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Beyond the lecture theatre: 4 key lessons I've learnt (so far) from my first agency gig

This year, I began the final year of my communications degree with no agency experience. *cue ugly crying face with a side of a manic breakdown*

Overhearing my peers talk about their numerous internship experiences and compare who had been assigned the more mundane task, I started to fear my impending graduation. The reality of becoming a grad with no experience was slowly coming to fruition.

Seeking internships is not part of the comms curriculum; however, it is an unspoken necessity as an undergrad. But I never felt ready. Like many of us, I spent my entire schooling session of 2020 cooped up in my room, attending tutorial sessions online. It certainly was not an experience that motivated me to go out into the field.

Was it the year of remote learning that made me hesitant, or did my fear come from a place of under-preparation?

Had I spent the last two years studying to be a PR practitioner to now not know how to be a PR practitioner? The irony!

It was the great visual communicator, Mr Pablo Picasso, who said, “action is the foundational key to all success”. It was my actions, albeit after multiple breakdowns, that landed me a PR internship at Palin Communications - a dedicated health PR agency in Sydney.

Working in an agency is a thrilling and exciting experience. Each week feels like my first as there are new tasks for different projects each day.

Not to take away from the value of formal education, but the skills and knowledge I’ve gained in the last five weeks as a Palin Communications intern has made me feel more equipped to be a PR practitioner than 55 weeks of uni have.

I’ve listed some of the most useful advice I’ve received during my time as a practicing PR consultant:

  1. Know your client like your friend. This may be a bit of a “well, duh” statement, but things can quickly become formulae in your degree. Uni briefs are rigid and don’t necessarily consider external factors like the stream of people who must approve a single piece of content or last minute changes to a brief after already clocking 50 hours of dedicated work. Every client has specific processes with unique objectives, messaging, and branding, down to the size, colour and font. I reiterate, it is not just purple - it is the purple of a summer red plum, and it must be consistent across all platforms. I’ve learnt, by taking the time to know the expectations of your client, you are able to be more efficient, build stronger relationships and even predict and solve issues before they arise.

  2. The golden ticket is a media list. I don’t recall ever being taught how to create, organise or understand what a media list is used for. But come launch day when you need to pitch out to over 100 media contacts, this list streamlines your process better than a production line at McDonald’s. I’ve also learnt that creating media lists are exhaustingly time consuming and not necessarily fun, but an essential task nonetheless.

  3. Really REALLY know the media landscape. Know it so well that you could paint it like Bob Ross. To be fair, my lecturers and tutors did encourage us to explore different media channels and audiences, yet applying this to real clients has an impressionable effect on your brain. I listen in amazement to my colleagues who list the names of key journalists and news outlets like they’re listing their favourite band members. It is a fundamental skill that only comes from immersing yourself into as much news as you can - a skill I am still progressing myself.

  4. Have confidence. Confidence is not something that can be taught and it is normal to feel doubtful of your ability when starting off in the industry. Yet, working with a team in an agency setting has shown me that I do know a thing or two about how to be an effective communicator. It is far greater to take a shot and contribute to your team in a minor way than to miss out on an opportunity. Having confidence to engage with the team has allowed me to participate in interesting projects and work alongside great PR practitioners.

I do not intend to lessen the value of one stream of information over another - learning in any context is an enriching opportunity. But, applying theoretical teachings in a day to day environment challenges your ability and creativity beyond the comfort of the aisle seat of a lecture theatre.


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