Posted on January 21, 2014
A few weeks ago, someone asked me what posts I enjoy reading the most on other blogs and in magazines, and as much as I enjoy style posts and inspiration, I really love reading peoples stories, AKA, how they got to where they are. This inspired me to start a column, called How to Get Ahead, and features people in the industry that I admire and look to for advice.
For my first feature, I asked my friend and mentor, Whitney Read, to share some advice. Previously a PR maven for Skirt PR, she is now the restaurant public relations queen for Monika Dixon PR. Basically, she is someone we can all learn a lot from.
Hope you love it as much as I do,
My advice for students that are interested in going into Public Relations (or any field really!) is to take advantage of every opportunity that you can. Not only does experience look good on a resume, but finding a career that you love takes time and a lot of self exploration. Or in my case trial and error!
I stumbled across my first internship on Craigslist. Desperate for experience of any kind, I applied to at least twenty listings and only heard back from one. The company was very vague in the description, using their LLC name instead of the brand. It wasn’t until after they called to set up an interview that I realized the gravitas – the company happened to be the only internationally recognized designer jewelry brand based in Chicago at the time, Lana Jewelry.
I was in awe! A thirty-something designer, three twenty-something girls and the designer’s dad ran and international company. Who would have thought? They were savvy and extremely hard working – it was intimidating! I thought interns answered phones and got coffee, but I was doings things like calling buyers at boutiques across the country to set up meetings for our sales manager, and making sure our online orders were getting shipped on time.
When my three-month internship ended I asked if I could stay, and two months after that they offered me a part-time sales and marketing position. I started traveling and hosting trunk shows at our Neiman Marcus stores in the south.
I graduated the following spring and knew (thought) I wanted to go into fashion, but I also wanted to utilize my business degree. As time went on, while I loved the company and the brand, I realized I was miserable doing sales. I was absolutely torn about what to do. I didn’t want to work anywhere else but I couldn’t stand making another cold call.
I left Lana Jewelry to do “freelance consulting” as I explained to my dad. I worked with a former Lana Jewelry co-worker to help indie designers develop their branding while she helped them expand into retail boutiques.
Post-graduation bills started collecting and my dad told me to find a real job or move home. I found a salaried job – FAST! I took the first job offer I received and worked for a manufacturing company in the business district of a Chicago suburb. Talk about depressing. It was a far cry from my downtown office that adorned framed issues of magazines our jewelry was featured in in like Vogue, Elle and the New York Times, but the job description sounded exciting so I thought I could make it work.
The money wasn’t worth it – I called my mom dramatically sobbing almost every day. Everyone I followed on Facebook and Twitter seemed to have such glamorous jobs and lives while I was stuck in an office without windows, working with men my parents’ age to market the machinery we manufactured. All that I could think was, “This is not where I thought I would be a year ago.”
I knew (thought) I wanted to be back in fashion, no matter the position. I took a weekend job at the Tory Burch flagship store over to keep up with things in the fashion world while I hopelessly looked for another job. After six months and a hundred applications I got a Facebook message from the owner of Skirt PR, a fashion, beauty and lifestyle agency public relations agency asking if I ever considered a job in PR. Um, YES?! (I had no idea what a publicist did, but YES…)
That was when things changed forever. I was offered an entry-level assistant position and put on various teams for five-or-so different accounts. I had only worked in-house before that, so working with more than one brand was completely new for me. Not to mention, a marketing/sales “pitch” to me meant a PowerPoint presentation. A PR “pitch” means a quick email with an idea for a story. I was in way over my head, but I figured it out quick.
Working at an agency opened up my eyes to a lot different industries. While I love fashion, I realized that I enjoyed working with my bar and restaurant clients the most. I always loved getting dressed up and exploring the newest, hottest bars and restaurants with my friends. (I basically spent every dollar I ever made going out.) The hospitality industry is social, fashionable, trendy, young and very vibrant – everything I love.
A couple days after I left Skirt I emailed Monika from Monika Dixon PR – I recognized her from a Lana Jewelry luncheon at Neiman Marcus when I was interning there. While working at Skirt I wanted to stay up on others in the industry, so I followed them on Facebook/Twitter etc. Her agency and clients were always doing the most amazing things. I was so impressed and thought it couldn’t hurt to reach out, so I asked her to grab a coffee.
I recognized that she didn’t have any restaurant clients listed on her website, so I was hoping to talk to her about potentially growing that part of her agency. Not to my knowledge, my email was perfect timing because she was looking for someone with experience in hospitality PR. She had just signed several restaurant clients and was ready to expand her team. It honestly could not have been more perfect.
It’s an amazing feeling when you love going to work everyday and I wouldn’t change a single thing that got me here. Through it all I have met the right people, learned something and come closer to finding what’s right for me. Every horrible job leading up to this point in my career has made me appreciate what I have even more, and it makes me want to work hard to keep it. “Bad days” don’t even seem that horrible anymore because I’ve had much worse. When I’m working 14 hour days or on weekends, when a client is difficult or an editor blows me off it’s not the end of the world. I feel lucky to have those struggles because they are the nature of the job that I love.