PR firms must show creativity in hiring

Carol Panasiuk, APR, is senior vice-president and general manager of Toronto-based Cohn & Wolfe. Hey! Where did everybody go? If you're like most managers in the public relations industry, then you've started to notice a real shortage of talented communications...

Carol Panasiuk, APR, is senior vice-president and general manager of Toronto-based Cohn & Wolfe.

Hey! Where did everybody go? If you’re like most managers in the public relations industry, then you’ve started to notice a real shortage of talented communications professionals out there.

With Canada’s employment rate at an all-time high, companies in many industry sectors – not just public relations – find themselves competing for increasingly limited human resources in an environment of ever-rising expectations. Suddenly, the business of finding, recruiting and retaining people has become a much larger component of a manager’s job.

Ours is a ‘creative’ industry. Accordingly, we need to exercise more than a little creativity when it comes to dealing with our staffing crunch.

The solution involves three major steps: (1) moving outside the comfort zone to find talent; (2) developing a compelling selling proposition; and (3) building a corporate culture that rewards talented people.

All Roads Lead to PR

Open your mind to the idea of hiring from other fields and recruiting people with experience gleaned in industries not traditionally viewed as sources for PR talent.

While journalism continues to provide us with many capable practitioners, any field with an emphasis on written and oral communication can supply talented people; look for those with backgrounds in areas such as sales and marketing, advertising, management consulting and teaching.

Government has long been a source for specialists in public affairs, but it can also offer up candidates interested in other PR disciplines. The not-for-profit sector, meanwhile, boasts many individuals with strong communications skills, plus backgrounds in nursing, law and financial services – good candidates to fill positions in health care, corporate and financial or investor relations communications.

PR firms that show imagination when recruiting end up with personnel from wildly diverse backgrounds, who bring new expertise and new perspectives to the task of solving communications problems for clients. At our agency, an aspiring actress-cum-receptionist is now an account executive. Another candidate, who came to us with a combination of zoology, sales management and corporate communications expertise, now holds a senior position in our technology practice.

To find the best-qualified people, you need to turn everyone in your organization into a recruiter and sales person, by encouraging a sense of ownership of the process. Every interview must be taken seriously. Employees involved in the hiring decision need to know how to conduct interviews, do follow-ups and check references.

And remember – treat the candidates you don’t hire with courtesy and respect. Those who are treated properly will come away with a favourable impression of your company – and they may well pass that on to other colleagues.

Your Unique Selling Proposition

When it comes to making an offer, bear in mind that – even in today’s hot market – money isn’t always the deciding factor. For most candidates, in fact, it’s third or fourth on their list of reasons for joining a company. And those who do take a job for the money – or trendy offerings like an office putting green or cappuccino machine – are also the ones most likely to jump to a competitor that offers more money or another nifty perk.

People are attracted to an employer for many different reasons: compensation, inspiration, the opportunity to acquire and use new skills, a sense of ownership. If you want to ensure that your job offer is accepted, then it’s important to communicate proactively the company’s core values. Place a strong emphasis on those fundamentals that many up-start companies overlook: honesty, professionalism, a solid infrastructure and a long-term view.

Be prepared to move promptly when you do find talented people. Make your best offer, and then let candidates make up their minds. Bear in mind that the real key to finding and keeping the best people is offering a home for their talent – an environment where they can learn and grow and be rewarded. Focus on building your reputation as a hot company with growth potential, not as a deep pocket.

Also in this report:

* Dot-coms put best face forward: PR playing a larger role in communication strategies of online enterprises p.B2

* Branding dot-coms with PR poses challenges: Companies must resist impulse to move too quickly, or to shift positioning constantly p.B4

* PR meets investor relations: Disciplines converging in high-tech world p.B5

* High-tech PR expertise in short supply p.B6

* Web impacting corporate reputation: Companies want to know what’s being said about them online – and by whom p.B8

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group