Career paths can sometimes take a sharp turn, and no one knows that better than Erin Griffin, a Communications Specialist at Beutel Goodman. Her public relations story started with her questioning where her true strength lies, and then fearlessly pursuing them.
Growing up I always thought I wanted to be a teacher, which is what I originally pursued after high school. As I headed down that path I realized that while I loved the idea of educating, I had a lot of passions and skills that I likely wouldn’t get to call upon as a school teacher. After a lot of research and self-reflection, I became focused on marketing, and more specifically the field of PR, which seemed to check all the boxes for me. All at once, my life plan switched pretty drastically. I moved from my small hometown to Toronto to complete a post-graduate program, landed an internship at a fantastic agency where I was able to dive straight into the deep end, and the rest is history!
Starting my career at an agency really helped me find my path. I had the opportunity to work on accounts in so many industries and try my hand at so many different tasks. It showed me what I liked, what I could handle, and taught me to multi-task, work well under pressure, and with different groups of people.
What I love about marketing, in general, is the variety: every day and every project is different. What I love especially about PR are the multi-faceted strategies that go into it. I still find it really thrilling to earn great coverage and that’s not easy—you can write a great press release, or a great pitch, or throw a great launch event for example, but none of those things are guaranteed to get you great coverage on their own. All of them together, plus timing, creativity, and strong relationships are more or less what you need to have success. It’s always so rewarding to see a positive news story result from your hard work—and it is hard work. I stay motivated by trying to stay current. There are so many new tools and strategies to learn, as this industry is shifting and changing every day. It’s completely dynamic; it’s a great field for anyone who loves to learn and to be challenged.
I learned quickly that it was important to develop a thick skin. Marketing and PR, while they have some elements of “science” are mostly art, and therefore is highly subjective. You might think your campaign idea/article/press release is genius, but I can almost guarantee that someone will disagree with you… And that’s okay! But it took me a while to learn that constructive feedback isn’t always criticism, and to that, if you trust your team, they can help you take your ideas to the next level.
The second thing I learned was about how competitive the field is. Doing well in university and my post-graduate program wasn’t going to help me land a job, unfortunately. It all came down to relationships and experience, which is why I invested a lot of time early in my career into networking, relationship building, and volunteering. I believe that the lines between PR and Marketing will continue to become more and more blurred. While the two functions should always have been working closely together, I think now and, in the years, going forward they are more or less becoming one-in-the-same.
As the importance of digital and social continues to rise, it’s really becoming essential to reach across the aisle and share strategies and tactics. If we fail to do that, we’re really not taking a 360-degree view of a campaign and definitely not creating integrated experiences for our audiences.
I think in this day in age especially, honesty and integrity are of the utmost importance in any field, but definitely in marketing and PR. I think in general we as humans have come to appreciate authenticity so much, and that is what people want to see on their TVs, smartphones, computers, etc.
It’s also critically important for marketers to have confidence, but not egos. Yes, you should always bring forth your best ideas and have the confidence to explain why they are great and why you believe they are going to work, but you should also be ready to take feedback, to hear no, and to be sent back to the drawing board. Draw on the people around you, don’t expect to be the smartest person in the room. There is always room to grow.
This career can be fast-paced and overwhelming at times. It’s so important to get to know yourself, your limits and ask for help when you need it. There will be times when you need to stay late, put in the hours, and push yourself, but there will also be times when you need to unplug and make time to recharge. You can’t pour from an empty cup…it’s a fact, don’t try to!
Trust the process and be open to opportunities—that’s my biggest piece of advice. You might have a vision of the industry or the exact company you want to work in, and it’s great to have a goal you’re working towards. However, if you say yes often and open yourself up to the opportunities that come your way as you start to build your career, you might be surprised at where your path leads you. I thought I wanted to do lifestyle PR and events, but as I learned, explored, and networked I found my talent and passion in corporate communications—now I work at an investment firm. If you told my 16-year old self, or even my 23-year old self this is where I’d end up, she wouldn’t believe you!
I think the biggest success for someone entering the industry is a coffee date and working up the courage to ask for one. I know it can be intimidating, but for the most part, people are kind. Don’t be afraid to connect to someone you look up to on LinkedIn, send them a message and ask if you can buy them a coffee to pick their brain. Worst case: they say no. Best case: they say yes, you make a new connection, you learn from the experience and you potentially have someone who can introduce you to a hiring manager. There is so little risk, and so much to gain. Just ask!
As the semester winds down, you realize your professional image still needs work. If you’re wondering what to do next, maybe it’s time to start working on your brand.