FOCUS: HI-TECH RECRUITMENT - Tracking down hi-tech PROs/Looking for a job in PR that covers everything from consumer products to the latest business and technology services? The hi-tech market is buzzing, so why is it that so many potential recruits veeri

Mention a career in PR, and the layman will conjure up an image of Absolutely Fabulous. Mention a career in hi-tech PR, and he will see an ’anorak.’ As anyone who works in PR knows, the first image is far from true.

Mention a career in PR, and the layman will conjure up an image of

Absolutely Fabulous. Mention a career in hi-tech PR, and he will see an

’anorak.’ As anyone who works in PR knows, the first image is far from

true.



As managing director of Bite Matthew Ravden points out: ’traditional

association with hi-tech PR is propellor heads and trainspotters.’ The

image may be out of date but it has led to a shortage of good recruits,

both at graduate and at senior level. While other sectors are inundated

with CVs for vacant positions, hi-tech consultancies receive only a

handful.



It makes little sense: hi-tech PR is perhaps the fastest growing and

most lucrative sector in the market.



But, as Zoe Hockenull, director of recruitment consultancy The Foundry

says, suggest a job in hi-tech PR and an otherwise suitable candidate

will suddenly develop an acute case of technophobia.



’It’s a notoriously difficult sector to recruit into,’ says

Hockenhull.



’There is a shortage of graduate trainees and there is not much movement

between consultancies. People are either terrified of technology, or

believe they won’t find it stimulating. Consultancies are now actively

recruiting from the US because they can’t get the right people

here.’



The recession is also to blame for the dearth of manpower.

’Historically, the PR sector has not had good graduate recruitment

schemes,’ says Sarah Patt, a recruitment consultant at Major Players.

’When the recession came along, they held back in recruiting. A few

years down the line, and with massive growth in the sector, there are

now not enough suitably qualified people to fill positions at account

manager level and above.’



Hi-tech consultancies aim to counter their image problem by attracting

people with higher than average salaries, excellent benefits packages

and intensive training programmes. Crispin Manners, chief executive of

Argyll says the hi-tech sector leads the PR industry in its training

practices, particularly at graduate level. ’Investment in people is

essential. The PRCA reports that in London there is a 50 per cent staff

turnover in PR each year. You can’t run a business if half your staff

walk every year.



You must give them the right training, the right direction and invest in

their personal development.’



Though consultancies are crying out for recruits, they are unwilling to

sacrifice quality and all have stringent selection procedures.



A-Plus, for example, expects its employees to fulfil 12 criteria, such

as industry knowledge, trade media knowledge, commercial sense and

resilience.



Like other hi-tech companies, it is starting to realise that technical

know-how is less important than solid PR skills. ’We can teach people

technical knowledge,’ says Peter Thomas, group account director. ’What

takes more time to learn are budgeting skills, account building and team

dynamics.’



In recognition of this fact, hi-tech consultancies are starting to look

beyond the hi-tech sector to recruit mid-level managers. A-plus has

recruited advertising executives, general marketeers and sales people,

as well as PR professionals from other disciplines.



Recruitment consultant Sarah Patt says the sector must think

laterally.



’Consultancies must be more flexible about the backgrounds of the people

they recruit and should make it clear to potential employees that they

do not have to be trainspotters, just interested in technology.’



Perhaps the greatest recruitment challenge faced by the hi-tech sector

is the rapid growth and transformation of the market place over the past

few years. With the move of computer technology into the consumer

market, many hi-tech consultancies have entered the consumer-tech arena,

winning home PC, computer game and Internet accounts. While this may

have made the sector appear more ’sexy’, it has brought new recruitment

problems.



Consultancies are now looking for people not only with technological

know-how, but also with consumer experience. With the increase in global

trading, language skills are also at a premium.



Andy West, international marketing director at Text 100, says the

hi-tech PR consultant’s job has changed significantly.



’Five years ago the main job was media relations with the trade and

technical press, communicating technical issues to a technical audience.

Now the industry has become much more consumer-oriented and there is a

completely new audience,’ he says.



’Hi-tech PR is now about brand and brand image. People need to

understand audience segmentation and have a broader knowledge of the

media. The people we want have our three brand values - creativity,

character and desire for challenge,’ he adds.



Text 100 has just appointed its first consumer sector director, Ian

Howarth, who previously worked for Biss Lancaster. ’We needed someone to

drive our consumer initiatives at a senior level,’ West explains. ’We’re

not trying to become a consumer agency. We’re offering people the chance

to be involved in a new area. The downside is that some people will be

attracted by the ’sexy’ consumer side, not the hi-tech side. Hi-tech is

not an easy option.’



The company has also launched a recruitment drive, employing its first

human resources officer and created an introduction scheme. It has

redesigned its logo and dropped the hi-tech label, repositioning itself

as a ’technology’ consultancy.



But hard-core hi-tech consultancies who cannot lure employees with

consumer-tech accounts face an uphill struggle. John Howard, director of

printing specialist AD Communications says consultancies have to

compromise if they wish to recruit the best people. ’We look for three

qualities in our staff - PR experience, language skills and an aptitude

for technology.



But if people have only two of these requirements, they can learn the

third when they join us. Just as in other PR sectors, the people who

succeed have lots of enthusiasm and are prepared to learn.’



Howard says if hi-tech consultancies are to dispel their bad image and

attract people into the sector, they must create a strong company

culture and promote themselves as enjoyable places to work. ’The key is

for hi-tech PR companies to do a bit more PR for themselves,’ he

concludes.



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