By Mijal Tenenbaum
It all started in April 2016. Winter was starting to slowly turn into spring and, as the temperature went up, so did my stress levels. My graduation from Brandeis University was a little over a month away and I still had no idea what I’d be doing after. I was visiting my friend at Fordham, and was enjoying it so much that a very big part of me was dying to make the move to New York, but something was holding me back. Would it be too much? Would the city be too lonely? Would the media world be too cut-throat? The night before jumping on my bus back to Brandeis, my fear wouldn’t let me sleep. I stayed up all night looking up PR and communications openings, but they all felt too distant, too foreign.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted my first employer after college to be, but I knew that I needed it to feel like me.
I went on my millionth Google search to find the ~perfect~ spot that I was starting to think didn’t exist, but this time I got specific. I researched the city, the different neighborhoods and their different vibes. I learned more about the differences between bigger and smaller agencies. I looked up the difference between marketing, PR, and advertising.
When it came to New York, Midtown seemed like a blur, and I had never been a fan of big crowds or extremely loud noises. The Financial District seemed too corporate, too suit-and-tie. The Lower East Side area felt fun, but almost too college-y, being NYU’s backyard, and I wanted to separate myself from my college years. I learned that Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, was not only trendy and young, but also only one subway stop away from Manhattan. I’d seen it on shows like Younger and Girls, and while I knew TV is never accurate, I just had a feeling it would be a good fit. And so I refined my search:
“Small PR Agency in Brooklyn”
Small Girls PR’s website immediately drew me in. I have always been very into technology, computers and innovation, but also captivated by the worlds of beauty and entertainment. This agency was offering me the possibility of bringing all of these interests together, and for a range of household name brands as well as the startups I already used and loved. I looked at their careers section and saw that they were hiring “Summer Fellows”—college grads who were looking to spend their first summer as ~real adults~ in New York City for a hybrid professional and educational experience. It was such a great fit it hurt to look at. I immediately submitted an application and was able to fall back asleep.
After a round of interviews and sending writing samples, I got my offer letter the morning of my last day of classes. The first thing I did was freak out and text my mom—the second was freak out because I realized I had three weeks to find a new home in the most hectic city in the world.
I ended up moving into an apartment near Harlem with a Brandeis classmate’s friend from high school. It was about an hour away from the Small Girls HQ, but I was honestly terrified of finding a random roommate online so this was my way of feeling safe in the city.
The commute was really not that bad once I learned how to navigate the subway system. Granted, there were multiple occasions in which I got onto the wrong train, went in the wrong direction, accidentally exited the subway and had to pay again to get back on my connecting train, or simply couldn’t find my subway entrance and ended up on a too expensive Uber. It took practice, but after a few weeks I found my rhythm and was able to relax on the train and make that time feel fun. I ended up reading eight books within those two and a half months.
I worked at Small Girls until 5 p.m. every day. Since it was during the summer, I still had three hours of daylight after work, and I made sure to use them to get to know the city and make it my own. I’d walk around, go to book signings, shop. It felt like a perfect balance between work and play.
While the fellows weren’t technically full-time team members, the teams were instructed to treat us as “junior account coordinators.” This meant we were getting to do actual PR work, participating in client calls, working on media outreach, and participating in the brainstorms and outlines for different campaigns and proposals. We also got to bond with each other and the rest of the employees through happy hours, events, karaoke nights, baseball games, and more.
I was so scared New York would be too lonely and isolating, but finding such a good fit of a company also brought me to the people that would make it feel like home. I had a couple friends in the city before I made the move, but being surrounded by friendly, supportive, like-minded people at work was crucial to my experience.
I was lucky enough to be offered a spot as a full time Small Girls employee by the end of the fellowship, and I didn’t hesitate to take it for a second. I have now been ~a real Small~ for six months. The fellowship allowed me to try on my life as a New York publicist before committing to it. I knew New York wasn’t for everyone, and through the fellowship I realized it definitely was for me.
While that long commute was wonderful, once I started working full-time I finally moved to closer to the office, and now I share an apartment—or rather a glorified shoebox—with Amy, who was also a Small Girls fellow that summer!
I learned through my experience that in order to make it work in a big, scary city like New York, it’s important to figure out exactly what you want and how to let the city help you get it. Educating myself about my options was what led me to my perfect fit, and had I sat back and waited for the perfect opportunity to fall on my lap, I probably wouldn’t be in New York right now.