Digital remains in demand despite economic ills

Despite global economic concerns, digital talent is still highly sought at PR firms. Because it's rare to find candidates with a perfect balance of communications and digital expertise, agencies have invested in training new and current staffers.

Despite global economic concerns, digital talent is still highly sought at PR firms. Because it's rare to find candidates with a perfect balance of communications and digital expertise, agencies have invested in training new and current staffers.

“We never turn off the digital recruiting engine because we never have enough,” says Paul Walker, global practice leader, Cohn & Wolfe Digital.

In the last quarter, C&W hired “a few people” in New York, San Francisco, and Europe. Walker says candidates must have vertical industry experience, such as healthcare, tech, or consumer, because clients want that level of expertise. But the firm also seeks other skills, such as experience implementing social media programs for large brands, a grasp of monitoring challenges and search strategy, digital influencer relations experience, and Web site or software development know-how.

“I think it's easier to train a really good PR person on the technology rather than vice versa,” says Walker, adding that pairing people with complementary strengths and simulating projects are key learning tools.

“[Many who] come out of pure tech may never get the communications side,” he adds. “We want 100% of employees across the agency to have a good foundation to sell, manage projects, and advise clients on digital media and social media.”

Ogilvy's 360 Digital Influence team is also growing, and MD John Bell says he wants people with experience writing and executing strategy, social media, and digital marketing.

“The number of people from a PR background is growing, but I'd be surprised if more than 15% to 20% of our core team came from a PR background,” Bell says. “The last guy I hired was previously entrepreneur-in-residence for Jeff Bezos [at] Amazon.”

Bell favors people with “deep tech, social media, and marketing expertise” who can be trained in PR. Like Walker, Bell feels that pairing these staffers with PR experts works well, and he notes that the agency's “huge training program” helps.

“There are social media pundits who... don't have either strategic or practical marketing strength,” he says. “People on the digital marketing side may be very adept at complex search marketing programs or online ad programs, but they don't completely understand the conversational side.”

In November, Dukas Public Relations formalized its interactive practice – Dukas Public Relations Interactive (DPRI). EVP Todd Barrish is in the process of looking for people to lead search optimization.

“We're looking across our client base [to determine] how interactive PR can help the next phase of what those industries or businesses are going to do, and we'll build teams around those objectives,” Barrish says. “It's hard to find people because so many types of marketing agencies and companies are looking for qualified search optimization people. We're focusing more on the tech side [to start]. Over the long run... we want a good combination of tech people and PR people.”

Key points:

  • Interactive practices are still looking for talent and have invested in training
  • Firms seek candidates with strength in either PR or tech and are willing to teach skills that are lacking
  • Ideal candidates have both digital and PR expertise, with the capacity to use their knowledge to drive business results for clients

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