Outside experience benefits job applicants

When looking beyond PR pros to fill positions, there are still certain criteria that need to be met.

When looking beyond PR pros to fill positions, there are still certain criteria that need to be met.

If there's a silver lining for the PR industry in the economic recession, it's that now is likely to be the best time in decades to be an agency or internal communications department looking to add staff.

“There are an unusually large number of people looking for jobs, so the talent pool is very deep right now,” notes David Smolensky, COO of Resolute Consulting. “But even with those increased numbers, we're still very selective because finding the right person does take time.”

Many of these new applicants are looking to jump into PR from other professions – and not just from the usual backgrounds, such as journalism.

“We're finding attorneys, MBAs, finance experts, mathematicians, statisticians, and researchers applying for positions,” says Greg Sendi, EVP and head of the corporate practice at GolinHarris. “We're interested in hiring them because our business is changing in ways that require a lot more knowledge, experience, and expertise on higher level core business issues.”

Ellen Hartman, president of Weber Shandwick's Atlanta office, says she's seen people from a variety of backgrounds enter and thrive in PR. But because effective communications remain a key part of the job, Hartman stresses, “For non-traditional recruiting, I have to know their writing skills – if they are great writers, I can teach them the PR business.”

Dean Bender, partner with Los Angeles-based Bender Helper Impact, agrees, adding, “It really doesn't matter if someone has a communications degree or was a public relations major because you have to have such specialized skills once you're inside the business.”

Because PR has changed dramatically in recent years, Bender cautions that “we've gotten very picky and want to know about their social media skills, and whether they can use those tools and skills in our campaigns. And if they're younger, we also look to see if they have the ability to be the voice and ears of a generation.”

Firms with a specific expertise or practice area often want new hires to have at least some experience in those fields. “We want people who have a political background, either as a campaign manager, field manager, or other position that gives them a solid knowledge of the legislative process,” explains Smolensky, whose agency specializes in advocacy and public affairs. “A lot of people emphasize their writing skills, but media is often just one component of a campaign – there's also community outreach or social media, and we need those skills as well.”

Though the responsibilities are different, David Karraker, director of PR and events at Skyy Spirits, suggests that the skill sets that he looks for when filling in-house positions are generally those that a PR agency might want as well.

“We may look at people a bit more from a general marketing background,” says Karraker, who previously headed communications for Sony Computer Entertainment America and the PlayStation brand. “But other than that, we're not going take someone from say, the sales side, unless they have specific experience we can use for events. Events are an easier jump for someone without a communications background than media relations.”

The current economic uncertainty makes it difficult to rationalize adding new employees aggressively. But Sendi, for one, argues, “PR is seeing more opportunities and greater success than many other industries. Plus, because the supply and demand of people has changed, it's becoming the perfect time to find non-traditional talent.”

Technique Tips

Do

Look for great fundamental skills – good writers can come from all walks of life

Continue to network in your area – you never know who's going to become available

Look for specific industry experience that can then be matched to your specific clients

Don't

Look only at the usual career paths. Traditional media outreach now plays a much smaller role in PR

Assume younger applicants have a better understanding of social media

Be hesitant – there's a huge talent pool so be ready to hire people when the chance arises

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