The newsworthiness of a new hire is often seen differently by the company itself and the media. Christie Casalino finds ways to transcend the 'new hires' section
It's only natural that newly hired employees would seek media attention for being the most recent assets to their companies - and in some cases, generating public interest is completely effortless. After all, the hiring of a Fortune 500 CEO doesn't happen every day. But unless the employee happens to work for a blue-chip company, this recognition can be harder to come by - and the task then falls to the PR pros to decide just what to do.
"No matter how high in the organization this person may be, this is mostly an internal matter, which means it's a bigger deal to you than the public," says Tim O'Brien, principal at O'Brien Communications. "Do not get caught up in the organizational excitement. Manage expectations."
Petri Darby, PR and corporate communications manager at law firm Jenkens & Gilchrist, says, "I have a conversation with [the client] and ask, 'What are your prospects? Who are your clients? How can we reach them most effectively and ensure that you get the most visibility?' And it may not be just through promotion in the media. It may be by putting together direct-mail cards that go out to prospects."
Darby suggests some alternatives to mainstream media. Vehicles such as the client's alumni publications are another way to gain visibility.
"I think it's a matter of ensuring that you hit all of their targets," he adds. "It might not be through The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal."
While the hire may not be of interest for an immediate story, Darby suggests still sending out a release, as there may be an opportunity to position the new employee as an expert in the future, which can be a more likely scenario.
But according to O'Brien, the vast majority of new-hire announcements in the media will end up as one-liners in the "people on the move" columns in a major paper's business section or the local business paper.
"Newspapers created these columns solely for the purpose of serving as a dumping ground for personnel releases," he says. "This still isn't a bad thing, as I have used a regular diet of these releases to create the ongoing perception that some of my clients are vibrant and growing, always hiring and moving people up the ladder."
According to Kevin Aschenbrenner, senior account supervisor, media relations, at Jaffe Associates, the first step when talking to clients about a new hire is to balance their excitement with the realistic expectations that this is not the kind of news that gets large stories or mainstream coverage.
"I usually suggest a meeting to talk to the person about their practice, what they do, their client base," he says. "I then have a brainstorming call to discuss key issues we can pitch them and to develop some story ideas."
In order to get traction beyond one-line mentions, the hire can be tied into something else the company is doing, whether it be a major restructuring, a new product launch, or the creation of more jobs.
"Think about it from the editor's point of view," says Samantha Slaven, owner of her eponymous firm. "What will make this interesting [beyond] the fact that this company has hired a new person? How will this affect the company? How will it affect the consumer?"
Slaven used this plan when pitching the recent hire of two designers at clients Three Dots and Chinese Laundry. While the pitch revolved around the new appointments, she also talked about their plans to take the fashion and accessory collections in a new direction, which secured immediate placements in Footwear News and WWD.
In addition to tying a hire story to company news, relating the hire to something currently in the news is another way of garnering media attention.
"One way to make a new-hire story interesting is to connect it to a larger story or trend," says Paul Manuele, senior communications manager for law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
Manuele used this approach to promote a new partner in Tokyo, as the move was part of a broader strategy to bulk up the firm's law practice in Asia, specifically Japan. He stressed the recent push by US and UK firms to add "bengoshi" lawyers (those licensed to practice law in Japan), since that country changed its rules about foreign firms hiring bengoshi earlier this year, allowing them for the first time to become full partners in foreign firms.
But while you may be looking to get media attention that ties into a larger issue, it's important to remember that this option may not always work to your advantage.
Gavin Anderson & Co.'s head of office, Montieth Illingworth, warns of a phenomenon he refers to as "backdraft," where even an important new hire, such as a senior one, can be tied into a negative story.
"Let's say a number of people have left that company in the past year," he offers as an example. "How do you prevent that story from becoming a negative one about departures, when in fact you want to focus on the positive promotion?"
According to Illingworth, clients can tend to overlook that aspect of the pitch. "This requires a whole different strategy, and that's usually having the initial exposure controlled, limited, and followed up at a later point with a media tour. You want to disassociate the backdraft with positive news, and the passage of time usually prevents that."
Illingworth suggests doing a risk/reward analysis. If the risks are greater than the rewards of immediately pitching the hire story, wait for a better time to disclose the news, when it can
be coupled with something else.
"We call it keeping your powder dry," he says. "If you keep your powder dry, you can live to fight another day - and it'll probably be more successful for your PR program in the long run."
Do tie the hire into company news or a general trend
Do be open with your client about your expectations
Do consider alternative means of gaining attention
Don't send your pitch indiscriminately to all media contacts
Don't overpromise coverage
Don't forget to take into account negative issues the company may be handling