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Five Traits of Outstanding PR Hires

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As the New Year approaches, many PR firms are planning to bring on new hires to help make 2010 successful. Ask any busy PR professional and they’ll likely tell you that life could be much easier with the help of an intern or entry-level employee who is hard working and ready to learn. These types of employees can be especially helpful in our industry, where at any given time there is a wide range of both big and small tasks to get done, from creating strategy and reporting documents to pitching, writing, managing social media sites and creating media databases. While it’s true that some new PR employees will always work out better than others, there are specific qualities that firms can look for in prospective hires to help ensure the decision to bring an individual into the organization will pay off.

-          Willingness to work with a range of industries – In my experience interviewing candidates for intern or entry-level PR positions at Walker Sands, some interviewees have outwardly stated that they aren’t interested in working with specific types of clients. This raises a glaring red flag that the candidate is probably inflexible and would be difficult to work with. If someone implies or outright states that they would only be enthusiastic about working with a specific type of client (fashion or product-based, for example), you probably don’t want to bring them into your organization - especially if you deal in a much wider range of industries. PR job-seekers don’t necessarily have to be knowledgeable in a multitude of areas, but flexibility and a willingness to learn are essential.

-          Familiarity with social media - When interviewing a potential new PR hire, don’t forget to ask them questions that give you a sense of their knowledge of social media. Let’s face it, public relations is no longer just about writing press releases and pitching media by phone and e-mail. Blogs and sites such as Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in helping to get the word out about clients. If a candidate has an active blog and Twitter feed, consider it as a very positive thing. PR people who are afraid or unwilling to dive into social media are quickly becoming ineffective.

-          Outstanding writing ability – New PR hires with training or experience in journalism often make for the most effective workers at a firm. After all, when reaching out to professional journalists – who can be skeptical of PR people – who better to do the job than someone who knows AP style and the sort of writing that most journalists prefer? Hiring only the strongest writers into PR positions at your company can pay off in spades. To ensure this, administer writing tests to all candidates and make it a point to review at least a few of their writing samples.

-          A solid grasp on the news – Just as new PR hires should be knowledgeable about what makes strong journalistic writing, they should be well versed in the news. A key aspect of public relations is coming up with story ideas and angles that are interesting to members of the media. If a PR professional is clueless about what’s going on in the world, they won’t likely be very effective when it comes to developing timely, relevant pitches. To get a sense of a candidate’s knowledge of the news, ask them what publications they like to read, and as part of a writing test consider having them develop a pitch for one of your clients based on a current news story of their choice.

-          A working knowledge of public relations – It might sound ridiculous to suggest that anyone applying for a PR job would not have a good understanding of what a PR person does. In reality, though, many candidates who apply for intern or entry level PR jobs simply don’t know what they’d be doing in the position. As a result of extensive layoffs, we have seen job-seekers applying for PR jobs with no education or background in the industry. When these types of candidates manage to get hired into PR roles, they often have no interest in what they are doing and become more of a burden than a help to the company. Keeping an eye out for strong, clear objective statements on resumes and during interviews can help you identify and hire only the individuals who are knowledgeable and serious about the industry.

Fellow PR professionals, what do you think? What are some additional traits of the best new PR hires?

As recently posted on this blog, Walker Sands is currently accepting applications for Winter/Spring interns until December 9. Browse our Chicago PR internships for more information.