“It was a courting process that lasted more than 10 years,” he recalls, adding that he recognized her as a “rising star” early in her career. For whatever reason, it was never the right time for her to join Weber, but she never closed the door on the opportunity.
“It's always good to take a meeting, meet the person, and go from there,” she notes. “It opens doors.”
Making the transition as a senior-level executive is a lot different than doing so at the start or middle of one's career. As such, prospective employees and employers are both motivated by different factors than when less senior positions are involved. And there are certain expectations from both parties.
Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, also refers to such processes as “courtships” and cites several recent hires at his agency that took several years. For example, before bringing cause marketing expert Carol Cone on in April, he had been speaking to her for two years.
“She met my dad, me, and 10 people in the company,” he says. “It's not a ‘first date' type of thing.”
Similarly, Edelman's pursuit of Barby Siegel, now CEO of Zeno Group, took a similar path. In Siegel's case, she had worked at Edelman from 1992 to 2003 as deputy GM of the New York office before moving to Ogilvy PR to serve as MD of consumer marketing. Her eventual return to the Daniel J Edelman company was all about timing, Edelman says.
CRAVING DIFFERENT CHALLENGES
For Siegel, Zeno's allure wasn't just about a return to the Edelman family – one she respects due to its independent status and global nature. It was also about meeting personal goals she'd set for herself. Surprisingly, she says, the main motivator was not financial.
“It was the opportunity to do something completely different and take a bit of a risk,” she explains. “When you go into the next position, no one is completely prepared. That is good. You must feel like the next job is going to be additive in terms of your career.”
Sepulveda cites the possibility of professional challenges as the main motivator for her most recent move.
“Because I've been in the business for a long time, I wanted a new challenge, something I hadn't done before,” she says, emphasizing the appeal of her Weber role being her first global one.
However, her personal life also played a key role in her decision. “The most powerful piece in my decision to make a move was answering the question, ‘Where did I want to be for the next 10 years?' says Sepulveda. “I knew the people at Weber. We've judged awards together, been in pitches together. These are people with whom I knew I wanted to finish my career.”
Siegel says her decision was partly based on the effect her new job would have on her family, especially as a working mother. “My children were 12 and 15, so I could go off and travel,” she says. “You need the right support system at home.”
The decision to move from one agency to another involves many different considerations. But for those switching from an agency to corporate or vice versa, some of the motivating factors are different.
Torod Neptune spent three years at Bank of America before his six-year stint as SVP and public affairs practice lead at Waggener Edstrom in Washington, DC. In May, he made a move – both physically and job-wise – to join Verizon Communications in New Jersey as VP of communications for products and services.
Neptune echoes the comments of others in that one of the most important considerations is being challenged by a new opportunity. For him, however, this particular move was also about shifting from the agency setting.
“On the agency side, you wind up working for multiple clients and doing a little bit more implantation than strategy,” he says. “I wanted to be more involved with strategy.”
That ability to think and act strategically is the top skill recruiters and executives on the corporate side seek in filling a top PR post, says Bill Heyman, CEO of Heyman Associates, which specializes in senior-level recruitment for the communications industry.
“The first expectation is that they have unassailable credentials,” he says. “They must have a track record of accomplishment – not only that they've been someplace where they've gotten the job done, but where they've been confronted by problems and solved them using communications tools. You need to find someone the chairman and CEO can lean on as a trusted adviser.”
THE ROLE OF THE CEO
That's why, even in cases where the person will not report directly to the CEO, the CEO plays an integral role in the interviewing process. Heyman cites one case where the CEO spent an entire Saturday with a candidate to really get to know him.
“There must be a level of commitment to the hiring process,” Heyman explains.
When interviewing for the role of EVP and corporate communications head at Wells Fargo, Oscar Suris met several executive team members, including the CEO, as well as other executives across business units, who are considered to be his internal clients.
Suris, too, had to consider a life change in accepting the post, which he began in September 2009 after spending six years at Ford as director of corporate communications. For him, however, the sacrifice was worth it for the professional opportunity.
“I wanted the opportunity to head a function,” he explains. “It was a professional goal of mine.”
In addition, he was intrigued to be able to work in communications for a different type of company after years in the auto sector.
“With financial services being at the cross-section of so many things, I just thought, ‘What a great opportunity to do the things that we do,'” he says. “You can certainly count me as someone who believes that great communications skills translate across industries.
If what you aspire to be is a world-class communicator, that's going to be the value in the room. At the end of the day, it's helping people understand the implications of business decisions.”
Michael Lasky, senior partner at Davis & Gilbert and head of the law firm's PR Law practice and litigation department co-chair, offers guidelines for top-level talent and the companies that want to hire them.
• Ask about paperwork. New employers should request any existing contracts that refer to the candidate's agreement with his or her current company during the interview process and before the candidate is hired. The candidate's post-employment restrictions to his current employer might be contained in an offer letter, employment agreement, a code of conduct, an employment manual, a stock option or bonus plan, so it's important that the new employer asks the question thoroughly, so it receives the candidate's paperwork and gets insight into what type of post-employment restrictions may be in place.
• Ask early and often. Make inquiries in a number of ways and by referring to the type of agreements and documents listed above early in the interviewing process to avoid any surprises later.
• Seek legal counsel. New hires should work with a lawyer who will help get all of their relevant paperwork prepared ahead of time. Employers should also seek out a lawyer who is up to date on employment law across a number of different states.