March 1, 2012
Job prospects for PR professionals are improving as company leaders become more confident about their budgets and financial prospects.
“I would liken the current communications job market to a patient who’s just gotten out of rehab — the crisis is over but we’re very much still in recovery,” says Don Spetner, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Korn/Ferry International, which is the world’s largest executive recruiting firm.
“Corporations are generally healthy, but still cautious about hiring too fast, given the global economic uncertainty and the election year. We’re seeing a lot of baby steps with job growth instead of confident strides forward.”
This anxiety surrounding the market has led many professionals to take jobs below their level of experience, often for less money than they would have earned before the recession of 2008.
But hiring rates are improving as more companies fill the full-time positions that leaders eliminated or postponed when the economy began declining. More organizations are also bringing in freelancers or independent practitioners. As a result, Spring says that he’s seen more solo practitioners from different parts of the country working together virtually.
Experts expect this gradual, positive trend to continue.
“As business picks up and PR teams and agencies take on more projects and clients, employers recognize a need to bring in extra support,” says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing service for advertising, marketing and PR professionals. “We see continued demand for PR roles, which suggests that finding candidates with these skills remains a challenge.”
According to The Creative Hiring Index, produced by The Creative Group, 14 percent of marketing and advertising executives surveyed said that they plan to hire in the first quarter of 2012. These executives are also seeking employees with strong communication skills; 45 percent said that it’s challenging to find skilled creative professionals today.
Job market realities will vary for practitioners, depending on their professional focus. Sandra Charet, president of New Jersey-based Charet & Associates, an executive recruiter for PR and corporation communications professionals, says that she sees a shift toward PR pros choosing to specialize in a specific area. Companies want someone with experience in the same industry or a related one and are “more specific and demanding about background,” she says.
The good news is that organizations are recognizing public relations’ value, heightening the demand for skilled communicators. In fact, 93 percent of business leaders believe that public relations is just as important to their companies as other forms of communication, including advertising and marketing, according to a survey that PRSA and the MWW Group released this past December.
“Public relations has finally come into its own,” says Dennis Spring, president of New York-based Spring Associates, which specializes in recruiting PR professionals. “People are getting a much clearer sense of what public relations does. The more they’re exposed to it, the bigger it will grow.”
Health care public relations continues to be a growing specialty area in the United States. Experts agree that those who are hiring don’t show signs of slowing down, including the biotech, pharmaceuticals and medical technology sectors.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that employment in health care support occupations is projected to increase 34.5 percent in 2012 — faster than any other occupational group.
Many companies are also seeking social media specialists, and even the most senior-level professionals must be knowledgeable across a broad range of skills and ever-evolving platforms.
“Companies want to maximize their budgets, and so they seek candidates with a range of skills and experience,” Farrugia says.
And as transparent communication becomes increasingly critical, the lines between disciplines are blurring. Companies want strategic, flexible and multifaceted practitioners who understand how they fit into the big picture.
“Communicate how you’ve contributed to previous employers’ bottom lines, including specific ways you helped firms save money or boost profits, whenever possible, [like] during conversations with hiring managers, ” Farrugia says.
There’s one fundamental PR skill that recruiters recommend universally: writing. “Writing still is king in our business, digital or not,” Spring says.
As candidates’ writing skills are on display even before someone opens their portfolio, make sure that your application materials are flawless, Farrugia advises. “Marketing and advertising executives cited typos or grammatical errors as the most common résumé mistake made by creative professionals.”
But even if you have a slick résumé, cover letter and Twitter handle, prospective employers need to know more about you. Your network is still your best resource.
“LinkedIn has automated the networking process [and] ended the need to ever make a cold call,” Spetner says. “In the end, however, there’s no substitute for human contact and personal relationships.”
Make your Internet presence work for you, even when you’re offline. “Having a completed profile on LinkedIn and Google+ is important,” Charet says. While LinkedIn remains a crucial resource for recruiters, she also expects that Google+ will grow because it allows people to promote themselves in a professional way that has more social aspects than LinkedIn currently does.
Both of these tools are good ways to create more relationships and opportunities. “Exhaust every avenue, from networking online and joining professional groups, like PRSA, to targeting companies of interest directly,” Farrugia advises. “Contact a recruiter that specializes in the PR field and tell everyone you know that you are in the market.”
Differentiate yourself by showing organizations how you can meet their needs and also focus on what clients are looking for. “You’ve got to do your homework,” Charet says. “Check for connections and background information.”
She also recommends maintaining alternate versions of your résumé that highlight skills or accomplishments that are pertinent to various job descriptions.
Landing a PR job in today’s market requires flexibility and strong fundamental communications skills. While there’s a lot of uncertainty about the country’s economic future, opportunities for talented communications professionals will continue to grow in 2012.