Dear Flack: How to be a great assistant

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Everyday People 2For the most part, everybody starts their illustrious PR career at the bottom. Whether it’s mailings, coffee runs, or dreaded clip reports, it’s more than likely that at one time or another you’ll have to participate in the art of assisting and/or interning.

Believe it or not, being a great assistant is an art form. Some assistants are masterpieces, while others are head-scratching experiments gone awry.

Look, we all know starting from the ground up can be both frustrating and challenging. You are working hard for hardly any money.  However, if you want to climb up the corporate ladder, you have to put in the time and effort to be successful.

I’ve been an assistant and have had assistants, and after some recent conversations around the PRBC, we thought we would give you some pointers on how to be a great PR assistant.

In true Stephanie Smirnov form, take our well-researched and highly scientific quiz to determine “Are you a great PR assistant?”

1. USA Today just came out and it features your client. Your next move is:

a)      Go get yourself a cup of Irish coffee and celebrate.
b)      Make a giant collage display using other newspapers, old press releases and paper clips.
c)      Put it in your “to do” pile.
d)     Run and get a copy of the newspaper, scan it immediately, and send it over to the client.

Congratulations! If you answered “d,” you are displaying a sense of urgency.  It’s great to show initiative and be dependable, but no trait is more cherished than an individual that displays a sense of urgency. Public relations is a NOW not a LATER field.

2. You totally forgot to send out a few packages last week, and now your boss is asking about them. You:

a)      Grab a disguise and hide under your desk.
b)      Lie. Tell your boss they were sent out, but there must have been a delay at the post office.
c)      Put in your headphones and ignore your boss.
d)     Fess up and say that you forgot because you were working on x, y and z.

Bravo to those that answered “d.” Never, ever lie to your boss. Why? Well for starters, if you get caught, your boss will never, ever trust you again. No one likes to admit they made a mistake, but sometimes it’s better to cop up to a slip-up, rather than risk your boss’s ability to trust you.

3.  You forgot the date of an upcoming client event. You immediately:

a)      Ask your boss.
b)      Forget about it. If you can’t remember, then it’s not important. Obviously.
c)      Take a shot of tequila.
d)     Look through your e-mails and client files to find the date yourself.

You really should’ve answered “d.” It’s imperative that you research first, ask questions later. Whether it’s a simple question about an event date or a factoid about a client, show that you are self-sufficient and resourceful. Also remember, Google is your best friend.

4.  You are tasked with doing a large client mailing. After a late night binger, it’s the last thing you want to do. So, you:

a)      Refuse to do the mailing. You didn’t go to college to do an effing mailing.
b)      Do the mailing, but complain the entire time about how awful it is.
c)      For every envelope you stuff, you take a shot.
d)     Swallow your exhaustion and do the mailing like the professional you are.

If you answered “c,” where do you work?? If you answered “d,” that of course is the right answer. Always watch the ‘tude. I’m not going to pretend that mailings or related tasks are teaching you the secrets of public relations, but don’t act like these tasks are beneath you. If you do these tasks with a positive attitude, it will go noticed. The majority of us PR folk have done our fair share of mailings (I did a mailing once where my hands bled). If you act like you are above certain tasks, then your willingness to go above and beyond will be called into question.

5.  You have your list of projects, projects that are long term and ongoing. Every day you:

a)      Ask your supervisor if there’s anything you need to do today.
b)      Scrap the list and see what’s going on with your farm on Farmville.
c)      Uh…what list?
d)     Check in with your boss and let them know what you are working on and the status of ongoing projects.

And the winner is “d.” As managerial as this may sound, it is important to “manage up.” Be proactive. Let your boss know what you are working on and what’s been accomplished. This way your boss will never wonder what you are doing and pay more attention to your impressive work ethic.

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  • missmotorcade

    Excellent advice, Marie, and applicable not only to those interning/assisting in PR. At the beginning of most everyone's career, you find yourself doing “grunt work.” Even as a first year law firm associate, I found myself doing extremely glamourous tasks like putting together fedex packages and ordering dinner for the team of 30 that was working late into the night. At the end of the day, I got a lot out of what I then thought were menial tasks – I learned to be completely self-sufficient, even when my assistant was gone for the day and there was no one else around to get those documents out. Oh, and I learned which fedex drop off locations were open latest in NYC, and which ones shipped to each part of the country AND internationally. Some of this has really come in handy in later years.

  • http://twitter.com/CTMichaels CTMichaels

    oh Marie, i can't stop giggling.

  • allenkristina

    Great post! As an entry-level, fresh out of college employee, I can relate thinking “all of the above” for each of the questions; however, in the end it's best to just roll with the “D” answer and learn from each experience as much as possible.

  • Marie

    Totally true Sherri! You do learn how to be completely self-sufficient. Thanks for the insight!

  • cnkin

    Hahah. I appreciate this post. As someone who is nearing graduation and looking for internships I know that entry level jobs will not be the most fun. But, I also know someone has to do it and if that's how I get my foot in the door– bring it on!

  • http://twitter.com/ChristaMarzan Christa Marzan

    Great advice, Marie. I especially like your point that this doesn't just apply to recent grads (like myself). Many people don't realize that just because your rankings are higher than entry-level, you still need to do “grunt work” occasionally.

  • missmotorcade

    Excellent advice, Marie, and applicable not only to those interning/assisting in PR. At the beginning of most everyone's career, you find yourself doing “grunt work.” Even as a first year law firm associate, I found myself doing extremely glamourous tasks like putting together fedex packages and ordering dinner for the team of 30 that was working late into the night. At the end of the day, I got a lot out of what I then thought were menial tasks – I learned to be completely self-sufficient, even when my assistant was gone for the day and there was no one else around to get those documents out. Oh, and I learned which fedex drop off locations were open latest in NYC, and which ones shipped to each part of the country AND internationally. Some of this has really come in handy in later years.

  • http://twitter.com/CTMichaels CTMichaels

    oh Marie, i can't stop giggling.

  • allenkristina

    Great post! As an entry-level, fresh out of college employee, I can relate thinking “all of the above” for each of the questions; however, in the end it's best to just roll with the “D” answer and learn from each experience as much as possible.

  • Marie

    Totally true Sherri! You do learn how to be completely self-sufficient. Thanks for the insight!

  • cnkin

    Hahah. I appreciate this post. As someone who is nearing graduation and looking for internships I know that entry level jobs will not be the most fun. But, I also know someone has to do it and if that's how I get my foot in the door– bring it on!

  • http://twitter.com/ChristaMarzan Christa Marzan

    Great advice, Marie. I especially like your point that this doesn't just apply to recent grads (like myself). Many people don't realize that just because your rankings are higher than entry-level, you still need to do “grunt work” occasionally.