This past week I kicked off the holiday season with three separate events: the PRSA Holiday Mixer, my agency holiday party, and our friends’ ugly Christmas Sweater Party. I love all of the festive outfits, sugar cookies, and of course, champagne! But each year as those bottles are popped and bubbles fill my glass, it reminds me of my very first experience in agency life nearly five years ago.
My first job post-grad school was as an Account Coordinator at a small agency. Because I was the most junior person there, I sat at the front desk and was tasked with many administrative duties, including emptying the dishwasher, ordering office supplies, and trudging through the snow to mail packages at the local post office.
During my first week there, the agency landed a new client, and we decided to throw a little party to celebrate. My supervisor instructed me to take some petty cash, go purchase a nice bottle of champagne – but not too expensive, and cheese, fruit, and crackers. As I was on my way out the door, she added, “And don’t just get Ritz crackers. Get the good ones.”
Now, maybe I just didn’t grow up in a fancy household, but as I walked out the door I began to sweat. What were fancy crackers? And how much does a “nice but not too expensive” bottle of champagne cost? I’m pretty sure my only experience with champagne in college was André.
I vividly remember standing over the artisan cheese case in Price Chopper, agonizing over which kind to buy, and flagging down a store employee to ask if they had crackers appropriate for dinner parties. (In case you were wondering, the appropriate crackers were Carr’s, and I went with a sharp cheddar, a smoked gouda, and either a jalapeño or a fruit block of cheese.) I couldn’t tell you what type of champagne I picked up at the liquor store, but I went straight to the the front desk and told the owner exactly what my supervisor told me – nice, but not too fancy.
It was my “The Devil Wears Prada moment,” although on a much smaller scale.
Over the years I picked up a lot of random knowledge, including the best ways to pack and ship items, how find the jam in a printer, and the best ribbon curling technique. I scheduled meetings with potential clients when they told my boss to “have your girl call my girl,” brought National Grid employees down into our cave-like basement to check our meters, and hand-delivered our client holiday gifts the week of Christmas. But it got me to where I am today.
I’m incredibly grateful for the agency experience I racked up right out of school, even though it was filled with a lot of grunt work. Did it suck? Yes, but I consider it a rite of passage. And to be honest, in a career like PR, the grunt work is never truly over. On event days we all roll up our sleeves, haul heavy boxes, and run check-in tables. We all work together to produce great outcomes for our clients, and if that means making cold calls or setting up chairs, we do it.
If you’re a PR student or new graduate, be prepared to put in your fair share grunt work, and try your best to do it with a smile. You never know where it could take you. And to my fellow PR pros, take a moment this holiday season to look back on how far you’ve come. I know I will. Cheers! 🍾