PR Is Changing - Is Your Talent Keeping Up?

As the world emerges from a global recession, PR is on the rise. Businesses are looking to invest in their resurgence, and the public relations industry is reaping the benefits.

While growth is great for the industry, it means more staffing, more recruiting, more training and more competition for the best employees. The U.S. Department of Labor projects employment of public relations specialists to grow 12% by 2022.1 Candidates will be in high demand, and PR agencies must develop strategies to keep up with their staffing needs in this growth market.

This paper looks at some of the different approaches that larger PR firms and smaller boutique agencies take toward talent, from headhunting and recruitment to in-house training and valuable perks. As the industry growth continues, these various strategies play an even greater role in determining which firms end up with the talent to handle the surging business.

Targeting Top Talent

Large PR firms have on-staff personnel to acquire talent; some of them have entire departments. They identify and pursue targets year-round. Boutique agencies, on the other hand, rarely can afford full-time headhunters. They usually wait until there’s an immediate need before they hire an outside headhunter to pursue candidates.

Both large and boutique agencies target talent at all levels, but large firms also pursue high-level talent that brings creative value to their brand. For instance, a firm may hire a retired politician or a former CEO as an advisor. These people may never be involved in any day-to-day accounts, but they add immense cachet with current clients or for pitching new business. Edelman, for example, recently hired the former Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, as a senior advisor to its global public affairs division.2 To certain clients, having access to a former mayor of a major city—as well as all his contacts and connections—is a valuable selling point.

Boutique agencies may not have the resources to retain such highlevel public figures, but they hire creative advisors and staff, too. Some boutiques add specialists to their rosters that add value in their specific PR niches. For instance, a boutique that focuses on healthcare PR may hire someone with a background in biotech or pharmaceuticals rather than a background in public relations; someone with experience taking a drug to market can add substantial value to a boutique agency with clients going through the same process.

Building from the Bottom

On the other end of the spectrum, most large PR firms like to hire entry-level employees through their established internship programs. These firms recruit on college campuses or receive applications,then carefully select a number of undergraduates to be summer interns (or recent graduates for other seasons). Internships give large firms a chance to recruit young talent as well as determine who’s a good fit for their culture. Essentially, it’s a risk-free test drive. At the end of their programs, the PR firms offer a percentage of the interns full-time work. It’s a valuable pipeline for firms to restock their talent.

While large firms have internship programs and established brands, smaller boutiques offer young talent something else: opportunity and access. Boutiques sell young talent on their entrepreneurial spirit and less-corporate structure. For millennials, this freedom is a major draw. Many of them prefer to eschew the security sought by past generations for a chance to work in a smaller company and be involved in all facets of the business. Most entry-level hires at boutique agencies learn quickly on the job; they often work on accounts with the CEO of their agency, something that never happens at a large firm.

Large firms counter the allure of boutique agencies with their own advantages. For one, the large firms have been around for decades and are unlikely to go away. Large firms also have established training programs. They have systems for bringing along new hires, training them alongside experienced professionals and having them learn the company, department by department. These are successful programs for the firms, and they’re an asset to the new hires if they ever want to test the waters elsewhere. Many boutiques, for instance, look to hire staff that learned the ropes at a large firm.

Large PR firms also offer the opportunity to travel the world. Large firms are famous for their expansive global reach. They tout offices in dozens of countries around the world, and that’s a unique advantage over smaller boutiques that usually have just one office. A young candidate may be more interested to work for a company that can transfer her to Rome, Paris or London. Ketchum, for example, operates in 70 countries, from Berlin to Beijing, Cairo to Caracas.3 That’s a powerful recruiting tool for someone who wants to see the world.

Expanding the Bench

Both boutiques and large firms are broadening their reach as they look for new talent. This is primarily due to changes in the traditional industry, but as PR continues to grow, this approach will only expand more. PR firms are now all-encompassing—a blend of PR, advertising and marketing. Agencies are now required to measure results and analyze data. Consequently, there is a need for new expertise beyond the traditional skill sets of public relations.

Agencies are hiring employees with backgrounds other than PR. Where once they may have exclusively hired someone with a college degree in PR or Marketing, they now look for backgrounds in journalism, technology, social media, writing, data analytics, etc. The new approach values unique specialties, and the thinking is that those people can learn about PR on the job at the firm easier than a PR person might learn about a specific skill set like web design.

For example, a boutique may hire someone with a strong background in writing and no experience in PR. It will then train that person to apply his writing talent toward press releases and other PR applications of that skill set. Likewise, a large PR firm may have an entire data analysis department staffed with specialists in analytics. These people may begin with zero knowledge of PR, but they will learn what they need to know while they apply their experience in data analysis. It’s a new approach to PR as firms take on even bigger roles in their clients’ business.

Industry Growth Enriches PR Talent Pool

The PR industry is growing. Both large firms and smaller boutiques are combining for the best industry growth since the global recession of 2008. Different approaches to talent are allowing agencies to build their creative teams, and clients of all sizes and budgets can consequently engage the PR firm that’s right for them.

Despite competition between firms, industry growth is good for all. Increasing billing is good. Increasing influence is good. And increasing the number of clients that engage PR agencies is good. Large PR firms and small boutique agencies will continue to evolve, as will their talent, and all will benefit from providing the exact public relations that each client needs.

High quality candidates will be in great demand, and PR agencies must develop strategies to keep up with their staffing needs in this growth market.

As the industry continues to grow, new approaches to recruitment will play an even greater role in determining which firms end up with the talent to handle the surging business.

Most entry-level hires at boutique agencies learn quickly on the job; they often work on accounts with the CEO of their agency, something that never happens at a large firm.


Andrew Meranus is PR Newswire’s Vice President of Agency Markets/Business Development, leading a team of Account Directors focused on driving revenue growth and meeting the needs of public relations and investor relations agencies. Follow him on Twitter at @asteven14



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1. United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics;

2. Byron Tau, “Antonio Villaraigosa Joining PR Firm,” October 22, 2013;