By giving back to the PR community, firms also get rewards.
Giving back to the PR community – through scholarships, mentoring, or other ways – of course helps agency employees feel good, notes Richard Levick, president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications. But it also offers a lot of tangible benefits, from drawing a bead on potential hires to learning how a younger generation thinks.
“One could argue that all love is selfish,” Levick comments rather existentially. “Everything we give we get; the more we give – how ironic – the more we get.”
Having previously spent a dozen or so years teaching at American University's (AU) Washington College of Law, Levick notes the benefits accrued from forming close ties to local universities.
To further such bonds, Levick recently provided the University of Maryland with a $50,000 endowment that will provide one graduate or undergrad student every year with a partial scholarship tied to studies in crisis communications, his firm's specialty. A similar endowment is being negotiated with AU's law school.
“Our internship recruitment is very high from those universities,” he says. “Staff know about us, faculty know us, and it just creates a buzz. The more students you recruit, the more graduates of the program that go back to talk about what a great experience they had.”
Offering similar scholarships is Capstrat, whose endowment at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill provides annual scholarships of $2,500 to two students, with preference shown to minorities. Along with the scholarships, though, Capstrat also hosts networking events that include not only UNC students, but also students from a number of historically black colleges in the region, plus Capstrat clients.
Such events aid recruitment for Capstrat and its clients, who often ask the agency to recommend students or recent grads for corporate communications internships or full-time posts. They also provide an opportunity for people to learn more about a career in PR and create a more diverse talent pool.
“You get that quality of thinking, the different perspective, when you have people from different backgrounds,”
says Capstrat EVP Karen Albritton. “We don't feel we can pay lip service to that; we have to take action when we can.”
Sometimes “giving back” works the other way. O'Keeffe & Company sought to encourage more creative thinking about how PR can be applied to the realm of its specialty – tech – through a contest it launched last year called the $10,000 Tech PR Idol Challenge. Participants were required to create a PR plan to help a fictitious software company attract resellers. Although Weber Shandwick EVP Robert Dowling won, it is still the younger generation that can teach quite a bit to the profession's grayer beards.
“One of the things in surveying these young [folks] is finding out how they get their data,” says agency founder and principal Stephen O'Keeffe. In the case of information technology pros, it's often not from the traditional trade publications.
“Altruism is super,” he adds. “But in bringing people into the industry, we also learn a lot from them.”