10 Ways to Wreck Your First PR Job (& How to Check Yourself First)


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You got the job! You beat out dozens of other candidates for the chance to launch your PR career in the exciting, dynamic, industry of your dreams. Woot woot!

But guess what? PR is hard work. It’s not all glitz and glamour, especially at the entry level. And if you don’t prove that you’re a reliable, resourceful, multi-tasking problem solver from day one, your new job might not last long. Need some PR career advice?

Here are 10 ways to wreck (but easily fix) your entry-level fashion PR job faster than you can say “Mom, I got the job!”

Before we get started, be sure to check out PRISM, the PR Couture course that helps industry hopefuls land (and keep!) their dream jobs.

1. Call it quits at the first roadblock

No boss wants to hear “I couldn’t do it.” Especially if we then turn around and do the task ourselves…and it takes about 15 seconds. For example, if you’re asked to find a media contact, and they’re not on Cision or an existing database, the next step is not to let your boss know you simply couldn’t find the information and consider the task complete.

What to do instead: Anything and everything you can think of to find that contact. Google “name + email address,” find their LinkedIn page, Twitter, Instagram accounts and check for contact information. See if they have a blog with contact info on it. Do some real digging, and if you still can’t find what you need, at least detail your efforts back to your boss so that she knows how hard you tried.

2. Waste time being confused

While we do expect you to exhaust all obvious avenues when tasked with something at work, if you are unsure of something, don’t muddle through, “guess” or assume you know what to do – I’ve seen too many incidents where good intentions paired with communication breakdowns lead to hours of wasted time and effort, not to mention frustrated and disappointed supervisors. If is taking you a really long time, you’re probably off track.

What to do instead: Always ask questions if you’re unsure of a task or detail! If your boss is really slammed, list out all your questions related to a specific task, let her know you need 5-minutes of check-in time, and ask them all at once to avoid too many interruptions.

If you are unsure of something, don’t muddle through, “guess” or assume you know what to do.

3. Take 2 hours to do a 15-minute errand

You’re running to Fed Ex, making a bank deposit and picking up lunch for the office. That should take, oh, about an hour give or take. If it’s 3 ½ hours later and you’re still not back – and haven’t checked in – it’s not going to go unnoticed. Don’t rush breathless back into the office with a bunch of excuses, or – worse – breeze in like nothing’s wrong.

What to do instead: If there’s a crazy long line at the bank, or you get caught up in bad traffic, text your boss and let her know!

4. Act like mistakes are no big deal

We once had an assistant drop off our client’s skincare products to the wrong makeup artist the day of a major awards ceremony, resulting in the right makeup artist panicking because the sponsored products she needed didn’t arrive on time. And the worst part? The assistant just shrugged it off and said “oh well I made a mistake.”

What to do instead: The correct response – which my AE expertly took into her own hands – was to fly like the wind with a new package to the correct address, and save the day. If you do make a major mistake – immediately own it, and take action to remedy it.

PR career advice: If you do make a major mistake – immediately own it, and take action to remedy it. And act like you care.

5. Repeat the same mistakes

You’re new, we truly understand, and even the most seasoned pros make mistakes. But if you’re not learning from your mistakes, there are going to be red flags on the field. If we tell you to include uvpm stats on all placement write ups, don’t miss it 6x in a row. If we ask you to tag a bunch of sample returns, make sure you’re tagging them with the correct tags every time. If we ask you to pack up shoes for celebrity gifting, make sure you’re including the correct sizes in each recipients’ package every time. And so on.

What to do instead: One of my personal mantras – check your work – goes a long way in avoiding these types of errors! It’s more important that things be done correctly than quickly, so take a breath, and check.

6. Lie when you screw up

I don’t want to scare you, but we can see right through you (cue evil laugh). The excuses, justifications, explanations and defenses stop working really, really quickly when you’ve been in the business for several years. I’d much rather hear “oh my god! I missed that, will do it right now”, than a fib. You’re not fooling us. 😉

What to do instead: True maturity and confidence always win out. You’re going to screw up, it happens. Your character shines through when you own the issue and do what it takes to put things right.

7. Over-apologize

Again, we know you’re going to make mistakes – we all make them! – and that you’re still learning. But if you start over-apologizing for every tiny little thing, being over dramatic, over-promising, etc, it’s going to erode our confidence in you.

What to do instead: Are you sensing a theme? Take responsibility, fix the mistake, take whatever steps you need to take to ensure it never happens again, and move on.

8. Miss deadlines

One of my personal pet peeves – don’t blow off projects or priorities because you “didn’t have time to get to it” or “forgot to write it down” – no boss ever wants to encounter this. We have 10x your workload and manage to hit all of our deadlines every day.

What to do instead: If you are feeling overwhelmed or need help prioritizing, always ask for assistance. Just please do so sooner rather than later, 11th hour requests for more time are never appreciated.

9. Forget your phone manners

When someone calls the office, the person who answers the phone creates an immediate impression about the company. If you sound unprofessional, too casual or childish, it’s going to reflect badly on the reputation we’ve worked so hard to build. Don’t use slang, don’t use poor grammar, don’t be rude. And when taking a message, don’t forget to ask the basic questions – “may I ask who’s calling?”, “may I ask what this call is regarding?”, “may I get your name and # so she can call you back?”

What to do instead: If you’ve never been taught proper phone manners, read a few articles. If needed, write the questions you need to ask on a sticky note and place it next to your phone until it becomes second nature

If you sound unprofessional, too casual or childish [on the phone], it’s going to reflect badly on the reputation we’ve worked so hard to build.

10. Give less than your best (because you want to be working on something else)

While manually entering data into a spreadsheet might not feel like the world’s most important task, know that you’re role does fit into the puzzle, and everything you’re doing as part of your entry-level PR job fits into a bigger picture, and is necessary for everyone to be successful. When you blow off a project, or do incomplete or incorrect work, it resonates up the food chain and negatively impacts your boss’s – and the entire agency’s – work.

What to do instead: Think about what you’re doing, and look at the bigger picture behind your tasks. Trust that there is some method to this madness, and do your very best, no matter the task.

About Samantha Slaven

Samantha Slaven-Bick is the founder of Samantha Slaven Publicity, a boutique fashion/beauty/lifestyle PR agency in Los Angeles.