Public relations, often downplayed and misunderstood by the rest of the marketing community, has become a central part of most marketing plans. The sector is diverse, offering opportunities to connect the business with the public. It is also difficult work, with outreaches often leading to dead ends and strategies not panning out. But best of all, it's hiring.
Rising revenues and companies' growing realization of the importance of having a public relations team, whether retained or in-house, are helping that growth along.
According to a survey by the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF), 65% of firms interviewed experienced higher revenues in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. "In January this year, business started picking up and all the positions that were frozen last year and in 2008 opened up again," said Lindsay Olson, partner and recruiter at New York-based Paradigm Staffing.
There is a general feeling of optimism among businesses, leading them to hire more PR professionals, either in-house or through agencies. That is having a trickle down effect on PR shops as well.
At Ogilvy PR, there is a general feeling that business is going to pick up. "Depending on your niche, companies are cautiously embarking on new campaigns," said Sheri Leonardo, senior vice president at the PR heavyweight. "Pharmaceuticals and healthcare are especially hot." Ogilvy current has 61 positions open, according to its careers page, from senior vice presidents to digital media strategists to account directors.
Since the crisis, businesses have also been increasingly interested in tapping into the value of having a public relations team. Gary McCormick, the chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), said that crises and social media are pushing businesses to pay attention to their PR budgets. "There are repercussions for businesses who used social media incorrectly, or didn't use it at all, and suddenly they're realizing a need for PR," he said. "We are the ones who understand how to build a relationship with a customer, and that's what they need."
Demand for social media capabilities is climbing at PR firms.
In the fourth quarter of 2009, the CPRF's survey of its members revealed that 82% expect to see social media PR demand increase in 2010. And another survey by the PRSA found that almost 80% of its member firms look for social networking capabilities when they are hiring.
Companies will often expect candidates to demonstrate the work they have done, or to propose an innovative social media tactic at the interview itself.
"Having a Twitter account is not enough," said Leonardo. "We want to see demonstrated experience in implementing social media tactics and blogger influence research, things like that."
At Fleishman-Hillard, Agnes Gioconda, chief talent officer, said her firm has around 100 openings in any given week, across all levels and regions. Generally, entry level positions come from the internship pool, while for more senior positions they will look externally.
Like at many other agencies, there is a behavioral interview process where candidates are expected to walk interviewers through recent projects, and those with social media skills have a competitive advantage, said Gioconda.
But if you really want to go where the jobs are, turn on C-Span, advised McCormick of PRSA. "Watch the Congress, and watch the careers," he said. "Anytime there is a public discourse on the environment, for example, public relations will need to be there, and will need to staff up."
There is an increased demand for internal communications, according to Maryanne Rainone, a senior vice president at recruitment firm Heyman Associates who specializes in hiring on the corporate side.
The recession has made companies more eager than ever to reach out to their staff, and as the economy picks up, they want to make sure they're keeping them on board.
"They want to keep employees in the loop," said Rainone. "And many jobs are available at the director level."
There is also a lot of need for digital media specialists in-house. Following in the footsteps of Gatorade, every company wants a "hub" where they monitor and target social media to find out what is being said about their brands.
At the corporate level, subject matter expertise is not as essential as in agency jobs, said Rainone. "What they want is someone who can make a strategy around communications," she said. "They won't have to have that technical expertise."
A common career path is moving from an agency job, where you may get to try out all sectors and types of companies, finding your niche and then moving to corporate.
But according to Leonardo, it gets "boring" very quickly, and she'll often see people boomerang back to the agency. "There is a lot of movement," she said.
Write to Shareen Pathak
Related: How Crises Create Jobs in Communications