Agency recruiting gets more social

As a new generation prepares to enter the work force, some firms are using the very tools that are part of their work for clients to help attract prospective employees.

As a new generation prepares to enter the work force, some firms are using the very tools that are part of their work for clients to help attract prospective employees.

The popularity of social media has given agencies new ways to find young talent, while also scoping out a candidate's social-media know-how.  But using these sites effectively for recruiting is a tricky endeavor, which may be one reason why only a handful of agencies have done so. Yet social media can help the PR industry stay relevant to young job seekers and even boost an agency's creative reputation.

Cultural accents

For example, Weber Shandwick has garnered more than 1,000 views on YouTube for its "Pitch Bulls" video that pokes fun at the agency's offbeat dodgeball team. Pete Campisi, an agency SVP, posted the video last year.

"He just wanted people to know about the atmosphere at [WS]," says Judith Harrison, VP of HR at Interpublic Group's Constituency Management Group, which WS falls under. "It has really started to exemplify the culture."

Harrison wasn't involved in producing the video, but she says it has prompted viewers to learn more about the firm and shows that even upper management has a sense of humor. That has turned the video into a recruiting tool that positions WS as a cutting-edge agency.

"I think it's particularly important for us in [PR] because some people don't even know what [PR] is," Harrison adds. "This helps people come into that door."

While WS isn't abandoning traditional outreach, the recruiting team is planning more videos that accent the firm's culture, she says.

Other firms have followed suit. Earlier this year, Ketchum uploaded an in-house-generated video on YouTube to promote its internship program. The video mocks "coffee-making" internships and touts the agency's hands-on program with clips reminiscent of amateur films, says Debra Forman, SVP and director of Ketchum's creative network in North America.

"This year, the whole YouTube environment was exploding," she says. "And we said to ourselves, 'Wow, what better way to reach people living within this video environment than to get them where they really are?'"

The video has generated 240-plus views. The firm plans to produce another video for next year's program and is developing another for entry-level recruitment.

But using social media is not as simple as self-promotion, warns Forman. Agencies have to be careful to capture the medium's self-effacing tone while still getting out their recruiting message.

"We had some pressure to be funny," she notes. "And we didn't want it to come across as... trying to make ourselves look good intentionally. So we really wanted to make fun of ourselves."

Others in the industry have taken to social networking tools that more easily lend themselves to recruiting, like LinkedIn. The networking site is known for its abundance of mid- and senior-level PR pros looking to network.

Sara Hafele, HR manager at Text 100, says the agency uses LinkedIn to network with job candidates not actively seeking new employment.   

"They may not be looking, but at least you've made that initial contact, and then you stay in touch over time," she says. "So when they decide to start a job search, you're already a familiar name."

While LinkedIn's conservative approach appeals to more established PR pros, it's not where many entry-level candidates are looking.

Fred Bateman, president of the Bateman Group, says his agency uses Facebook to gain recognition with the newly graduated set. Its Facebook presence lets candidates get a sense of the firm's personality.

"I think that makes it a lot less intimidating for them coming in," he notes. By joining Facebook's networks, recruiters can establish relationships with entry-level candidates, Bateman adds.

Looking at sites such as Facebook can give recruiters a more complete picture of a candidate, so they can better focus their efforts.

"With social networking, I can call [candidates] with a more targeted pitch," says Jessica Trantowski, senior recruitment manager for Edelman's Central region. "I can offer something that I know will appeal to them rather than a shot in the dark."

Marlies Gammon, HR manager for Ogilvy PR Worldwide's West Coast offices, recently posted two mid- to senior-level positions on Facebook and targeted the ads to several PR networks.

"It's still very new and something we're trying to explore," Gammon says. "It's a starting-off point. I wouldn't rely on social media to be a primary means for recruiting."

Building a following

Lisa Azizian, HR manager at Horn Group, "follows" candidates via Twitter, a social networking and microblogging service that uses IMs and text messages. The site lets you see a user's network and often links to other personal sites like blogs.

"The folks I'm following are very active in the social-media world," she says. "There isn't anyone I've actively recruited from Twitter yet. It's going to take some time to build relationships."

But the exposure helps her to figure out how to more effectively reach out to younger job seekers.

"I'm learning about different people and also getting introduced to different agencies or new areas to potentially find talent that might not have been as easy to find previously," Azizian explains.

But using a site that has a strong social component for professional purposes can be a risky endeavor that can hurt candidates who have posted questionable photos or information about their social life. Should PR firms show extra caution when venturing into a space that blurs social and professional boundaries for recruiting purposes? The answer remains to be seen, but for now, most PR pros are being mindful of social media's evolving etiquette.

"I would never want to cross the line of presenting opportunities to someone who isn't interested and considers my research an invasion of their privacy," Azizian says.

Expanding the talent pool

Guidelines for using social networks for recruiting:

1 Tailor your pitch to match the tone of the site you are using. For example, a corporate video on YouTube will probably fall flat unless it has an irreverent or quirky twist.

2 Social networks can feel impersonal, so customize your approach by targeting networks that fit the job description.

3 Check activity levels on profiles before making contact, or you could reach out to someone who doesn't regularly check that site.

4 Avoid engaging with users whose profiles are clearly intended for socializing; they probably don't want recruiters finding them on that particular site.

5 You can reach out to candidates who are already employed, but be tactful and transparent.

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