“PR is like planning for the unexpected, which you really can’t do; it’s knowing that you’re going to come in one morning having no idea how your day is going to turn out because something will pop up, and suddenly all of your plans for the day go out the window.”
Erika Tower is the public relations director for Constant Contact, one of the largest online marketing companies for small businesses and nonprofits. Erika didn’t quite take the traditional path into the PR world – this is her story on taking “the road less traveled.”
The Journey Begins
When Erika started school at Dartmouth College, she was pursuing a major in bio genetics. It didn’t take long before she realized she wanted to be a journalist. Dartmouth doesn’t have journalism programs or majors that a lot of other colleges offer, so Erika decided that English would be the best route to take. Still unsatisfied with her classes, Erika switched one last time to a psychology major. The writing style in her psychology classes was similar to the world of journalism. Erika was the editor of The Dartmouth, the student paper, which served as most of her training for her life after college. After graduation, however, Erika never spent a day as a journalist.
“The hardest thing for me was coming out of a program where not a lot of people went into journalism – it wasn’t a clear path as how to get a job, and I kind of panicked.”
By February of her graduating year, Erika was still job-less while many of her friends were going into corporate recruiting. She decided to apply to a few jobs at corporations, which is how she landed her first job as a communications consultant at Mercer. After a year and a half, Erika jumped straight into her first PR agency, Porter Novelli. Another year later, she switched back to the corporate side, where she worked six years for Outside the Classroom as a PR specialist, doing PR and marketing. Still trying to figure out her path, Erika went back to the straight PR side as an account manager at Emerge PR. Shortly after that, she went to one last agency, Racepoint Group, where she met Melissa, her manager. Melissa left Racepoint Group for Constant Contact; after the two reconnected a year later, Erika went to Constant Contact as well.
Constant Contact was using an outside PR agency, but that quickly changed when Erika arrived in 2010. Erika was responsible for creating an in-house PR department and building a team, which she now manages. Since she is running a team, she doesn’t do the day-to-day pitching tasks she used to do, but her days still truly vary. Her main focus is on the strategy setting, reporting, and managing of the team, which Erika says can be “an adrenaline rush.” Last spring, in the first half of 2012, Constant Contact launched two new products, acquired three new companies, launched in a new country, and launched the CEO’s book – all in six months. “It was a whirlwind, but we got through it all and we had great results on all the different pieces, which is something I am really proud of,” Erika reflects.
“My favorite thing about PR is getting the reporter to say ‘Yes, I am going to write this story.’ There is no better feeling than hearing that from a reporter.”
After a long journey, Erika is grateful to have ended up with such a successful team at Constant Contact. Erika also let me in on a little secret – her career isn’t the only part of her life that has been a little “unpredictable.” A couple weeks ago, Erika started a new hobby: salsa dance lessons. “This is my year of trying new things,” she explains. Last year, Erika learned how to stand on a paddleboard, and this summer, she’s hoping to learn how to surf.
Tips for Travelers
1. Patient, yet persistent
Erika says that when students are in college, they are so anxious to jump in, get going and succeed quickly. It’s a long road, and it’s okay to take the time to figure it out and really learn as much as you can. She also says to understand that things aren’t always going to be given to you at the beginning. Once you have that first job, observe everything and make yourself available to put in the extra effort to be able to get to do things outside of your role. “You have to get your feet wet and learn from those around you, but if you’re patient and persistent, you’ll definitely succeed.”
2. Network, network, network
Erika admits that networking is something a lot of us don’t like to do, but it is so important in finding a job – not to mention, the right type of job. She says informational interviews are a great way to learn first-hand about specific jobs. “Get out there and connect with people; it’s all about who you know.”
3. Don’t rule out agency
For people with similar interests to Erika, agency PR may not be the right fit. “It can be frustrating,” Erika admits, “But I’m really glad that I started my PR career in an agency.” She says it was a great experience and a fantastic place to learn before working on the in-house side of PR.
4. Walk before you run
Erika’s first year at a PR firm consisted of doing a lot of database management, and she complained to her boss that she wasn’t doing PR. “I’ve talked to many co-workers who said the same thing when they were first starting out – it’s not until much later that you realize how critically important all those baseline programs are.” She says data entry skills may not have made her capable of writing a news release, but understanding that level of detail and having people who do that work is crucial to the operations of the team. “That type of work tends to go overlooked, and you don’t feel like you’re making any progress.”