FOCUS: Recruitment - From classroom to boardroom - As the PR industry grows in stature agencies can enjoy the luxury of an ever-increasing calibre of graduate. Stephanie France reports

It is perhaps ironic that the PR industry is promoting the profession to universities at a time when PR is one of the leading career options for students. But many believe the industry has failed to communicate the diversity of PR in the past, as well as challenging many of the myths that still abound, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

It is perhaps ironic that the PR industry is promoting the

profession to universities at a time when PR is one of the leading

career options for students. But many believe the industry has failed to

communicate the diversity of PR in the past, as well as challenging many

of the myths that still abound, and there is still a lot of work to be


’PR has a much higher profile than ever before,’ says Ann Mealor, head

of marketing and PR at the IPR. ’It is recognised as a key management

discipline and communication is seen as important to the bottom


But while the industry has welcomed the increased attention, the flood

of applicants has created its own headaches. More resources than ever

are needed to sift through the applications, and there is a constant

pressure on agencies to make the right decision about who they take


Despite the huge number of graduates wanting to go into PR, it’s as hard

as ever to flush out the best talent. And candidates fortunate enough to

gain places on prestigious graduate training schemes are required to

show their mettle much earlier than their predecessors.

Median Recruitment managing director Lisa Kelly agrees that much more is

expected of today’s graduates. ’Agencies and in-house departments are so

busy that graduates need to hit the ground running.’

If employers expect more now, then so too do graduates. ’No company

should think that there are millions of suitable people out there who

are desperate to come and work for you,’ warns Toni Castle, human

resources director at Lewis Communications. ’Companies need to work

harder than before to attract the best people.’

The time-honoured way of sourcing new recruits is the milk round.

However, many agencies and in-house departments do not have the

resources in terms of time and money to attend, and so they employ

recruitment consultants to talent scout for them.

Pathfinders, the media division of Angela Mortimer, attends scores of

milk rounds and road shows every year. Managing director Amanda Fone

says it is a very cost effective means of recruiting graduates, since

clients only pay a fee if they recruit selected candidates. ’In

addition, we go to universities looking for suitable candidates,’ she


Recruitment consultants also use a variety of other means to find

graduate talent for their clients. Median Recruitment has found

graduates for Citigate Westminster, Fishburn Hedges and Lloyds TSB.

Kelly says: ’We target graduates through advertising and through our web

site. We also have special relationships with universities, such as

Cardiff, and we take part in the IPR’s Careers Days.’

Proactive recruitment is a given in today’s highly competitive


But beyond this, the industry as a whole is keen to communicate to

career advisers and graduates the different sectors which fall under the

PR umbrella.

According to Castle at Lewis, a handful of myths still prevail. ’PR

still has a reputation of being about celebrity parties and champagne,’

she says. ’Many of the graduates we interview have this impression.’

Mealor of the IPR confirms the graduates she meets have only a partial

picture of the industry. ’They rightly expect a career in PR to be

exciting, but we also show them that you need a broad range of skills,

and to meet deadlines and work long hours.’

As part of the communication process with universities, many agencies

and in-house departments are keen to explain the skills needed to work

in their particular sector.

Miles Clayton, account director at Citigate Technology, says: ’Three

years ago, we were looking for graduates who could write from day one

and were interested in IT. Today that is just one aspect. We want

graduates who also read the business papers and know about how the

markets are moving.’

Over the past year, Shandwick has formalised its graduate recruitment

programme. Clare Fazackerly, head of resourcing, says the agency now

works with 30 universities. As well as forging strong relations with the

careers advisers at these establishments, the consultancy is also

launching a human resources web site. Fazackerly says the communication

process with careers advisers is the same whether their students are on

PR courses or other courses.

Shandwick’s selection process requires students to forward their CV and

submit a written piece on a topical subject. Around 60 candidates are

then invited to a selection day. In the meantime, they are sent a pack,

detailing the various sectors in PR. At the selection day, candidates

will give a presentation, sit a pyschometric test and will be


The dozen or so who are selected will be expected to learn the ropes


After a fortnight’s training, they will be introduced to clients, then

eight to ten months later, will normally be promoted from graduate

trainee consultant to consultant.

Fishburn Hedges has been working with Median Recruitment on its graduate

recruitment programme for the past three years, advertising in the

Guardian and liaising with selected universities. Median acts as a

freelance human resources arm,using a brief from the agency. An open day

is held once a shortlist has been compiled. Candidates give a

presentation, take a written test and attend a round table debate. Two

graduates are then normally selected.

Lewis has taken a more unusual approach to graduate recruitment. It

issues homemade company videos featuring its staff to university career


Castle says the off-the-wall videos, which have a pop music background,

give a flavour of the culture and atmosphere in the office and give

graduates a better understanding of the industry. ’Our videos work

particularly well for those graduates with languages or business degrees

who wouldn’t necessarily consider public relations. It gives them a feel

for the workplace.’

Lewis also actively encourages its employees to go back to their

universities and talk to students about PR and their experiences.

Reading-based Companycare Communications has forged special

relationships with the careers advisers and the university placement

officers at many of the colleges and universities which run PR courses,

including Bourne-mouth, Reading, Leeds, St Andrews and West Herts

College. Managing director Ian McCann says: ’We have had good

experiences with graduates from these places.’ Earlier this month, the

agency took part in a ’Meet The Experts’ seminar at Bournemouth

University, along with in-house PR practitioners.

Few would disagree that the stature of PR degrees has grown over the

past few years. Clayton of Citigate Technology, himself a graduate of

Sterling University, says: ’There was a prejudice against PR degrees a

few years ago, but it isn’t the case today. The courses are improving

and a lot of people who have been on them are rising to the top.’

In recent months, the IPR has updated its web site to include a careers

information service. Users can learn about the PR industry; whether they

are cut out to be in PR; student groups; job opportunities and the IPR’s

own Careers Days.

These days take place every year in London and Manchester and feature

lectures from senior industry speakers, workshops and exhibitor


The IPR works with career services to flag up its Career Days, as well

as sending press releases to student magazines and the local press.

Mealor says: ’The Career Days give students a formal structured day and

a good feel for the industry. The students show so much enthusiasm and

are so eager to soak up the information given out, that the speakers get

a real buzz to think that the standard of future PR practitioners is so


Clearly, active graduate recruitment - and education about what PR is

really all about - is being widely practised across all PR sectors. It

is also increasingly recognised as fundamental to the growth of the


As Kelly atMedian points out: ’It is difficult to bring in the right

skills from outside at a higher level.’

Noiseworks recruitment manager Sara Lee adds: ’We have definitely become

more proactive in our approach to graduate recruitment because we have

found it to be very successful. It is also an accepted fact that there

is, and has been for some years, a shortage of trained public relations

consultants within the industry so the ’grow your own’ philosophy makes

perfect sense.’

But as Adrian Brady, joint managing director of Eulogy, points out,

graduate recruitment comes at a price. ’You have to make a real

investment in that person. It isn’t the same if you are recruiting an

account manager who will immediately prove his worth.’

This inevitably leads to the biggest headache of graduate


PR companies can allocate time and spend money on a promising graduate,

only to see him or her defect to a rival once training is complete.

In an industry which condones head-hunting and has too few good new

recruits, this is an all too frequent occurrence. The remedy, however,

is surprisingly simple. To enjoy the fruits of your investment, one has

to invest equally in staff retention and graduate recruitment.


Many employers in the PR industry insist that graduates must clock up a

sizeable chunk of work experience as an undergraduate before approaching

them for a trainee position. However, it is often difficult for

undergraduates to find anyone willing to take them on.

’I will only offer undergraduate work placements if I can be assured

that a student will have a valuable experience,’ says Clare Fazackerly,

head of resourcing at Shandwick. ’I would hate anyone to come to

Shandwick and end up sitting in a corner.’

Fazackerly speaks for many when she says work experience opportunities

are limited time and resources .

Ian McCann, managing director of Companycare does offer undergraduate

work placements, although he says that they are not the same as the

graduate placements he offers.

’We usually take on two 16-to 18-year-olds during the summer holidays.

They will work in our central services unit, which provides

administrative back-up ensuring, for example, that press releases get

out of the door.’

Despite the general coolness towards undergraduate work placements, most

employers are open to the idea if it’s appropriate.

’I don’t normally do it’ confesses Philippa Dale-Thomas, deputy managing

director of Fishburn Hedges, ’but I’m always on the look out for

quality.’ Last year, Dale-Thomas received a CV from an accountant

looking for a work placement at Fishburn Hedges, having decided the

numbers game wasn’t for him. ’We brought him in and he was able to be

immediately helpful to us. He was with us for three months.’

Adrian Brady, joint managing director of Eulogy, also operates a

case-by-case policy and says:’It is down to the individual to sell


If I were an undergraduate, I’d write down all the things I could bring

to that particular company. I would say: ’I want to commit to you in my

holiday time, and after my degree, I don’t want to take my experience

elsewhere, I want to commit to you and be considered for a permanent



There is no shortage of books on PR, but graduates looking for a quick

and easy guide to the profession may find themselves walking away from

bookshops empty-handed.

How To Get Into Public Relations is a career kit aimed at getting the

basics across to school leavers and undergraduates in simple English, as

well as providing a reference point for further reading. Published last

summer by Law Pack Publishing, the kit includes information on the

various PR sectors, the importance of evaluation, how to research an

employer and what to write in a CV. It also gives information on

employers, recruitment consultancies, seminars, graduate training

programmes and the kind of starting salaries graduates can expect, based

on PR Week’s Salary Survey.

The kit attempts to put PR into perspective by tracing the history of

the industry from its birth in 1920s America, and its arrival in the UK

during World War II, to its current position on the international


Written by Nigel Ellis, an honorary fellow and past president of the

IPR, and Terence Franklin, managing partner of Franklin Associates, the

kit can be found at bookshops and selected career libraries.

Franklin, whose career in public relations spans 30 years, including a

stint as managing director of Hill and Knowlton, says the idea is to

give graduates a firmer grasp of what PR is all about.

’There is a huge interest in PR these days. It seems that ever other

arts graduate wants to go into it. PR courses can teach the theory, but

I always say that PR is common sense based on experience. I would like

to think this kit helps in that process.’

How To Get Into Public Relations is part of a series of ’How To’ kits,

which include guides to careers in new media and sales. According to Law

Pack Publishing, the PR kit is selling well and will be updated


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