The rules of big-game hunting

To recruit talent with 10-plus years' experience, you need a creative and delicate approach.

To recruit talent with 10-plus years' experience, you need a creative and delicate approach.

Following years of acquisitions, Ohio-based Cardinal Health is the second-largest US pharmaceuticals distributor. No. 19 on the 2006 Fortune 500, Cardinal needed an architect for a global communications infrastructure for its vast corporate umbrella, which spans six continents and includes 55,000 employees.

Retained by Cardinal, Smooch Reynolds, CEO of The Repovich-Reynolds Group, eyed Shelley Bird, chief communications officer at NCR Corp. Bird's resume boasted a VP posting at Philips Consumer Communications, as well as a decade in Asia, including stops at Hill & Knowlton and Motorola.

Reynolds approached the unsuspecting Bird, who was not actively seeking a change.

"On the corporate side, practitioners such as [Bird] arrive at a point in their careers when they evaluate opportunities as to how they can advance their career to the next level," Reynolds says. "'Is the prospective employee environment one I can excel in? Does the leadership team have the right set of professional values? Will I influence decision-making?' This is what they're thinking."

On the agency side, Reynolds says senior talent exhibit similar aspirations, "but the question more likely asked is: Is the devil you know better than the devil you don't?"

Compensation plans are shifting across the board, as seen in the rising use of Restricted Stock Units. These tend to "throw off money" when vestment requirements are met (such as performance or time passing), says Reynolds, making them more attractive than stock options to potential hires.

But at this level of the PR food chain, decisions are driven by more than money.

Before Porter Novelli recently hired two senior executives for its New York headquarters, "each said in initial interviews that at this point in their career, the people they would work with at Porter Novelli on a daily basis are of utmost importance," says PN's chief talent officer Greg Waldron. Therefore, being able to pull in key staffers during the recruitment process is vital.

Waldron initiates searches for senior staffers using three primary tactics: researching, cold calling, and networking, including tapping the agency's alumni.

"Many of our new hires are what we call boomerangers, folks who left for an opportunity they thought was greater, but then returned," Waldron says.

PN is not the only agency keeping tabs on exiting employees.

Several years ago, Kerry McClenahan, principal, McClenahan Bruer Communications, recruited Jennifer Bader, who had vaulted through several management posts for Tektronix (subsequently bought by Xerox).

"She had previously been on the agency side, and had an affinity for agency work," McClenahan says.

Bader's first stint at "McBru" lasted six and a half years before she leapt back over the fence to join Clarity Visual Systems.

"But after nearly a year, I was able to win her back to McBru with the invitation to play a senior role in helping the agency evolve to our next phase, including a seat at the management team table," McClenahan says.

Currently recruiting senior and mid-level PR talent, Jennifer Abelson, CEO of Abelson Group, modifies her recruitment pitch to appeal to the slightly older age group relevant to these positions. "Soft skills are so [vital] in this business, to keep clients and staff motivated," Abelson says, and she highlights such perquisites as the flexibility of occasionally telecommuting, attending doctor appointments during business hours, and vacations without interruptions.

Lastly, even those not hiring should consider tackling candidates when they appear.

In April, Jackson Spalding, Atlanta, scored a coup by recruiting Mart Martin away from Coca-Cola after 20 years. More recently, the agency brought on Bari Love, a former managing director for the Atlanta office of Ogilvy Worldwide and former president of Atlanta's PRSA chapter.

"These are two PR veterans who are well-known and well-regarded in the Southeast," says Caroline Duffy, marketing director, Jackson Spalding. "Their interest in making a career change dovetailed well with our growth strategy, and we actually created positions for both of them."

Technique tips

DO
Personalize your strategy to best match the candidates' skills and demands

Ask the right questions to learn what the candidate is looking for

Keep tabs on former employees for future recruitment


DON'T
Just show them the money. Dangle creative incentives

Leave a candidate in suspense. Senior-level pros have less patience than junior-level ones

Bypass hiring a talented veteran, even if a post must be created

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