An Account Coordinator is the entry-level position within a PR agency. This role is for graduates new to PR. It’s where you learn the fundamentals of the profession and start to build your career. Here’s how to be a great Account Coordinator (AC).
Learn, learn, learn – above all, this is a training position. Regardless of your degree or diploma, account coordinators must learn how to do PR in practice. The main things to focus on are learning about the techniques common to a PR program (like how to write a press release), getting up to speed with the media (publications and contacts), understanding the industry (vocab and trends), and simply learning how to work (about the agency, professional norms). The sooner you get the basics down in each of these areas, the faster you’ll progress.
Be willing – although you’ve studied hard to get your degree and beat out a lot of competition to secure the job, your main value to the agency is your potential. In the short term, the principal thing you can contribute is your attitude. There are lots of menial and repetitive tasks involved in PR – like mounting clips for instance. These will not test your intellect or creative prowess, but they will teach discipline, accuracy, speed and prioritization against deadlines. The attitude you bring to, say, making the tea and coffee for a client, will make you stand out. The senior staff have all done these jobs, and probably worse (they’ll no doubt tell you). You’ll soon move on to more challenging aspects, and that will come all the sooner if you burn through these with good grace.
Show initiative – although some of the tasks may be routine, there is plenty of scope for initiative. Think how you might exceed expectations or complete tasks before deadline. In brainstorm meetings, speak up and offer ideas – they might not be right at first, but that’s how you’ll learn. Brainstorms are a good environment to show your creativity and to bring a fresh perspective. Perhaps work up some ideas in advance and tailor them in the session – this shows you’re doing your homework and really thinking about the role.
Be presentable – look the part. Learn the dress code and adjust to a professional environment. This may require an upgrade to your student wardrobe. It’s an investment which will pay off.
Put in the hours – if you are hungry for promotion and to become client-facing, you need to get some flight time under your belt. While you might not have experience yet, you can bring commitment. So get in early to read the papers and ask your team before you leave if there’s anything else you can do. Even if they say no and are clearly going to stay much later themselves, do the same. Get them a coffee, tidy the library, do the copying and printing, print out the directions for tomorrow’s meeting. The early birds and the night owls get the chance to bond with each other. I’m not advocating insane working hours but in general, it creates a good impression if you’re in earlier and stay later than your boss.
Get to know people – especially the senior team. These guys will ultimately approve your promotion. You may only interact with them occasionally in a professional capacity, so look for other opportunities to get to know them. Offer to grab them a sandwich at lunch. Mix with them in the bar in the evening. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the company, the future plans and where the opportunities lie. [Don’t be a suck-up though].
Tune in to the culture – try to understand the agency’s culture and dial in to it. The easiest way to do this is to get attuned to its sense of humor – it’s a great way to break down borders and to show you are part of the team. Learn also what types of behavior are likely to rub people up the wrong way. You don’t want to put your foot in it. It’s quite ok to ask your manager about dos and don’ts when you join. Every culture has idiosyncrasies – that’s what makes them human – so find out and keep your antenna waving.
Stay on your toes – so you’ve been in the agency for six months. It feels like an age. It’s all the work experience you’ve had. But you’re getting on fine, know the ropes and the team, and have had some positive feedback. In fact, you’re beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. Now’s the time to watch out – it’s good to have made a rapid start but don’t rest on your laurels. Lots of ACs get out of the gates quickly and then fail to change gear. If you set a quick pace, bear in mind the management will expect you to maintain it, so keep your foot on the gas.
Don’t form a posse – agencies often hire ACs in waves. As one set moves up to Account Executive, a new class comes on board in roughly three to six month cycles depending on the size of the firm. These are your peers and you should build strong relationships with them. Often ACs are new to the city and so this is a ready-made group to bond with. But be careful not to form a sub-culture clan. You don’t want to be perceived as a unified group. Fact is, not everyone will make the grade – where would be the standards if everyone could? It’s a fine line to walk but peer competitiveness is a fact of agency life. It can be very productive if approached in the right way. So mix up your in-company social group – you’ll learn more that way too.
Don’t complain – I know that sounds harsh, but let’s face it, no-one likes a moaner on their team. At this point in your career, you probably don’t have enough experience to make a fully-rounded assessment of working practices, policies or initiatives. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opinion, nor that you can’t contribute, but choose your moment carefully – perhaps in an appraisal – if you have suggestions so they can be taken constructively as you intend.
Get organized – ACs have a lot of deadlines and a lot of tasks on their plate. This can soon become overwhelming if you’re not organized. Write everything down, plan out your day and go through it with your line manager. They can help you learn to prioritize. And priorities will change throughout the day, so do this at least two or three times everyday. Feed back what you have done, and the status of ongoing projects. You want your line manager to recognize your achievements and be there when things get a bit hectic.
Ask questions – and write down the answers.
Enjoy it – you’ve worked hard to get this position. Sure at times it’ll be tough, but it should also be fun. And if it isn’t fun, you’re probably not doing it right, so that’s something to learn too.