“Tips from the Intern Desk” is a series offering firsthand insights and advice from WSW Seattle interns.
I’ve been what my friends describe as a “hardcore perfectionist” my entire life. Maybe it’s the 15 years of pre-professional ballet training. Or maybe it’s just a hardwired fear of red ink. Nonetheless, that little nagging monster is here to stay.
In college, feeding this monster was celebrated, if not expected: spending entire weekends in the library poring through peer-reviewed journals, proofing papers until my professors had to snatch the final copies from my hands.
But there isn’t always room for that in agency life, when projects and requests are coming from all directions and your team is relying on you to hold up your end of the work and stay within budget.
So to all of you young perfectionists like me, here are a few strategies that can help you keep high standards but still get your work out the door!
Prioritize like a pro
You’ll decide with your team what the hot items are each day. But when it comes to budgeting time for your to-do list, keep the following in mind:
- Reserve the most time for written pieces that will be released externally, like press releases and advertorials. If it’s representing you or your clients in public, it’s worth being extra careful.
- With research, focus more on the reading and less on the writing. Your output doesn’t have to be the most eloquent prose. It may go to the clients, but it will never be seen by the public. The important thing is to make sure you’re finding all of the relevant info.
- Don’t sweat your emails too much. A quick onceover is all you need. Write, review, send.
Remember the review cycle
This was a tough concept to grasp when I first started. What you write initially is going to change a lot on its way to being final, as your team and clients add their revisions. So don’t spin your wheels over one sentence or quadruple-check your word choice. You have so many amazingly talented people that will help you get the document where it needs to be.
Become one with the comment box
As you’re writing, add comments to call out places where you’re missing information or have questions. Sometimes you won’t have everything at your fingertips, and it’s ok to flag those gaps for someone else to help with. Figuring it out together will allow you to be as efficient as possible.
Stick to the clock
If a manager or colleague asks you to spend a certain amount of hours doing a task, such as a one-hour media audit for new business, only spend that many hours on it. They said it for a reason! Sometimes all they need is a high-level analysis to inform a strategy or recommendation.
Test your timing
As you get further into your internship, choose a task you do often, such as pitch writing, and ask a manager or colleague how long it typically takes them. Write one pitch taking as long as you usually do, and write another taking as long as they usually do.
Compare the feedback and revisions. Maybe the extra hour and a half isn’t necessary!
As you begin your journey into the working world, keep in mind that that the opposite of perfectionism isn’t mediocrity – it’s reality. Reality can be messy, but mistakes and hiccups are valuable learning lessons. How can we grow into successful PR professionals if we’re afraid of making them?
Emma McAdams is a junior associate (previously an intern) with Weber Shandwick’s corporate practice supporting various clients in technology and financial services. She studied communications and business administration at Boston University.
Photo Credit: Sarah Pflug