Certain traits are common to all PR pros, but each discipline also requires its own set of skills.
There are general qualities recruiters seek in all PR pros. However, finding the right person is more of a challenge when the demands of a specific sector enter the equation.
"The end result for almost every single practice area is now consumer," says Lisa Sepulveda, CEO at Euro RSCG Magnet. As such, she looks for people with more than traditional media relations skills. She needs flexible people who can "ride with trends," such as buzz and word-of-mouth marketing, and who understand new ways of communicating, such as blogging.
Laura Kane, corporate communications SVP at Aflac, says her team devises ways to deliver information to customers in the ways they want to receive it.
"We're looking for those who can look at multiple media and engage various audiences," she explains.
Stacy Libby, GM and director of HR at Voce Communications, says the agency wants employees who understand international programs.
"We look for broad PR experience and for assertive [individuals] capable of building campaigns that mesh into [clients'] integrated marketing teams," she says.
Because consumer PR has become so broad, Sepulveda thinks it's easier to retain staff. "We're able to offer our employees more opportunities," she says.
Paul Johnson, vice chairman of worldwide growth and president of public affairs at Fleishman-Hillard, notes that the sector is the firm's largest practice area. "[There's] dramatic confluence between healthcare and public affairs," he says, adding that tech, global, and policy issues - especially at the "junction between energy and environment" - are also plentiful.
Jose Hermocillo, SVP and MD of APCO Worldwide's Sacramento office, sees a lot of ballot-measure work and a "substantial need" on legislative and regulatory issues. "Finding capable writers is the biggest challenge to finding good junior-level talent," he says.
Joe Clayton, president and COO at Widmeyer Communications, focuses on issues anticipation. "[We'll] invest in individuals with issues expertise," he adds.
He also finds that people from journalism, campaigns, and federal agencies can be good hires. "Relationships are important," he says. "Who's in the White House, who's running the Hill, and the ties [job candidates] have with those leaders [are factors]."
Public affairs is collaborative by nature, so Johnson stresses the need for senior people. "Experience and maturity provide a level of comfort to clients," he says, adding that administration changes create a talent pool and generate a lot of business.
"Individuals with good skills [who] stay on their game and stay healthy with relationships [will] be invaluable when you hire them [and] 10 years later, through two or three administrations," he explains.
"It's hard to find tech talent now," says Steve Fogarty, senior staffing partner at Waggener Edstrom. "The talent is there, but [most] good ones are employed."
Brodeur CEO Andy Coville says she has seen some "terrific" candidates on the East Coast, but she admits that good mid-level people are hard to find.
"[We're] completely engaged in a talent war," according to Stacy Perry, VP of talent management at Text 100 in San Francisco. "From a regional perspective, AEs are extremely challenging to find. With the downturn a few years ago, people [left] the market."
When it comes to the skills critical for tech PR success, Randy Wagner, CMO at Orbitz Worldwide - Americas, looks for people with a mixture of corporate and agency experience. He lists strategic thinking, "creativity in service of the brand," and the ability to integrate PR into overall marketing as priorities.
"Tech is so consumer-focused now, there's not that pure specialist requirement anymore," says Coville. "It's more personal."
"We seek people with the ability to absorb information, to learn, re-learn, and even un-learn," says Fogarty. "And we love it when candidates ask smart questions and don't pretend to have all the answers. Tech changes much to fast for anyone to know it all."
IR and financial practices require senior-level expert understanding of Wall Street and analysts, but those who can communicate to broader audiences are also needed. The financial services segment is also healthy, and demand exists at various levels.
Matthew Della Croce, SVP and director, Ogilvy Financial, says the firm doesn't approach consulting in a silo. It wants people who can think in terms of a client's entire brand. "So many audiences affect organizations," he says. "We want individuals willing to be more well-rounded and pitch [all of] them."
"It's still siloed on the corporate side," he adds, "but [firms] see the value [of broader capability]."
Gordon McCoun, senior MD and IR director at Financial Dynamics, says the firm has a "pretty holistic" view of IR and he sees considerable demand.
"IR [protects] and builds on the valuation of our [clients'] securities," he explains. [We need people] who can identify what's hampering valuation."
FD looks for candidates from a variety of backgrounds, including those with Wall Street experience, journalists, and investment banking lawyers.
"People who have been in the audiences to whom we communicate bring insight into thought processes and [decision-making]," McCoun says. "Gravitas is key because [client] senior management has to listen, understand, and implement what we recommend."
Howard Zar, EVP at Porter Novelli, says banks and brokerages are doing well, and the financial services market is currently a "major sector of the economy." As such, he notes, competition for talent is fierce.
Tremendous demand in the sector has firms looking for individuals with backgrounds ranging from medicine to advertising to journalism and even the law.
"[We] need talented, smart people, and there aren't a lot to fill those jobs," says Peter Pitts, Manning Selvage & Lee's SVP for global heath affairs. "Firms are considering people who aren't typical PR pros.
"Fresh blood makes business robust," he adds. "If we can find talented people with a passion for healthcare, we're doing clients a tremendous service. It's bringing in new ways to address problems."
Pitts is constantly looking at how to deploy talent to meet client needs. "We're carving out shapes to fit talent," he says. "If talent is scarce, don't just accept mediocre. Train, create, and nurture from within. You must also seek from different places without."
This year Chandler Chicco Agency hired "nonstop," filling 20-plus jobs, with about five still open. Andrea Sessler, global director of talent management, says it's worth looking to those with non-PR pedigrees.
"Different backgrounds bring different experiences," she adds. "People can draw from each other."
"In 12 months, [new media] has gone from nice to have to must have," says Peppercom managing partner and cofounder Steve Cody. "It's no longer a top-down conversation from marketers to consumers. Consumers talk to each other. It's a totally different dialogue, and it will never change. PR is beautifully positioned in terms of understanding what plays and how to communicate to consumers and build trust."
Scott Schneider, EVP, director of interactive at Ruder Finn, says, "You have to live it to sell it. Those who are leveraging digital differentiate themselves."
That sword cuts both ways, however. "We never Googled candidates before," says Laura Smith, Edelman EVP and HR director, US and Canada. "We do it all the time now. If you capture new-media spaces that people visit, it can validate, enhance, or give a different picture than what you see [face-to-face]."
Talent is pulled from diverse places. "We're looking for interactive to have deep pockets of experience," Schneider says. "[People with] hardcore marketing, brick-and-mortar and business experience add depth. I'll take a chance on them. Now I can't bring in someone who's [unfamiliar with] pharma and teach it to them, but I can teach them about interactive."
Cody says staff must understand how to interface with influential bloggers, discern what's appropriate to post, and mesh digital into media relations efforts.
"The dark side is PR pros are being burned by irate bloggers," he adds. "They'll crucify you - publicly."
BusinessWeek "brutally" slammed an agency staffer recently who digitally pitched something inappropriate. This can jeopardize client relationships. Caution and education is key, and many firms now offer tutorials to make sure employees avoid such missteps.