PR Moment: Enthusiasm and common sense are vital in PR
Taking on new people is always a gamble. It might cost less in the short term to take on a graduate, but the amount you need to invest in training before they decide to leave, can mean it is a costly mistake. Journalists can also be a high-risk investment. They might have writing ability, but find commercial life uncomfortable. Taking on a seasoned PRO may seem the safest option, but it is still tricky to find exactly the right person.
Deciding on the ideal type of candidate depends on the level you are recruiting at. If it is a junior post, then experience is not expected. But other qualities are vital. Paul Stallard, director at Berkeley PR, says: “When taking on trainees, we look for people with initiative and a demonstrable interest in PR – a university degree can be an added bonus, but isn’t a prerequisite. We find common sense and enthusiasm are far more important.”
When it comes to recruiting more senior people, Stallard says he prefers candidates with an agency background. He explains: “A specific type of management skill is required within an agency, and although in-house experience can be valuable, there is always a bedding-in period if the ‘agency-craft’ needs to be learned.”
Stallard is not overly enthusiastic about taking on journalists, although he recognises they are interesting to meet and have a natural affinity with the world of PR. However he thinks they don’t always fit into the traditional agency roles.
The advantage of journalists is that they can write. David Alexander, director at agency Calacus Public Relations, says that as long as journalists can get their heads around client expectations, reporting and suchlike, their skills lie in “their ability to sniff a story angle and their ability to write“. He adds, “so many PR graduates I have seen simply cannot write a sentence.”
Alexander says that apart from writing, the most important attributes candidates need are the willingness to “roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.”
Julian Ruane, director at agency ChiCho Marketing, agrees with Alexander and Stallard that enthusiasm is vital: “I’ve employed a number of people over my time in PR and the best results have had nothing to do with relevant experience or journalism skills. The employees that have worked out the best are the ones that have the same work ethic as the rest of the team. Skills can be learnt. My most recent employee has a background in retail and hasn’t written anything for years. She’s working out brilliantly because her work ethic is spot on – she’s in early, works hard, is able to laugh without losing focus, and is quick to pick things up. Although I have to train her from scratch, I’m enjoying the process rather than it being a bind because her approach to work is the same as the rest of the team.”
Donna Chessum, deputy managing director at PR agency Tribe, describes the agency’s experience of taking on graduates, experienced PROs and journalists:
“We believe in ‘growing our own’ and have just taken on our second intern having given the first a permanent position as a trainee account executive. What we look for in a graduate is confidence, ability to write, eagerness to learn, a genuine interest in our business, the media the world around them and that indefinable ‘spark’.
“We also value employees with broader experience of working in different industry sectors, in-house and agency and with wider communications and marketing skills. That way we know we can build the right teams for different clients.
“Two former journalists we recently hired were recruited for specific skills that we know the agency and our clients will benefit from. Both have broadcast experience and one headed the digital project for ITV Anglia and will be driving our online video offering. We have employed other journalists in the agency and have been amused by how quickly the scales fall from their eyes and they begin to appreciate the complexities and frustrations that come with managing both client and media demands!”