Originally posted by Matt Shaw on the Council of Public Relations Firm’s Firm Voice blog.
With our industry evolving, and with recent news that social media companies are falling over one another to hire and retain talent, we’ve been wondering: What kinds of employees will public relations firms be fighting over three to five years from now? And how will young public relations recruits develop those skills?
We sat down with two industry leaders, Sabrina Horn, Founder, President and CEO of the Horn Group, and Gary Stockman, CEO of Porter Novelli. Their firms are very different from each other; however, one common theme that immediately became clear was the magnitude of the forces in our industry driving changes in talent. The rise of social media and the erosion of boundaries between public relations and other marketing disciplines is rapidly creating the need for a new kind of public relations professional. Stockman likens the situation to that which existed more than a decade ago when business was globalizing rapidly. “In digital we’re seeing an evolution that mirrors what happened with “global” skills. Early on, you had international specialists, and then it became clear that this international perspective needed to be built throughout the organization. Something similar is now happening with digital. We do have digital specialists who help us innovate, but for us, digital and social media are intrinsic in what we do.”
Horn agrees, remarking, “Recruiting will change over the next three to five years. We’re all becoming digital communications people, not just public relations people. Public relations is just one piece of what a professional in our industry will need to have.” Among the skills Horn regards as in-demand are an ability to think more visually, an insider’s knowledge of social media, and a broader understanding of marketing strategy. “We’re already looking for people with a more well-rounded communications background—generalists who are capable of doing many things and floating between specialties, with digital skills as a central core area of competency. But the talent we hire just has to understand marketing strategy, because our clients are demanding that level of thinking as to how to build audiences.”
Stockman affirms the importance of business thinking skills and a broader perspective, but he also emphasizes the importance of vision. “We’re looking for people who can see around the corner, can figure out where technology and human behavior are going, what we need to do to lead our clients into this brave new world. We’re looking for people who are native speakers of digital, people who grew up thinking in digital. But critically, we’re also looking for people who can join this digital thinking with other core skills that exist in the agency.”
So where will agencies be going to get people with this combination of digital and general marketing skills? Horn notes that it’s getting more difficult to find this talent. “Universities have PR programs, but good digital marketing programs are harder to find. We look at the workplace, at people who might have an art history degree but an interest in communications, or a senior employee who has been a corporate marketer but knows the broader marketing mix, not just public relations. People with broader skills. Sure, we will always need public relations specialists, but I believe the sweet spot in our industry will be a balance between specialization and general talent.”
Stockman relates that his firm has just completed the acquisition of Voce Communications, a marketing and communications consultancy strong in social media, in part to access the kinds of digital and web expertise clients are looking for. “Beyond that, we’ve definitely been looking farther afield—people who come out of advertising and digital firms, people who combine non-marketing backgrounds with digital know-how. We’re looking for combination thinkers, and we’re actually finding that a lot of talented people are looking to public relations because they see it as the future.”
As our conversations with these two industry leaders continued, it became apparent to us that a single blog posting would not be enough to cover talent trends in public relations. Next week, we’ll look at the question of how rising public relations professionals can best prepare for a career. In particular, we’ll consider a conventional feeder for new public relations recruits, university communications programs. How well are these programs doing? How will they evolve in coming years? Stay tuned!