They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. What they don’t tell you is the journey to making it is a long road filled with more downs than ups, long nights and cramped, shoebox apartments you share with 2-3 roommates and a friendly mouse or two.
I moved to New York early-September 2014 with $2,000 in my pocket from working two full-time jobs after college. My first “apartment” was a room in an efficiency above a house in East Elmhurst, Queens, where I walked 20 minutes to the 7-train station for a 40 minute ride into the city. I was an unpaid intern for a boutique Fashion & Lifestyle PR firm trying to land a job in Public Relations. My first winter was harsh and after 4 months of unpaid work, a depleting bank account and a production internship for NYFW, I finally landed my first job in Fashion Public Relations. And boy did I hate it!
Not the answer you thought I’d give, right? I didn’t hate what I was doing; I was just very unhappy with my work situation. Horrible management, hours and pay, I would cry almost every night at the amount of stress it gave me. It’s hard when you’re in an environment where everything you do isn’t good enough and you’re getting humiliated in front of your peers on a daily basis just to “be made an example of”. After being fired in a Popeye’s (that happened), re-hired and ultimately quitting a year later, I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted from an employer. What’s more, I learned what not to do and be the effective leader my old employer never was. I moved on to another public relations company that I wholeheartedly enjoy and realize work culture and effective leadership is so important. You need a good environment to thrive, even in such a competitive market like public relations. I say this not to call anyone out, but to share my experiences because it’s not all sunshine, it’s not even all just hard work, it’s sheer luck, support from loved ones and your own grit. New York City is tough, has no formula and the only way to thrive is to adapt to your surroundings.
In light of that, I will say I’ve had many other challenges that I will share throughout the City Life section, but there’s a lot of blessings that have come from my move. One was being able to realize I want to be a full-time blogger and expanding my blog to an online publication. Although Sitting Pretty Style has a long way to go, I know I’m on the right track. Another great opportunity I’ve had is meeting other publicists and young professionals who have gone through some amazing and often frightening experiences but show resilience throughout. One such amazing individual is Sarah ElSayed
, a publicist in the Celebrity and Beauty realm of public relations. I spoke to Sarah to pick her brain and share her take on being a publicist and the best advice this native can give to transplant New Yorkers.
How to Break Into Public Relations with Sarah ElSayed.
Can you explain a little bit about what you do day-to-day?
When you work in media relations, each day is different than the last. A few things, though, stay constant; you can always count on high-stress situations, quick deadlines, and never being properly thanked for all of your effort!
So true! Media relations is a pretty thankless job. That’s why I congratulate myself all the time, mostly with chocolate. What keeps you doing it?
Oh, definitely thankless. My intern actually said something that resonated with me – “It seems that you get paid in unconventional ways.” She’s absolutely right. Some days you’ll get hung up on while spitting out a pitch over the phone, sometimes you spend days pitching what you think is a great idea, and nobody responds. But hey… At least I’m not afraid of rejection! (Can you tell how single I am?) Other days, though, I see my client on national television. I listen to podcasts in the car and hear my client ABSOLUTELY KILL IT. I open a glossy magazine and see my client’s smiling face spread across two pages, and it is all so worth it. I realize that I’m just as responsible for their reputation as they are – my God, it’s empowering.
100%! People never realize it’s girls like you and I behind the scenes, on the phones, in meetings negotiating, speaking with reporters, really doing the leg work to make sure a celebrity, brand or company thrives and is positively represented. Could you say who some of your celebrity clients are?
I’m currently representing Jenni Pulos of Bravo’s Flipping Out, McKenzie Westmore of Syfy’s Face Off – and her brand Westmore Beauty, Bobbie Thomas of The Today Show and her brand with Andrea DeVos Abraham – Woosh Beauty, and the LA celebrity hot-spot, Tatsu: Ramen With A Soul.
Being a celebrity publicist is often seen as glorified babysitting, but we know it’s so much more. Did you always want to work with celebrities? What industries did you work in prior to celebrity and beauty?
I worked in fashion, interior design, real estate, non-profit, and food. That’s the beauty of PR. Everyone could use some organic publicity! I love the challenge of taking on a client in a new sector – busting my booty to make new connections, researching new outlets, and really learning all about something I know nothing about.
When I first moved to NYC, I honestly had no idea how the industry worked, which didn’t really work in my favor. What advice would you give someone looking to break into the field?
Intern as much as possible. Put in more hours than you’re asked, and always go above and beyond the call of duty. I also cannot emphasize the importance of networking – don’t be shy; introduce yourself, explain what you do and what you’re interested in, and offer up opportunities for collaboration. Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I email them that very evening to open up the line of communication. You never know how you can help one another.
What experiences and/or challenges have you had trying to “break in” to the field?
Oh boy – I paid my dues, I think. It wasn’t always fun. There were days that I sat in a fashion closet with no windows or AC, just organizing shoes. FOR FREE! It’s tough, but the connections you make at literally every point of your career, will pay off; and one day, you’ll be teaching your intern the things you once resented, but realized you need to do to keep the ball rolling.
Yassssss kween! Love that because it’s a place where every single one of us in the industry can relate to! So, last question: as a native New Yorker, what would you say is the one thing transplants have to do when they arrive to thrive in the City?
Get out of the house! It can be tempting to only get to know your own neighborhood, but exploring is an absolute must. If you never take advantage of the pop-ups, museums, music venues and underground communities, you’ll never meet the creatives that will one day be, in some measure, your colleagues.
I have to say, moving to New York City is the best choice I’ve made for my life. People tell me I’ve changed, and in a lot of ways I’ve had. My skin has gotten a little thicker, my goals a little clearer and my attitude a little tougher, which is needed to survive here. If you have goals and dreams, go after them! Sarah and I did! It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
Have your own NYC experience? Share in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you. Until next time!