My first year as a Digital PR Executive

By James Heaton
16th November 2022

Next up in our series for National Career Development Month, we’re speaking to James Heaton, our Digital PR Executive, on his first year in the role and in the agency world.

James joined the team following completing his degree in business marketing, keen to flex his creative muscles in the agency world. We find out what his biggest learnings so far have been, and what advice he’d give to those looking to get into digital PR and the wider industry:

What 3 words would you use to describe your first year as a Digital PR Executive?

Creative, challenging, rewarding.

What has surprised you the most about working in this industry?

I’m most surprised by how competitive the industry is. In PR especially, I didn’t realise how much competition your work is up against to get featured! It just goes to show why there is such an art to what we do, for every client and every publication we need to be acutely mindful of what the audience, and therefore journalist, is looking for in order to break through the noise.

The amount of background work that goes into a campaign surprised me too. There is so much work around understanding the right topics and angles to resonate with particular audiences, understanding what kind of coverage would work for the brand and their online performance, as well as finding unique angles that are timely and relevant. When you see a published article online, you don’t realise just how much work goes into it behind the scenes.

What have you enjoyed most about being a Digital PR Executive?

The fact that every day is different – we can plan campaigns for weeks, even months on end, but a core element of the role is to be really reactive to changing news and trends, and staying on top of this is quite demanding but also really rewarding. When you’re prepared enough to react really timely with something relevant from your client and secure coverage, it’s such a buzz, and it makes every day so varied.

I also really enjoy the autonomy that comes with the role – I have such incredible support and training from the whole team, but I’m given the room to apply my knowledge with my own ideas and creative thought. This really makes me feel I have genuine influence on the direction of a client’s strategy and overall results.

What have you found the most challenging?

Probably how fast the weeks move in a job where time is of the essence! People aren’t kidding when they say it’s a fast-paced industry. This is brilliant in giving you a varied role and learning a lot in a short amount of time, but it can take some getting used to. We have lots of different tools and approaches that can help with time management, organisation and prioritisation – I’m definitely getting better at it!

What would be your top tips for succeeding as a Digital PR Executive – and in the agency world in general?

1. Persevere with your work: PR is a tricky job in the sense that you can put a lot of hard work into a campaign and seed it out to journalists but receive little in the way of coverage or feedback. This doesn’t mean that your work is wrong, it could be as simple as a timing or approach issue, and most campaigns can be reworked which often results in landing coverage in the end, but you have to keep going. Also, whilst this can sometimes be tricky, the feeling of finally landing that all-important coverage makes it all worth it!

2. You will get better with time: After a year, I can see a huge difference in how far I’ve come, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and each campaign and approach has improved and been that little bit more successful than the previous.

3. Plan your time: Time management is seriously so important in this industry. The fast-paced agency culture means you need a good approach to prioritising work and being realistic about what you can achieve in any given timeframe. I’m so much better at this now and it helps me really get the best out of the week.

4. Enjoy it: Agency work will bring you a huge variety of different clients in various industries which you would never get the chance to work on in an in-house role. You get to learn so much about how different businesses work. Utilise the creative potential in your job and the people around you, use the flexibility to your advantage to progress faster.

What are the best things you’ve learnt whilst in the role?

Effective time management, definitely. I’ve also become comfortable with a lot of common marketing tools and software such as Ahrefs, which were quite daunting when I first started. Knowing how to write press releases and adapt for different clients messaging, tone of voice and various industries is now a key skill. Also learning that the hard work really does pay off when you land a good feature!

What have you learnt about yourself?

That I have to be patient and resilient to generate good results. Also, that if I don’t see positive results all of the time, it doesn’t mean I’m not learning from each day.

I’ve learnt to listen to and action constructive criticism, seeing a strategy from the client’s perspective and learning that even if I think I have a really strong campaign idea – if it doesn’t align with what the client’s expectations, it may not be success we expected it to be.

What advice would you give to someone preparing to enter the digital marketing world?

Ask loads of questions! Anything you don’t understand or you’re unsure of, just ask. I have learnt so much from asking what I thought were silly questions, there’s no judgement and people are happy to help you develop. It also shows your managers how passionate you are about developing your skillset.

What’s one of your goals for the year ahead?

I have a few – I will look to develop my ecommerce knowledge further, aim to use my Digital PR skills to hit my personal KPIs every month and hopefully work towards earning a promotion.

If you’re interested in exploring a Digital PR career, we might have a role for you – check out our careers page.

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