This summer I have had the pleasure of spending my few months off from the University of Pennsylvania interning here at Prosek Partners, which has proven to be a very different experience from my past 10 summers of muddied sneakers and rolling hills at sleep-away camp. The one thing that offered me a bit of familiarity when I started at Prosek was working alongside fellow New York City intern, Courtney Bowers, who I actually met three years ago working as counselors at Trail's End Camp.
As summer rapidly approaches its end, I can't help but reflect and compare the two different experiences Courtney and I have had as co-workers at camp and at Prosek and have realized that summer camp and life at a public relations agency actually have more in common than meets the eye.
When you're a camp counselor, you're 'on duty' all the time. For example, when a camper wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever or stomach ache, you're automatically launched into "go" mode, taking care of her until she feels better. Similarly, in today's 24/7 news cycle, committed public relations employees must constantly be cognizant of relevant breaking news and how it might affect their clients, regardless if it breaks outside the hours of 9-5, Monday-Friday. This similarity specifically struck me after logging onto my email one Monday morning only to discover that the leads on one of my accounts had been working with our client on a potential crisis management plan all weekend after a relevant story broke on a Saturday.
Furthermore, living in a bunk with a group of 13-year-olds has its fair share of challenges, such as some giving you a hard time about wearing a hat on sunny days or turning the lights out at bed time. This makes it almost impossible to avoid the temptation of playing favorites to more easy-going campers. However, just like working in an agency on multiple accounts, although some clients are inevitably more agreeable than others, each deserves our hardest and most diligent work. Favoritism has no place in camp or PR.
Separately, as important as client-agency and camper-counselor relationships are, in both professions it's nearly impossible to succeed without cohesive internal relationships. Co-counselors who have not mastered the art of 'being on the same page' too often fall prey to the clever, but devious camper scheme: "But Courtney said we could stay up late/get a second dessert/ raid the boy's bunk/ wreak general havoc". Similarly, in the fast paced world of public relations, with constant incoming client requests or outgoing pitches, the successful account team has mastered the efficiency that comes with frequent internal communication and a level of consistency which the client has come to expect from every member of the team.
Lastly and probably most importantly, the greatest similarity I've noticed between summer camp and public relations is that they are both in the business of building relationships. As an example, a strong relationship built on trust is a key element to helping an initially timid camper take the plunge into the lake with you for her first time. Comparably, it's important to build strong connections with clients, as you don't know what the future holds for them. Will they switch to another company, or get promoted? Change is always afoot in the corporate communications landscape, and you want to be memorable. Within the public relations industry, the relationship built on mutual respect is the strongest asset and is the key long-term investment between the agency and its client, because like me and Courtney, you never know in what way you might meet again.