The digital effect on agency recruiting

The addition of new media as a tool in the PR mix is causing a change in the type of candidates firms are seeking.

The addition of new media as a tool in the PR mix is causing a change in the type of candidates firms are seeking.

Over the past few years, PR agencies have built up their interactive offerings. And as the media climate continues to change, those firms are finding that clients desire employees with a varied skill set.

James Andrews, VP of interactive in Ketchum's Atlanta office, explains that the agency's practice group is split between people in production who work on the technical aspects of blogs and Web sites and those who strategize with clients about how to use that technology. In essence, it is a mix of people who can speak about consumer behavior and technology.

"Clients are demanding other skill sets, and agencies are doing a gut check of who they are," he says. "It's causing a ripple effect in terms of types of people being recruited...we don't want a programmer only to be a strategist. An account person on the interactive side is going to... have a nice blend of strategy and production management."

John Metzger, CEO and founder of Metzger Associates, agrees that in addition to having knowledge about the new technological and interactive space, candidates must be able to strategize and communicate in and about that space. He notes that coders, who drove Web design in the past, are now considered technicians. "They're not going to drive strategy, the look, feel, and image of the brand," he says.

New positions created
To communicate in this growing interactive space, candidates must have more than journalistic prowess and a strong business sense, explains David Miller, US HR and talent acquisition manager at Hill & Knowlton. "It's no longer just understanding the corporate brand," he says. "It's also understanding a marketplace that's shifted to more of a digital online realm."

Miller adds that client needs are dictating that hires have a digital background as well as experience with online companies and entertainment brands. "Clients also want people with digital expertise where they know the blogs, have contacts with blogs, and a firm grip on search engine marketing," he adds.

These client demands necessitate that agencies bring more interactive and production capabilities in-house, according to Lisa Fuhrman, VP and executive recruiter at Ketchum. She notes that the agency has hired more people with animation, Flash, and graphic design capabilities.

Andrews adds, "[Interactive] needs to be in there from the onset, crafting and shaping the story...whether through social networks, status updates, blogs, [etc.]. Since we're all building internal practices, brands will be demanding that." He foresees that agencies will adopt many different types of interactive practices within the next five to 10 years.

The shift has created a number of new job titles at Ketchum, including a handful of multimedia directors, blogger relations roles, and a chief innovation officer for creative and strategic thinking. "These are all born out of seeing client needs and demands in that direction," Fuhrman says. "We've had that expertise in-house, but we've had to build it out."

Changes in the PR industry are also shaping a new candidate pool, explains Fuhrman. She's seeing a lot of people transitioning to the agency side from the marketing comms field. At the junior entry level, candidates with liberal arts degrees, as opposed to the standard journalism or marketing degrees, are now exploring the world of PR.

She adds that Ketchum is now more willing to accept people with only in-house experience. In addition, the firm will place younger, digital-savvy recruits in senior-level roles that, in the past, may have required seasoned pros.

"[PR is] not the same industry it used to be," she says. "We're attracting a lot of students who are very curious, and I think PR has gotten very powerful."

Andrews says that these demands for in-house capabilities at Ketchum are forcing HR and interactive to be "connected at the hip." "I know the rock stars, the people in Twitter because I'm a Twitterer," Andrews says. "[For example,] I know that this girl at MIT who now works at PBS would be a great candidate because she's a heavy user of Facebook status updates. [I now have] the ability to interview someone over 45 days because [I] can communicate with them on [a] different level."

Maya Kalkay, HR director at Burson-Marsteller's New York office, explains that because a lot of new jobs are related to digital and social media, especially in the agency's internal interactive education group DIGS (digital interactive global strategy), the HR team is using the interactive space to recruit and build a presence on sites such as MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Second Life.

The shift in journalism
While some agencies may be looking beyond candidates from the world of journalism, the increasingly interactive media space is driving others to recruit candidates with those very skills.

Metzger notes that with media relations in our age of Web 2.0, "or 3.0," where blogs, podcasts, and online media provide highly visible venues for strangers with few or no credentials, suddenly the skill becomes more valuable. "A journalist [now] has to see where a story is being discussed and respond to it...It's different from writing persuasive PR or ad copy...[PR pros] don't necessarily need to be journalists, but people in the PR field need to think more like them."

And the changes within the media landscape are also prompting an even further shift of candidates from journalism to PR.

Andy Polansky, president of Weber Shandwick, says that he's seeing a lot of senior people from journalism interested in PR careers. "It's a by-product of what's happening in the media world," he says. "I think fewer people are reading newspapers, and fewer people are consuming television news."

Andrews foresees a change in PR over the next 36 months. He explains that a spreading idea within PR, to build interactive experiences and identify influencers within social networks, will mandate that most recruits, in the next two to three years, be able to communicate on both a strategic and interactive level.

"There will be less of a separation between what we do in interactive, and what a traditional PR exec will do," Andrews says. "PR is changing the types of stories we need to tell, and the platforms on which we tell them."

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