Today we talked with Laura Markofsky who is Account Director at Civic Entertainment Group. As part of our new Young PR Pro program, she shared her thoughts on breaking into the industry, the lessons she’s learned and what’s changed in her career.

Hi Laura, thanks for joining us. How long have you been in the PR business?

I graduated from undergrad in 2007 and started working 2 months later at my first job. So it’s been 8+ years at this point. And I’m still going strong!

Have you worked on an in-house team or agency?

I’ve only worked at agencies – it’s all I know. I started my career at a celebrity and entertainment agency, working on the brands team. It was interesting because I saw multiple facets of the PR world. That included the personal publicity standpoint but also consumer-facing brands and the different ways you navigate both of those worlds.

Did PR differ from what you expected?

100%. Before I started working, I had a couple of internships, but the way you operate as a full-time employee is so different on day-to-day basis.

As a young PR professional, you start to understand you’re a piece of a puzzle on a larger team. You might do a menial task that seems boring until you look at it from a broader perspective. Say, you realize that building a media list might seem menial but then you realize everyone is using it to pitch stories, and that evolves into the fruition of major stories for the client, which drives awareness for them with consumers and so on.

So you understand the process and path of what you’re doing and helping to build. It’s completely different when you’re involved in that nitty gritty – you pull yourself back and realize how big your contribution is to your team. It’s eye opening!

Any disappointments?

No disappointments. I didn’t go in with a ton of expectations. I was lucky that I fell into a position that showed me so many facets of the PR industry. From working events at fashion week to sending out beauty samples to editors, I saw many facets and got a glimpse of the glamorous and not so glamorous aspects. And all of those experiences were incredible.

What changes have you seen in those 8 years?

There were two big changes. The first one was that bloggers were just beginning to be bubble to the top of being a critical piece of PR strategy. When I started, no one understood what bloggers did or their significance, but now we’re in a position where they’ve become vital. You can’t just go to TV and print reporters; social media influencers and bloggers are such a key piece of the work we do. You can’t have a PR strategy without integrating social and digital into your strategy.

The other big change relates to how the economy has changed over the last 7 years. We see so many layoffs at papers, you can’t just go by the masthead or pulling a media list off Cision. You really have to spend time searching for contacts. I spend a significant portion of my time searching for contacts on Twitter and finding digital tools and new ways to tell our stories. That’s a major shift. You need to go above and beyond to find appropriate, relevant contacts.

 Where do you see the PR industry going?

I think that very soon social strategy and PR will merge to be one and the same. Teams won’t build separate PR and social strategies, they’ll be inextricably linked as one strategy.

What motivated you to go into the PR field?

I’m a very social person. It’s always been in my nature to create events, be the hostess and have people come over and tell friends about the latest things I found shopping – I’m just a natural word of mouth advocate. So based on my personality, going into PR was a natural transition. But PR also allows me to be very creative. For instance, I worked on lunch meat which is quite possibly the least sexy thing to promote there is. So I had to come up with a creative story that would makes consumers want to purchase and interact with that brand.

From a PR standpoint, it allows you to be flexible with your thought process and think from the consumer’s viewpoint. And that lets me flex some creative muscle. PR forces you to use brain power and come up with creative pitch angles and fresh ways to get the stories out there in a number of ways.

What advice would you give a college student?

I’ve had a few college interns and I believe in being hands on with them to make sure they’re integrated in the team and see the bigger picture. I’d say internships are key. You can’t get by without doing one. Even just shadowing a PR professional is key. The things you learn in classroom won’t always be what you’re doing in the office. Some things you’ll have to learn by example.

I’d also say networking is important. Do research. Look at brands to see what they’re doing and if you see something that interests you, work backwards to see who’s writing about them and where the story is originating, and then find the PR agency behind them. The biggest thing is to not be afraid to reach out and ask for help for networking. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to find people. Look into things that interest you. When you’ve done your research and show interest, that tenacity speaks volumes.

1:1 relationships are also important. Whether working with clients or working with media, the biggest thing is listening to clients, reporters, influencers. Especially clients, a lot of times they might say one thing and want another. As PR professionals, you have to understand what they’re really saying. You have to open that dialogue and build a real relationship and express that you have their best interest at heart and want to provide best counsel. Then when they come to you with a new project, you hear what the organizational goals are and work through the conversations to make sure they’re comfortable with what you come back with, whether it’s a recommendation or full PR strategy.

What about building relationships with influencers?

Same thing. Understand what interests influencers, then provide them with content and materials that you know peak their interests. The best pitches that resonate are when we understand the reporter’s key interest. That’s why I use Twitter a lot. For instance, there was a reporter whose Twitter bio said she was a big runner. We happened to be pitching a an event that was being held at a marathon, so I contacted her and it piqued her interest, resulting in a national story for our client.

Any final advice for someone who wants to break into PR?

The best advice I can offer for someone who wants to break in is don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions or ask someone to mentor you. Be confident in your skills and figure out ways to work those skills to your advantage. If you like to talk to people, you’re probably a good media relations person. And don’t be afraid to be rejected by reporters hundreds of times because eventually one will pick up your story. It’s about pushing past the fear and going after what you want.

Topics: PR Best Practices Interviews Young PR Pros