Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Insights from Ketchum Chicago

Ketchum Chicago's Kyle Rosenbaum shares insights
with CreComm students.
Image courtesy Kenton Larsen.

Last week, Ketchum's Chicago office hosted 20 visiting Red River College Creative Communications students (and my colleague Kenton Larsen and me), and gave us a two-hour glimpse at life inside a major international PR agency.

Ketchum's Kyle Rosenbaum kicked off the session with a great overview of the firm's Corporate practice, Britta Olson and Danielle Spellman shared their insights on its Brand and Research practices, and Elizabeth Stanula talked about how a major PR firm goes about finding new business, before Masha Rykova gave our students an interesting look at life as a PR intern.

The first thing that struck me about these presentations -- aside from the generosity of both the agency and its people in taking the time to give them -- was how different the presenters' experience was from what our students will likely know if they stay here in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg doesn't have any large PR agencies. While there are smaller consultancies like Dooley Communications, not to mention my own, and PR capabilities within mid-sized marcomm and advertising agencies, like Changemakers, the major PR agency just doesn't exist here: there simply isn't enough business to sustain them. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver do have large PR agencies (again, often related to advertising agencies); I'd be interested in hearing how their business model resembles Ketchum's.

In Winnipeg, PR work is generally managed by an in-house department (or, in the case of smaller companies or non-profits, person), with freelance specialists brought in for specific expertise or added bench-strength as the need arises. Some major companies (including large PR agencies) headquartered in other cities use local PR consultants to manage specific projects on-the-ground here, but few Winnipeg businesses rely on a PR agency-of-record to manage their PR for them.

What does that mean for the young PR pro in Winnipeg, just graduating from college?

There are ample opportunities to develop and grow, but they're more likely to be limited to one niche. If you find work in a large corporate communications department, your portfolio will reflect primarily corporate work. In a non-profit, mostly publicity and development, and so on. The experience is great, but you do have to change jobs frequently -- or volunteer a lot -- to get as well-rounded an experience as you might be able to get in a large agency with a wide range of clients.

As our hosts at Ketchum discussed the typical career trajectory of a young PR pro in a major American city -- starting out in an agency to get lots of experience on a wide range of projects for a number of different clients, and then moving into a corporate position or out on their own from there -- I couldn't help but recognize what a great advantage the agency system is to young practitioners.

Here at Red River College, we send our students out on two short internships as part of their Creative Communications diploma requirements, because we recognize that on-the-job experience and feedback are an invaluable part of professional development. But to then be able to head out into a large agency like Ketchum, to work on a range of major national and international initiatives, learning hands-on from experts who've built careers in PR? You can't beat that.

Thank you, Ketchum

One by one, Kyle, Britta, Danielle, Elizabeth and Masha each gave us a different take on life in a major PR agency in a large city, and gave our students useful tips for their own careers in PR. (Use LinkedIn! Follow www.culpwrit.com! Use Google Reader and Alerts! Network! Take advantage of any opportunity you can to get your foot in the door and build experience and credibility!)

They spoke to Ketchum's focus on helping young communicators build careers in the PR industry, and their actions supported their words. Each speaker provided his/her own contact information, with genuine offers to provide any further advice for students after they'd returned home. And I couldn't help but wonder how much billable time Ketchum PR had given up to host us last Thursday, between the time the speakers spent with us, the time they'd spent preparing ahead of time, and the time put in by Linda Gilbert, Ketchum's Midwest Region Office Services Manager, in coordinating the whole thing for us.

Of course I don't know the answer to that -- but I do know it was a great experience for our students. Thanks!

No comments:

Post a Comment