of agencies– for example, in the mid to larger market agency front– where you have a broader array of firms that you can go to. And I would also suggest to you that you not use simply one point of entry.

I think often people think that they can go only inside of an agency to the head of human resources. I often get calls here and emails. In fact, through the course of time, Helen Loosevelt, who’s my assistant here, will tell you we get e-mails every day from people asking about opportunities in our agencies. And I’m happy to stop and take calls. So, don’t simply limit your inquiries to one person. Look for a number of people inside of the agency. Go out and network at PRSA events or PRSSA events that you may have in your community, if you have them.

Work with your faculty– a very important point. Dean [INAUDIBLE] is on. You’ve got Dr. Karla Gower. Professor Maria Russell at Syracuse. We know we have some folks from Syracuse on. These are great faculty members who have wonderful relationships in the profession and they can certainly help open those doors for you so that you don’t feel that you’re not getting the opportunities to provide your application to a number of different people inside one location.

RICK WHITE: Thanks, very much Keith. We’ve got a lot of questions coming in. That’s good. Dharma, what else do we have?

DHARMA: Next question is from [INAUDIBLE]. It says, “Do have any advice for students who are looking to change careers and are interested in the PR field, when their undergraduate degree is not related?”

RICK WHITE: I’m going to throw that to Lisa or Jessamyn. As a recruiter, how does that work? What do you think?

LISA HART: Sure. This is Lisa. I’d love to answer that just because it happened to me. I was a finance major. I went into GE, proved myself capable of learning and that sort of thing, and really taking the ball and run with it in terms of responsibility. And then was able to bridge over to where I wanted to go, which was human resources. So, I think it’s very tough. I will tell you, I get a lot of engineering majors sending me resumes for my Communications Leadership Development Program.

And in the cover letter it says, I know I’m an engineer major, but I really love communications, and I love to talk and I love to write. But they have no relevant experience, so I simply cannot hire them. If they went through the engineering track in GE and somehow were able to prove themselves and were able to make that jump, I think it happens later after you’ve proven to a company internally that you’re capable of learning and responsibility.

JESSAMYN KATZ: Yeah, and this is Jessamyn. And I too– I mean, I was a psychology and education undergraduate major. And I actually did internships in PR at two different agencies and ended up a recruiter. But anyway– I think it is a lot easier if you have a liberal arts degree, even if it’s not communications per se. But something less technical than engineering likely it’d be easier. But I’d also– back to what we talked about before– to try and get the experience, whether it’s an unpaid part-time internship in communications or something like that, to get the relevant experience is going to make it easier.

RICK WHITE: Right. Thanks very much. What’s our next question?

DHARMA: Yep. It’s from Julie Cook. The question is, “I’m an adult student. I graduate this coming December. And I have an extensive customer service background with about two years of PR experience. I’m currently looking for a job. Any suggestions for my particular situation?”

RICK WHITE: Well, I would say, based on what we’ve heard today, and again based on your experiences and what our panelists have told us today, clearly the situations are going to be probably most available to you in the agency world. And with your background in customer service, there have to be agencies– I know Keith and Rick can tell you based on their experience, where their clients come to them who have customer service problems as part of their overall communication and public relations needs. So, one of the things you may do is do a little research on the agencies in terms of who their clients are and really what their needs are in the marketplace. Rick?

RICK LOOSER: Rick, I would agree with this. A perfect example– I know Mark would identify with this– if you look at call centers, for example, today where you’ve got a high customer service, or a customer contact, customer facing role, we look specifically for people who understand how to work with equipping people in call centers to be more effective in their outreach, doing work in this area, thinking about constituencies that are served in these centers, which are very different given the work, the way they do work. Their interaction in call centers, which is very different than it would be in a normal workplace setting. That requires people who really understand these areas and can work in this specialty.

And so, I think I wouldn’t be discouraged by this. I would look for organizations where they have unique needs helping to equip sales professionals and those who have customer contact to be more effective. And Mark, you may have some specific thoughts about this based on IBM’s business as well.

MARK HARRIS: Yeah, look, I mean, I would agree with everything you just said. And I think I would actually segue maybe back into the agency world and just see– to the person that had the question– you might want to consider, if you’ve got those years of experience, those were probably in some industry. You might want to do a bit of research that says where are the agencies that have strong client bases in the industry where I’ve got experience, because I think they might be able to recognize that experience and the value you would bring to their agency in ways that– let’s say you’ve got background in consumer electronics. Somebody in consumer-packaged goods might not think that much of that. But you’d be able to have a more intelligent meaningful conversation with somebody who specialized or at least has a concentration in the industry where you’ve got a background.

RICK WHITE: Good point. Very good. Thanks very much, Mark. Dharma?

DHARMA: Rick, I noticed that Patrick raised his hand on Live Meeting. Is there a question you wanted to ask over the phone, Patrick?

PATRICK: I’m sorry I wasn’t sure what that was.


But my question was, how important with an international position is the language proficiency, since some of the areas of the world that you talked about folks having experience, obviously may have another language involved or two?

RICK WHITE: Well, Mark, I’ll ask you to go first, then maybe Keith.

MARK HARRIS: Yeah. So, thanks. That’s a really good question. So, let me take it from a business perspective first. And the part of IBM that I support is a consulting business. So, we, regardless of the region of the world, make English language proficiency a requirement. It’s almost like you can’t get hired without it any longer, whether you’re working in Shanghai or Brazil or Belarus. We want consultants that can speak English.

And I would tell you that in a global company, the ability to not have language be a barrier to a consistent delivery of messaging, for example, in workforce communications, is critical. I mean, one of the biggest barriers that we’ve got to overcome is translation around the world. So, people that bring strong English language skills and can help a Japanese leader or a leader in Beijing communicate on a global basis, not just within the borders of that country, are very, very important. But I would tell you that most of the people that we’re going to hire in geographies will be native language speakers first, but we will put a high value on their English as a second language.

KEITH BURTON: I think I agree with Mark on these comments. I would just tell you, I have one client that they have 32 spoken languages in their organization. IBM probably is not dissimilar from this and GE as well. They use about eight languages in their communication. And to the point on translation, English is the common language for them.

But one point I would make is, I recently went to a conference– it was held here at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago– and was a panel moderator for a group of Chinese business leaders who were talking about how the Chinese will be more effective in their outreach to Western markets. And what the point that they made was that the Chinese have learned that they value more than our strategies, they value our tactical execution and communications. My expectation is that the Chinese, like Lenovo and others that have worked with companies like IBM to assess and then acquire properties, will continue to do this in the west.

And as they do this, they’ll look for people to the question who have language proficiency, but also more important than that is understanding culture, and cultural norms, and the ability to integrate these norms into the work they do in ways that will be helpful to the people who are part of the larger organization. So, think not only about language, but think more importantly about culture and the norms that drive organizations where they are in the world. That’s a really key issue for us for the future.

RICK WHITE: Terrific. Thanks very much. And Patrick, thank you very much for your question. Dharma?

DHARMA: Yep. Candace asked, “I will be graduating next May with a Bachelor of Arts in public relations. But I have not acquired any outside experience such as an internship. What is the likelihood that I will be offered a job right out of college in the field of public relations without such experience?”

KEITH BURTON: Can I just say honestly, probably zero. And I don’t mean that flippantly at all. I think it’s very, very important. I’ll use the example of my own son who graduated from Indiana and he had a degree in telecommunications, studied in communications there. And I had the conversation with him that it’s very difficult in our profession today, as Mark has said, as we’ve all said in the conversation, to move into a professional setting as competitive as ours is without having some practical experience. Even if you have to do it as my son did, for almost a year without pay. And he did so at a great news organization here in Chicago. And then immediately moved into a role there. But he had to have that practical experience.

When you have an internship, in my view, it says several things about you. Number one, it says that you are committed to leadership. That you’re willing to invest time in learning about an organization and what they do, and also being a part of a larger team. More importantly, it also says that you’re serious about the business. Those who have not had internships for whatever reason, whether out of difficulty or other commitments that they have personally or otherwise, it makes it very difficult to compete.

So, I think it will be harder to do this. I would encourage the person who’s posed this question to step back and to determine if you can stop what you’re doing and make some way forward to have an internship. I think it’s a huge priority for us today in our business to have people who are experienced coming into a new role.

RICK WHITE: And absolutely work with your professors and the folks at the school, wherever you can, whatever resources you can find there to help you do that, and that will be very, very important for you. I am cognizant of our time. We have more time for questions. We’re going to continue with this. However, we probably won’t get to all the questions. We have a way for you to ask your questions after we get offline today. I’ll cover that in just a minute. But I’m rushing through right now to try to get as many questions asked and answered while we’re still all together on the line. So what else do we have?

DHARMA: Lauren asked, “How would you suggest tapping into the PR nonprofit sector? Are there resources to find these types of companies and what unique qualities should a candidate have for these types of companies?”

RICK WHITE: I did not actually understand the first part of the question. I’m sorry.

DHARMA: Yeah, I’ll repeat that. I’m sorry. I think someone’s beeping in. The question is, “How would you suggest tapping into the PR nonprofit sector? Are there resources to find these types of companies and what unique qualities should a candidate have for these types of companies?”

RICK WHITE: Well, I’ll take a quick shot at this and then the rest of you can jump in. What I would do is I would go to the largest local, for example, not-for-profit, if you’re looking at not-for-profit agencies, if I’m understanding your question correctly. For example, say the United Way. And I would go and, first of all, do an internship there, if you can. But also, just ask who the other players in the community are.

One of the pieces of counsel that I would give to someone who is just entering the field, isn’t quite sure where they want to go, may not have all the relevant experience you’d like to through a number of internships, is to tap into the not-for-profit sector. Because oftentimes, although the pay may not be quite what you want it to be, it gives you the opportunity to do a lot of different things within an organization, because oftentimes the staffs are small and you have to do a lot of things. So, on a local basis, I would select one large not-for-profit. Make some friends there, make some relationships there, and get them to actually help you in the community.

RICK LOOSER: Yeah, I’d agree. This is Rick. I started my career as public relations director of the Alabama Poison Control Center, which was a great sounding title and it looked great on my business card, but it paid $12,000 a year. And the reason I was a director of the Public Relations Department is because I was the Public Relations Department. But the beauty of that as Rick just indicated, is that I was able to do as many things as I could think of and as many things as I had the energy to do.

And the things that I accomplished there led to my next job. And although the pay wasn’t great, it was a blank canvas for me to be able to execute those things. That I didn’t have to go through the bureaucracy of somebody telling me we can’t do that or we’re not staffed to do that, because whatever I took on was on me to start and to complete. But it is a great place to earn your stripes.

It is also a great place because you never can tell who’s watching. Because what I did there and the programs I did there actually gained the attention of one of the corporate sponsors that I had recruited to be a part of one of the things we were doing and that actually led to my next job. So that’s another thing I would tell you is don’t look at anything you’re doing, no matter who it’s for, as something that’s insignificant because people are watching what you do and watching the results that you achieve.

RICK WHITE: OK. Rick, thanks very much. Unfortunately, we’re about out of time. I know we have a number of questions we haven’t been able to get to. So, here’s what I’m going to suggest you do. If you have an additional question or one that we didn’t get to today, our email addresses are on the screen now. And we are more than happy to respond to you. So, if you have an additional question, feel free to drop any one of us a note. We’ll be more than happy to follow up with you and give you some advice, or guidance, or answer your question.

I’d like to thank those folks who were participating with us today and those of you who are online with us today. A special thanks to Insidedge for their sponsorship that made this possible. And to Dharma Subramanian and Helen Loosevelt of Insidedge who acted as our executive producers today. In addition, the audio portion of this webcast and slides will be posted shortly on The Plank Center website. And that website is Listen, thanks again for being with us today. Hope it was worthwhile for you. And have a great day.

DHARMA: Thank you.

RICK WHITE: Bye for now.