PR industry benefits from outside talent

With the economy hitting other sectors harder than PR, agencies are seeing even more non-traditional applicants.

With the economy hitting other sectors harder than PR, agencies are seeing even more non-traditional applicants.

While PR firms have a track record of drawing staff from a variety of disciplines, currently there is a definite influx of pros seeking to start new careers in communications due to shakeups in other sectors.

Financial agencies have seen an increase of potential PR pros from Wall Street. However, for PR agencies like Cognito, who service financial institutions, these transitions are a regular part of agency business.

“Certainly, over the past couple of months, we've definitely seen an uptick in interest from non-traditional people,” says Dan Simon, MD at Cognito, who also notes seeing applications from financial journalists. “Maybe not as out there as portfolio managers, but certainly individuals from other backgrounds within financial services and banking and asset management.”

In terms of professional qualities, like managing client expectations and teamwork, Simon says professionals with a financial background have greater insight into the working culture of PR than do journalists.

“I believe there are more similarities [between an] account manager at a wealth institution and [an] account manager at a PR agency than there is... with a financial journalist,” he adds. “People often think [of] journalists [and say], ‘They understand finance, are incredibly good writers, and this is all about the media, and this a perfect fit.'

“But they haven't thought about the personality of [journalists, who] tend to be used to people coming to them with information, not used to having to, for want of a better word, ‘suck up' to people, [and] are often not incredibly good team players,” Simon explains. “Actually, that's opposite of what you need from a PR person.”

Simon notes interest from people not even from within those communications functions like in-house communications, marketing, or design professionals, but those looking to stretch those transferable skills a little further.

While knowledge of the financial marketplace is key, he says there are a number of transferable skills from these previous positions, such as the ability to work within high stress environments, to multi-task, and to handle tough deadlines and demanding clients.

“Ultimately for all the emphasis we put on media management, it's still easier to teach a smart person media relations than how a credit default swap is structured,” Simon says. “We are prepared to take moldable people, who bring a different – but still very valuable range of skills – and train them in other areas.”

Diverse backgrounds
Non-traditional applicants are also flocking to firms from sectors such as government and fashion, according to Bernestine Frazier, VP of talent acquisition at Fleishman-Hillard.

“What we've seen so far [is] people coming out of government positions, political positions, and economic backgrounds,” adds Agnes Gioconda, EVP, senior partner, and chief talent officer at Fleishman-Hillard. “We haven't quite gotten to the hard-core bankers yet.

“The main focus that we're seeing is the need for integrated communications,” she notes. “So... we are seeking and finding people with these non-traditional backgrounds, but at the same time we're really looking for that emphasis on digital.”

Frazier says Web developers, designers, and digital communications strategists are some of the professionals the firm is seeking to attract through using mechanisms like its recruiting blog and Twitter.

“[A] background in mobile marketing is a hot area right now,” says Gioconda, “and [especially when] they've got experience in all areas of the social networking medium.”

Adding to the pool of non-traditional candidates, economic woes in the publishing sector have led more journalists to pursue a PR career.

Tom Coyne, president and CEO of Coyne PR, says more media and marketing professionals are “more comfortable applying for PR jobs and trying to cross over.”

In terms of media applicants, he notes a “big cross-section” from career reporters to magazine editors and national television producers interested in career stability.

Maya Kalkay, HR director at Burson-Marsteller, has also seen a bump in interest from media professionals, alongside a rising number of applications and employee referrals.

“There's always an influx,” says Kalkay, “but, in recent months, there's been a huge uptick. Equal [in broadcast and print].”

Despite the current economic climate, each agency notes that excellent applicants always rise to the top of the résumé piles.

“We look at everything we're doing very closely right now,” says Coyne. “We don't have an official hiring freeze, but in today's economy we look much harder at our utilization rates than we have in the past. Our rule still stands: good people still get in the door.”

Getting non-traditional PR pros up to speed
Mentorship programs

Whether according to personality or specialty, PR pros often connect non-traditional hires with senior executives who can help them learn the way the industry operates and provide them with support on first accounts

Training programs
Though it depends on the agency culture, most firms combine on-the-job work experience with structured support and opportunities to shadow accounts

Industry events
Whether learning about mobile marketing or the importance of follow-up notes, PR newbies have been sent to industry events and seminars to gain in-depth knowledge of their specific sector or the industry at large

These online tutorials can provide an insider's perspective of strategic tactics used for a particular industry or client, as well as campaign management. They also allow viewers to ask questions

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