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
’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
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
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
’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
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
’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
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
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.
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.