At this time each year, thousands of freshly minted graduates and school leavers flood on to the jobs market seeking rewarding career opportunities.  How many of them see the PR profession as a top career choice compare with, say, accounting, law or even advertising?  Does top talent simply fall into the laps of PR agencies who cherry pick the best and brightest, or do they have to innovate in their recruitment strategies to attract and retain the right calibre, and diversity, of people?

Talent magnets

Professional services firms like E&Y are true innovators in this regard. They are working hard to attract school leavers as well as graduates and have now introduced ‘returnships’ for people rejoining the workforce after career breaks to raise a family or live abroad.  The PR value in this is significant; these firms are seen as fulfilling their duty to improve diversity and enabling people from all backgrounds to access rewarding careers.  It’s also valuable in terms of service delivery because they are broadening the pools from which they are recruiting talent by exploring previously untapped sources.  Is the PR industry keeping up?

PRCA board director and chairman of Bell Pottinger Engage, Kevin Read’s personal perspective is that PR agencies need to mirror the large professional services firms, “The PR industry increasingly wants to see itself as a profession. Specifically, one that can provide blue-chip careers to a diverse range of people. As such it needs clear standards, the confidence to offer high level advice and a transparent and value-driven way of working. But above all PR consultancies need to mirror many of the large law and accountancy firms and look across a far wider pool to find new talent.”

Levelling the playing field

The age-old criticism of PR is that it’s chock-full of people educated at private schools (despite only 7% of the UK population having gone to one) and lacks diversity in terms of age, education and ethnic background.  However, it seems that things are changing for the better with a conscious effort to broaden access.

Michael Frohlich, CEO EMEA Ogilvy Public Relations, admits that attracting a diverse range of people is a challenge throughout the marketing industry, even for a top tier global PR firm.  “We get lots of interest from young people who are keen to work here, so there’s a lot of choice in that respect,” he explains. “However where we struggle is in attracting more diverse talent.  This is where we have to work harder in reaching those who wouldn’t automatically consider a career here or in this industry.  The Pipe is a real answer to this and something we’re very supportive of.”

The Pipe is Ogilvy UK’s six-month creative internship scheme which offers 14 places each year.  With no upper age limit (applicants must be 18 or over), no need for a degree or even any experience, it’s a truly level playing field that pays the London Living Wage and could lead to a permanent job, as it did for all 13 of last year’s ‘Pipers’. There are 14 places up for grabs for the internship that starts this September; visit www.ogilvypipe.co.uk to apply.  To complement The Pipe, Ogilvy launches a new scheme this month for people looking for roles outside creative.  In addition, the agency also runs a work experience programme for those who are still assessing their career options. In another move to encourage greater diversity, Ogilvy plans to roll out Unconscious Bias training across the agency.

Kevin Read believes agencies need to make it clear that applications from a broad spectrum of candidates are encouraged.  “Attracting a diverse range of candidates is an art,” he explains. “Word of mouth, social media and a transparent application process are all vital. A consultancy’s reputation, especially the quality of its work, and the brand company it keeps will also play a part. Establishing that your doors are always open and that ‘talent’ and ‘potential’ are more important than personal background and academic qualifications will help.

“There are numerous ways to open new doors. Internships, typically, a two-week paid arrangement, can give candidates a flavour of consultancy life and an opportunity for employers to spot talented people. Naturally, such schemes must be as open as possible. The trick is to seek candidates with broad life experiences and from different social classes and ethnic backgrounds. Many undergraduates covet these opportunities but there is no reason why school leavers, gap year return, career switchers, or returning mums shouldn’t be encouraged to apply.”

Why school leavers can be a good investment

Attracting school leavers has its advantages, Frohlich says, “Those coming into the industry straight from college or school tend to be more loyal, staying longer with the company.  Also with school leavers you effectively have a blank canvas, meaning you can mould them into the type of employee you want and need.  You can ‘imprint’ your brand on them in a way you can’t with those who have experienced other agencies.”

In terms of a more diverse graduate intake, Read suggests developing relationships with newer universities.  “Aside from internships it is possible to run schemes to attract applicants from specific communities. Relationships can be established with newer universities specialising in communications, such as Greenwich. They typically have more diverse student communities than more academic institutions. Support can also be given to industry initiatives around diversity and returning mothers.”

It’s not all wine, wine, wine you know…

As for expectations of what a career in PR can offer, it seems that some people out there think it’s more Ab Fab than hard graft.

Michael Frohlich comments, “I believe PR is still a top career choice but often for the wrong reasons.  Those who have undertaken work experience in agencies can see what the job actually is, but there are many who believe PR is a ‘social only’ job and are not prepared for the real hard graft involved.”

Once your foot is firmly in the door, you would do well to master management and finance skills in addition to the craft skills all PRs need.  Kevin Read has some sound advice for those aiming high,  “People securing permanent roles in a consultancy always want to be clear about their career pathways,” he says. “Hard work, aptitude and fortunate timing combined with first class people skills can propel you quickly up the career ladder. However, too often specific competences are not well defined. Coaching and training, be it in-house or external, too often focuses on craft skills rather than equipping people with broader managerial know-how. Mastering people management and financial skills are two areas that ambitious industry entrants would do well to master. Getting on requires spotting opportunities. And often sound advice from a mentor.”

Good luck from Utterclub to all those looking to enter into the PR industry this year.  It’s a fabulous industry and a rewarding career.  Build a rocket boys (or girls).