PR TECHNIQUE: RECRUITMENT - Creative recruiting: hiring from outside the world of PR. With potential employees scarce, PR agencies and departments are beginning to look outside PR for talent. Aimee Grove looks at which industries are producing the best ne

As the never-been-tighter PR labor market enters crisis proportions, everyone is looking for solutions to the staffing crunch. And since human cloning won’t be possible any time soon, recruiters and HR directors are venturing into other fields to find talented prospects.

As the never-been-tighter PR labor market enters crisis proportions, everyone is looking for solutions to the staffing crunch. And since human cloning won’t be possible any time soon, recruiters and HR directors are venturing into other fields to find talented prospects.

As the never-been-tighter PR labor market enters crisis

proportions, everyone is looking for solutions to the staffing crunch.

And since human cloning won’t be possible any time soon, recruiters and

HR directors are venturing into other fields to find talented

prospects.



’The trend of hiring from other fields is definitely going on, and it’s

something we’ve been increasingly selling to our clients in the past 18

months - that now is a good time to start opening their eyes to other

types of experience,’ agrees Dennis Spring, president of New York-based

executive search firm Spring Associates.



And on a more formalized level, the Council of PR Firms has developed a

targeted program for recruiting non-PR or journalism-school graduates

into entry-level positions.



So what fields lend themselves to a good cross-over into PR? Not just

journalism, as it turns out. Today, advertising, marketing, sales and

even teaching - any field with an emphasis on either verbal or written

communications - are being plumbed for talent, especially at the entry

level. PepperCom managing partner Ed Moed and others say they have had

good luck hiring people out of the accounting, consulting and even legal

professions.



In addition, politics, always a natural training ground for public

affairs positions, is now feeding an increasing number of candidates

into mainstream PR firms. For example, MWW/Savitt president Kathy Savitt

has hired many ex-politicos at her Seattle agency. ’These people tend to

be very message- and strategy-driven, and they have lots of experience

in analyzing and researching issues,’ she explains.



At the entry level, Mike Crawford, president of MC/C Communications in

Dallas, says he has found great employees by seeking out liberal arts

grads currently working in administrative positions. ’They probably took

the job right out of college, it’s been a few years, and they are just

starting to think, ’Is there a position out there that’s better for

me?’’



Sometimes even unexpected places, like retail outlets or restaurants,

can yield promising recruits. For example, Access Communications senior

VP Matt Afflixio once recruited somebody who was waiting on him in a San

Francisco eatery.



’This guy was juggling so many different tables and seemed so dynamic

and in control, I finally just asked him, ’What did you study in

school?



Have you ever considered public relations?’ He turned out to be great;

the clients love him and he’s not the least bit afraid to get on the

phone and pitch stories,’ says Afflixio.



The benefits of such inter-industry recruiting are fairly obvious:

diverse backgrounds bring a variety of expertise and fresh perspectives

to solving client and company problems. Many believe that such ’creative

hiring’ can help find entry-level superstars. For example, George

McQuade III, former director of PR for the Los Angeles Housing

Authority, says that of the five interns he hired every quarter, the

best were those ’majoring in everything but PR.’



’The interns majoring in PR from Cal-State Fullerton to USC lacked basic

fundamentals in PR such as one-on-one pitching, writing for broadcast

news and basics of news releases to capture attention,’ McQuade

asserts.



’Many of the techniques in school are outdated, or professors haven’t

been in the industry since Columbus was in diapers.’



While the advantages to inter-industry recruiting may seem obvious, some

of Silicon Valley’s hottest hi-tech agencies - those arguably feeling

the greatest demand for staff - are actually bucking the trend.



’We haven’t had much success with the few non-PR candidates we’ve hired

from sales or other backgrounds at mid- to high-level positions,’

confirms Sabrina Horn, CEO of The Horn Group in San Francisco.



Melody Haller, president of The Antenna Group, a San Francisco agency

specializing in Internet start-ups, also admits that she has stopped

taking chances on nontraditional hires. ’I have found that potential

employees who have not already done some serious PR work always

underestimate the skill set required to do great PR. Often, they are

changing fields because they are under the misconception that PR is

easier than whatever it is they are already doing.’



According to president Jack Bergen, the Council of PR Firms is currently

developing an assessment tool that will help sift out the bad apples

Horn and Haller have encountered. Developed by a San Francisco

industrial psychologist, within a month a screening test will be

available to CPRF members who are looking to make a cross-hire for a

mid-level PR position.



The organization, along with the PRSA’s Counselors Academy, is also

developing an Internet-based training module that new employees can take

online to bone up on the PR basics and terminology even before starting

a new position.



For the record, PR educators aren’t all that happy with this cross-over

trend. ’After we have worked so hard for so many years to establish PR

education as a key discipline for the profession, this is a step

backward to the days when the prevailing thought was ’Anyone can do

PR,’’ says Dr. Carol Ann Hackley, a professor of public relations at the

University of the Pacific.



Nevertheless, as even Hackley concedes, there simply aren’t enough PR

grads - let alone seasoned PR pros in the upper ranks - to go

around.



And until someone finds a way around the law of supply and demand, the

cross-pollination trend is certain to continue.





DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1. Allow for a strong incubation process to incorporate the employee

into the company and PR culture - especially if he or she has no

background in professional services.



2. Make sure the employee has realistic expectations about all that the

job entails and requires for advancement.



3. Seek out candidates who seem confident and fearless - key traits for

effective media relations.





DON’T



1. Hire a journalist without checking under the hood. ’You need to look

for type-A personalities and those who see it as a ’natural progression

in their careers,’ not just a way to make more money,’ says Ben Long, a

Washington, DC executive recruiter.



2. Expect to take any training shortcuts - in fact, more training will

be required. Media relations is the one area that will likely take the

most time and attention.



3. Only look at writing samples - give a test. You don’t know how much

the sample has been edited.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in