Career Profile: Erika Lam, Public Relations

For Erika, it was a fateful summer internship experience that jumpstarted her career and passion for PR. During the summer of her junior year at Boston University, where she ultimately graduated with a degree in public relations, she applied and was accepted into Ketchum’s summer fellowship program. After spending a rigorous and amazingly educational 10 weeks with the company, she knew this was where she wanted to be long term. Now an Account Executive in the Consumer Technology and Brand Marketing practices, Erika supports  brands such as Best Buy, Sharp, and Kodak.

Did you know you wanted to pursue a career in PR/communications when you were younger?

Throughout high school, my strengths were in writing and public speaking. I was an active member of student government and took as many advanced writing courses as possible. So, in a way, I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved writing, speaking, and creativity. When we had the opportunity in high school to hold an internship during the school year, I jumped at the chance to try out PR, and my very first internship ever was at a small, mom-and-pop PR boutique. This was the best decision of my career because it really is what inspired me to ultimately pursue PR.

How did you prepare yourself for a career in PR? What steps did you take in high school and college?

As I mentioned before, I knew I wanted to do something that would utilize my writing and public speaking skills–so as soon as I got the opportunity to take on an internship in high school, I jumped, and requested to be in a PR or marketing company. The best advice I have for people who are looking to get into PR is to get your feet wet as early as possible–whether it’s a summer internship or just a part-time volunteer gig, do it! Get the nuts and bolts of PR down–how to write a press release, how to talk to journalists, etc.–so that you can get acquainted with the fundamentals.

Another amazing tip that someone gave me during my summer at Ketchum was to find a mentor and use him or her! Find someone who has your dream job and see if they would be willing to mentor you and sit down every so often to give you career advice.

Describe what you do on an everyday basis.

A lot of my job is media relations—working with journalists on a daily basis to see what stories they have in the pipeline and where, if possible, my clients can fit in. This requires truly knowing the editors and the publications thoroughly—reading recent issues, following their social media feeds—so that you know how to organically pitch a product or service. Ever since taking on spirits accounts, I’ve also spent a good chunk of my day planning events. Here, I can touch anything from celeb wrangling and VIP lists to contract negotiations and event logistics. That’s just it though—every day is different, and every day I’m met with a new challenge. It’s exciting and it always keeps me on my toes.

What do you love or hate most about the PR field?

I love so many things about my job, but I think the most rewarding part about PR is just straight media relations, and the fact that I get to tell stories. Whether it’s a new piece of technology or a new cocktail, I want to tell journalists and consumers, a story of how and why it should fit into their lives. The best part of my week is when I am working to pitch a client’s product and suddenly see all of my media relations (email pitching journalists, following up on the phone, scheduling interviews, fact checking, etc.) come to fruition in the form of a printed story.

My least favorite part about PR is that it is not a 9-5 job in any way. Especially if it’s launch week, or event day, I can be in the office as early as 7 A.M. and as late as 3 A.M.. My job calls for me to be on-point, and I’m happy to do it because it is what I love. However, Ketchum has been good about striving to keep a solid work/life balance—so I do try to “escape” whenever I can to catch dinner with friends or a class at the gym.

What surprised you most about working in PR?

What has surprised me most about the PR industry as a whole is that there is a lot more cross-practice work nowadays. No longer am I just working with my colleagues at Ketchum but, more and more, I find myself working closely and completely synergistically with advertising agencies, media buying agencies, talent procurement agencies, and events and production agencies. Brands are now looking to build 360-degree campaigns and no longer rely on one communications function to get the job done. It’s been great to have the opportunity to work with experts in different fields to cohesively build a campaign that lives and breathes everywhere you look.

What three qualities allow someone to be most successful as an account executive, and why?

1. Be flexible: Be able to work above and below your level, that’s the only way to truly be a team player in a large PR agency. You have to understand that there are days you’ll be sitting at a desk building media lists, and nights you’ll be working a red carpet full of celebs—if you raise your hand to be a part of as much as possible, you’ll have the most valuable learning experience and go farther, faster.

2. Read the news and stay informed: Whenever I have down time at work, I read the news—and I mean all kinds of news: industry news, trend stories, competitor announcements, gossip columns, blogs, everything! PR is about the here and now, so stay well informed about your clients’ business. Find stories that are relevant and share them with your internal team—and clients if appropriate—to show that you are keeping the client, and the client’s industry, top of mind at all times.

3. Find a way to make yourself indispensible: Starting a new job and/or joining a large agency can be daunting, but the best way to assert yourself and stake claim in a new environment is to find a task or assignment where you become an integral part of the process. Show your team, and your company, how much of an asset you are to the client’s successes.

What kinds of career growth opportunities are available in this field?

Working at a large agency like Ketchum has given me ample opportunities to grow and diversify my career. Ketchum embraces ambitious PR professionals who want to do more, ask to do more, and prove that they can do more. Ketchum has a fantastic culture that allows their account team members to always take on “higher level” work, if they ask for those opportunities. Ketchum also welcomes its employees to move within the organization—whether to a different practice area (Healthcare, Technology, Food, Corporate) or to a different office (47 offices around the world)! Since joining the company, I have had the opportunity to take on new account work, work on new business, mentor new Summer Fellows, and work out of different offices.