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Can You Make a Career in Agency? Yes, at the Right One

Melody Gaukel

Full disclosure – I’ve worked in agencies my entire career. I never intended for that to happen; in fact, I even did a year working ‘in-house’ for a client to try it out.  It clearly didn’t take. And it didn’t take because I found a great one to build a pretty amazing career at. One that I trust, and it trusts me. It’s a rare blend, but it does exist.

I have been lucky to have worked with a number of communications professionals over my career and have seen the great number of doors that communications can open for people – some go on to change careers and become lawyers or teachers, others evolve into roles in government, CSR, marketing. But I think many people in our profession overlook the great opportunities that working in a communications agency can provide throughout a career, not just at the beginning. 

Being a leader in communications offers a rare look into a world that few get access to. We get to lead teams of smart people, work with brilliant clients and collaborate with partners in areas I rarely ever expect. At Proof Strategies, a leading Toronto PR agency, part of my role as a leader is to meet with people at all stages of their careers to ask questions that allow them to share what they want to accomplish and learn. And then we get to work with them to help them get there.

When I’m asked about what keeps my career focused in an agency world, I could talk for hours (and sometimes do!), but some that stick out for me:

Career Path’ing

At Proof Strategies, there is a progression of skills that can help guide your development, expose you to new areas of expertise and reward you for that growth.  I’ve had chances to work across sectors, learn skills in areas across our broad field. And get a chance to try out some things that just didn’t fit for me but were great learning opportunities.  And as I’ve become more senior, the work in areas like HR, finance and other operational skills have lent themselves well to help me in volunteer positions (something I enjoy and the company encourages!).

No Straight Line

As much as there is a progression in the agency world, there is also the ability to carve out a niche for yourself in progressive agencies, like Proof Strategies. I remember early in my career identifying the “internet” as something I should know about and would impact communications. Before long, I was part of a team that specialized in it (with some amazingly smart people I’m still in touch with today).  In recent years I’ve been able to dive into sustainability.  What often works against agencies is the idea that the only career path is vertical.  I think horizontal career paths are often the more interesting ones. They add depth to your progression, create connections and networks that come in handy for a lifetime. I’ve been lucky to help many colleagues here at Proof Strategies move to new sector areas or learn a new skill that leads them to become leaders in a new area. These colleagues are often the ones people look to for different thinking, challenging assignments and more. Most recently, I am also helping build our leading public affairs services – the change never stops!

Variety is the Spice of Life

I’ve covered everything from technology to tires, welding to hospitality and more. This diverse exposure has helped me to identify new areas to learn about, create new partnerships and ensure I never get bored. Not only will this make you a great dinner party guest, but it also allows you to learn about best practices in many industries and help clients achieve their objectives by better by exposing them to new ways of thinking. Some people love to dive into one sector or area. There is a place for that too, but there are always new skills to learn, trends to spot, and data to dive into.

Helping Other Professionals

By far, the thing I’m most proud of in my career is how I’ve helped other public relations professionals grow, learn and evolve.  I love hearing about former employees getting promoted or taking a great opportunity in a new role.  I thrive when I see clients getting recognized for their good work.  I love puzzling through how to have someone have a breakthrough in their career, identifying new areas of growth and helping someone dig in when they are ready. Proof Strategies often hires back colleagues who have gone off to learn new things, helping them apply that in new ways.  Being a leader in our agency isn’t about the individual; it’s about the profession; it’s about creating a thriving environment for PR professionals to be recognized for the value they add every day. As our CEO often says, “we like people who get more assists than goals.”

Learning a Business

As you progress in your career, you learn about what makes a business tick. You have direct exposure to the choices you make as a leader – from hiring, training, coaching, financial implications, partnerships. This is scary and fulfilling at the same time.  Being curious is how we succeed at Proof Strategies. We love to ask questions. Understanding clients and their business makes you a better communicator. If you understand better why decisions are being made with a client, you can help them anticipate, prepare and support communications recommendations. It makes you a trusted advisor.

Great Minds

I work with smart, results-oriented people who are good at what they do and force you to be a better professional. I am surrounded by colleagues who are smart and who ‘get’ what you do every day. As a potential profession, isn’t that what we all strive for? To be better at what we do every day? At Proof Strategies, that isn’t a goal; it is expected. It’s encouraged, and it’s recognized.

If you are just starting out or a seasoned pro, working in an agency environment has a lot of advantages. Ones that many of us never imagined when we started our careers. And as I said, I love to chat with others in the profession.