Writing tests and presentations – what and why?

You would be incredibly hard pressed to find a PR professional at any level who had not undergone some kind of test during the interview process for a role in the PR industry. Skills such as writing, presenting, research and creativity are put to the test at various stages of the process and help agencies (and brands) decide if the person in front of them is the right one.

We have seen a LOT of them, so here’s a little guide of what to expect at each level and a few tips to boot.

Intern to Account Executive level

Writing is an integral skill for anyone in the PR industry, so this is what you’ll be tested on for an interview at these levels.

It usually comes in the form of a press release, blog or social content – sometimes all three! You’ll be provided with a laptop (though we have heard of people having to do it by hand), some information on a client (either real or made up) a task and a time limit. Some agencies will ask you to complete the task remotely, but more often than not you’ll be asked to do it at interview.

Spellcheck is your friend. Make sure your spelling and grammar is impeccable – especially if it’s an interview for your first ever role (it’s your writing and attitude that’ll clinch it).

Timing. Don’t forget that you’re on a time limit. Some agencies will deliberately set you a short amount of time to see how you work under pressure. Don’t worry if you don’t finish, just make sure you jot down a few ideas that showcase what you would have done had you had time to complete the task. Half a task well done, is infinitely better than a completed task badly written.

Don’t Panic. There is no wrong or right answer. Any writing task is to give your prospective employer an insight into how you think, how you approach the challenge, and to get a sense of your writing style.

Senior Account Executive to Senior Account Director

It hugely depends on who you’re interviewing with, as to at what level you would be asked to do a presentation rather than a writing test. Some of our clients only ever ask candidates to do a writing test regardless of level. Some never ask for anything (but that’s rare) and others will ask for a presentation from as junior as SAE level. It all depends on the priority skills for each agency, but in general being a confident presenter with creative ideas, tactics and gravitas is important in any agency role. You’ll have to present at some point in your career – to existing and potential new clients and even client-side to your senior stakeholders.

You will usually be given some information on a client (again existing or made up – sometimes you will have to sign an NDA, but I think that can be a bit cheeky as they’re getting ideas for free!) and asked to put together a campaign plan or proposal based on the information provided. More often than not it’s for some kind of launch – whether it be of a new driverless car or the latest kombucha drink. The amount of information you will be given will vary, so it’s usually best to make some presumptions.

Ask Questions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions about the brief. It’s most likely that they’ll ask you to just make some assumptions rather than giving you specifics, but it can’t hurt to ask about anything you’re not sure about.

Make it look good. This might seem very obvious, but putting some time and effort into the visuals is super important. It shows you care and it’s always obvious when somebody has put more time into the presentation when it looks great. This is your chance to show off your creativity! Essentially, always work on the basis that your presentation should be ‘client ready’.

Add a budget & timeline. You won’t necessarily be required to include this, but we always recommend adding it in. It shows that you’re thinking about the practicality of what you’re proposing and how it would work in the real world.

Don’t be scared to be a bit wild. This is an opportunity to showcase ideas as well as your skills at presenting, so if you’ve got something that’s a bit mad but shows your creativity it’s worth including! Perhaps not as your central idea, but as an additional one.

Practice. Make sure you take some time to remember what you’re going to say and also get somebody else to look over the slides. When you’ve been staring at the same thing for 4 hours it can be quite difficult to spot even the most glaring of errors.

Associate Director +

The skills required for an Associate Director and those more senior tend to move more towards business concerns, resourcing, commercials & team management rather than the general day to day. It’s expected that if you’ve reached this level in your career that you’ve (hopefully) got the PR job down and are starting to take on a more business focused role.

As such, the briefs you are asked to present tend to be slightly different and are often geared towards your way of working and managing, or asking you to solve a specific business problem.

All the tips from before apply, but a couple more for this level of interview task might be useful.

Engage. You will likely be presenting to a small group of people who you will be working closely with, so try to engage them in the presentation. Ask them questions, eek out their opinions and make sure they stay interested.

Gravitas. Anyone at this level must have a sense of gravitas that gives confidence to your potential employer. They need to feel reassured at the prospect of you representing them in the industry and in front of current or prospective clients. This isn’t about being the loudest person in the room, but making sure you’re well researched, quietly confident and not too nervous.

Commercials. Always make sure that you’re showcasing your commercial awareness and thinking of both the bottom line and the bigger picture.