Employing the right people is key for a hybrid agency

Switching from PR to comms consultants is facilitated by recruiting widely read digital mavens from a range of backgrounds, who have an affinity with our organisational culture

In the past, clients appointed specific agencies for specific roles – an advertising agency for the creative "big idea", a PR agency for message propagation and independent endorsements and, more recently, a digital agency for online comms, including social media. The reality now, however, is that, if an agency has the right people who can serve up ideas that can be transformed into impactful and realistic comms campaigns, clients are far less concerned about how an agency describes itself. So smart comms agencies know how to tease out and exploit the ideas that will work for their clients, regardless of whether they fit the "PR" label. This is why Say Communications positions itself as a hybrid agency – offering strategic, creative solutions that cross traditional comms boundaries.

A critical factor behind this shift has been the challenge of tight legislation in a highly regulated environment such as the healthcare sector, where, with regulations limiting the opportunities to undertake traditional PR activities such as media and social outreach, necessity has truly been the mother of invention. As a result, healthcare comms have led the way in breaking down the barriers between
traditional PR and other marcoms by integrating a broader range of activities into campaigns. This is increasingly the case throughout the rest of the PR industry, where it is now widely recognised that PR cannot achieve its full potential in isolation; it needs to be integrated into the complete comms mix.

Outcomes not outputs

At Say Communications, although fully committed to effective, integrated comms, we also go beyond this, overcoming attitudinal barriers to make sustained and measurable behavioural changes in target audiences. "Never mind the quality, feel the width" media relations campaigns are long gone – today it’s about outcomes not outputs, and you can achieve these only by having the insight, knowledge and intelligence to recognise the best strategic route for your clients.

The thinking that has led to expanding our role to comms consultants rather than "just" PR consultants also underpins our approach to recruitment. Within our healthcare practice, our consultants, for example, come from a wide range of backgrounds. We have employed former pharmacists, doctors, nurses, journalists, medical education specialists, marketers, drug reps and researchers.

While practical PR skills can be developed relatively early with enough practice, sector experience, combined with comms skills, brings a valuable higher level of insight that helps to cultivate our role as providers of strategic counsel to clients. Therefore, anyone who is able to offer such market knowledge within their skillset is an interesting proposition to us, as indeed are those with experience of other disciplines in the marketing mix.

Nurturing talent

Of course, we also nurture the right young talent – several key staff joined us as interns or graduate trainees. However, we’ve found that those with science-based degrees have more to offer than those with a media studies or comms degree. For our corporate and technology practices, the analytical skills of history or geography graduates are attractive, as can be the skills of English language graduates, although a fundamental interest in science or technology is required. We also look for candidates who have wide interests, read widely and, as digital mavens, actively manage their own online presence.

Organisational culture affinity is also a consideration in our selection process. We work in a fast and dynamic environment in which teams form around the needs of campaigns and programmes, and where success is measured by collective and individual progress and innovation.

Five tips to career success

  1. Be your own brand manager. Be proactive, plan your goals and how you are going to achieve them. Set your own SMART objectives and regularly evaluate your progress. Showcase your successes.
  2. Think win-win. Consider what you can bring to the table, as well as what you can get out of a job.
  3. Be digital – carefully. Set up a blog, tweet and engage online. Write often and explore. But be  aware that nothing is truly private. If you wouldn’t want your boss/colleagues/potential employers to see something, why are you posting it?
  4. Get help. Seek out a mentor or sounding board to encourage and advise you. It could be a colleague or someone external (ideally who knows your industry).
  5. Be informed, knowledgeable and passionate. Read widely and never stop learning.

Louise Stewart-Muir is joint managing director at Say Communications

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