Mastering the climb of the PR agency ladder, rung by rung

For the most part, you will find a similar structure at many public relations agencies. The size of the firm can sometimes have an impact on the number and level of positions offered, as can the type of services and specialties the firm offers. However, as noted in this helpful blog post on thebalance.com, there are a variety of job titles associated with the public relations industry.

At Obsidian, we use a number of the titles mentioned in that post (along with a few of our own), but all of our titles fall within basically five levels of experience/expertise – internship, entry-level, junior, senior and leadership. For the purpose of this post, I wanted to note the key qualifications of each position at Obsidian and what it takes to get to the next level.

Internships – level 1

Within our internship program, we offer two levels – level 1 and level 2. Our level 1 internship is an unpaid internship and is offered to students majoring in PR or recent graduates with a PR degree who have little to no prior internship or other real world PR experience.

This internship can be done on a part-time basis and allows the intern to work around his or her school or other paid-job schedule. The level 1 internship offers the opportunity to experience the inner workings of a PR agency and provides experience in executing research, building media lists, creating social media content, and distributing news releases, advisories and other communication materials.

Level 1 interns are also given opportunities to test their capabilities in writing, media pitching, event promotion and other responsibilities that fall within the level 2 internship. Those who have mastered the level 1 internship are sometimes offered the level 2 position for the following term (spring, summer or fall).

Internships – level 2

Our level 2 internship is a full-time, paid internship and is offered to students majoring in PR who are close to graduating or have recently graduated and have a number of prior internship or other real-world PR experience.

Level 2 interns are given responsibilities similar to our junior team members, such as writing and distributing news releases, advisories and other communication materials; pitching media; assisting with planning, promotion and execution of client events; along with other functions associated with supporting members of the team.

Although we can’t hire every level 2 intern, we have hired a number of our outstanding ones. These individuals not only showed refined skills during their internship, but they also quickly picked up new skills and easily blended within our team culture (which is as important as being skilled in our profession).

Entry-level – account assistant

The first full-time, entry-level position at Obsidian is account assistant. An account assistant has either served as a level 2 intern at Obsidian or has a good amount of prior internships or full-time work experience within the PR industry. An account assistant will be assigned to specific accounts and is expected to provide tactical support to the senior team member assigned to each account.

Specific job duties include creation of news releases, advisories, blog posts, newsletters, social media plans and other content-driven materials; assisting with the planning and execution of client events and the production of communication materials; and pitching media and monitoring media coverage for assigned clients. Account assistants also attend client meetings with senior partners and communicate directly with clients regularly.

Through this position, assistants are sharpening their skills in both PR and creative writing, time/project management, media relations, strategic thinking and client relations.

Junior level – account specialist

An account specialist has showcased his or her skills as an assistant and is ready to tackle more account management responsibilities. Account specialists at Obsidian are handed the reins on client projects and may have already started serving as the lead contact on some of their accounts. They still report to their seniors for strategic guidance, but an account specialist is capable of communicating with the client directly on any specific project and is able to lead the project through to completion with only sideline guidance from a senior partner or from the director of client services.

An account specialist will also begin sharpening his or her skills in managing others – either interns or assistants – as they utilize other team members to get their client projects completed. This is an important skill to develop for the next level of account management at Obsidian.

Senior level – account executive

An account executive at Obsidian serves as the senior lead and is responsible for strategy and tactical direction on all of his or her client accounts. The account executive is also responsible for managing all client communication and being well-versed in each client’s respective industry.

Additionally, the account executive is responsible for the management of his or her junior partners. Not only is the account executive charged with overseeing tactical execution by their junior partners but also with guiding their professional development. Senior level team members are expected to meet with their junior partners regularly and ensure that they are learning and growing as professionals in our firm.

Senior level – account manager

An account manager at Obsidian has proven success in managing both a full client roster and a team of juniors – and often leads our firm’s largest client accounts.

When an account manager has been with Obsidian for a number of years, and therefore has developed an expansive knowledge on a number of industries, they are promoted to senior account manager. These professionals are at the top of their game and at the top of the ladder at Obsidian, and this often poses the opportunity for the firm to create roles for them on the leadership team.

Leadership – culture ambassador

One such example of a leadership role created specifically for one of our senior account managers is our culture ambassador. The senior account manager, who also serves as our culture ambassador, was allotted a number of hours to serve in this role and is in charge of developing and fostering our unique culture at Obsidian. Her duties involve everything from screening potential employees to planning fun and engaging activities and special events for our team.

Leadership – director of client services

Besides the owner of the firm – of which there is only one – the director of client services is the top rung at Obsidian. The person in this position oversees the daily operations of the firm and all that entails – from the provision of PR services for all client accounts to the overall supervision of the team, from interns to senior account managers, and all inner workings of the firm’s processes and protocols.

The director of client services reports directly to the owner of the firm on a regular basis, providing insight on client satisfaction and retention, team development, account strategy and tactical execution for all client accounts. And, because she’s seen as the “right-hand woman” to the owner, the director of client services also provides insight into business development and growth strategies for the firm.
This is the structure that works best for Obsidian, but we’ve also created some unique flexibility within this structure that has allowed tenured individuals to carve out specific positions that utilize their specific talents to best serve the firm. However, it takes mastering the climb and reaching the top to receive such a reward!