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image may be out of date but it has led to a shortage of good recruits,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