Is PR’s talent market really in crisis?

Every person I talk to has a different angle on the current state of the PR talent market: from there’s a talent shortage crisis, to no one is recruiting because of Brexit, to everyone’s going freelance!

So I thought it was time I caught up with the MD and founder of PRmoment’s Jobs of the Week partner – Julia Fenwick from Boldmove to understand what’s happening in the UK PR talent market at the moment.

Ben Smith: From a candidate perspective what's the best way of finding the right job?

Julia Fenwick: There are a few different ways to find a job from contacting companies directly to looking at job boards. Of course though, I’m going to say the best way is going to a good recruiter who knows the PR, Comms and Public Affairs sectors incredibly well, because I am one…

Ben Smith: What should candidates look for when appointing a good recruiter?

Julia Fenwick: Recruitment is not Tinder you shouldn’t just swipe right, because a recruiter looks like they have the right profile.

Candidates should look for a recruiter who has an in-depth knowledge of the industry they are recruiting for and offers time, guidance and has a genuine interest in putting them forward for or finding them the ’right’ job. It’s worth remembering that some recruiters are KPI driven and chasing targets. Also, alarm bells should start ringing if a company passes them from recruiter to recruiter.

Ask lots of questions like:

  • How much recruitment experience do you have?
  • What do you know about the PR industry?
  • Can you tell me more about the company and why they are hiring for this role?
  • Why do you think I would be a good fit for this role?

The ideal way to find a recruiter is by recommendation. You’ll learn a lot by talking to industry friends about their experiences (and it keeps recruiters accountable).

Ben Smith: What is it that employers are looking for?

Julia Fenwick: I think more than ever many employers are looking for ‘unicorn’ candidates. A few years ago, there was some wriggle room and companies would be happy to spend some time moulding and training a candidate to fit the brief. Now clients are more particular and under more pressure, so ideally want candidates who have spot-on experience and can hit the ground running.

Ben Smith: PR firms still seem to take an age to recruit – presumably this means they miss out on good candidates?

Julia Fenwick: Yes, that does seem to be happening more. One of the reasons is down to the point I made in question 3. Some companies also have quite long, drawn-out interview processes which can be made worse by scheduling complications as many candidates can only interview early morning or end of the day. When PR firms do find those almost mythical creatures, they need to snap them up.

Ben Smith:. How has LinkedIn impacted the recruitment sector? Are things better or worse?

Julia Fenwick: LinkedIn has impacted the recruitment sector enormously both for good and bad. On the positive side it gives recruiters sight of everyone working in the PR and comms industry and if you have paid LinkedIn for the full ‘recruiter package’ it also tells you who, is looking for a new job. It also gives candidates sight of what jobs are out there.

On the negative side for recruiters, in-house recruiters (with the same package) also get to see if a candidate is open to new opportunities and often make a direct approach.

On the negative side for candidates, if a candidate is looking for a new job and highlights this on LinkedIn they are often immediately bombarded by ‘I see you are looking for a job’ in-mails from recruiters, which must be really annoying.

Ben Smith: Do lots of recruiters still spray and pray CVs or has GDPR killed off this poor practice?

Julia Fenwick: Thankfully, GDPR has made some impact on this but there are still plenty of instances where some recruiters are sailing very close to the wind or past it. Candidates should ALWAYS give written consent for their CV’s to be sent to a company for every role.

I recently had a health PR who was sent for a very technical b2b tech job and didn’t know anything about it and hadn’t given consent. With some areas of recruitment still running KPI driven business, unfortunately spray and pray will continue to happen. Candidates need to be in control of what happens to their personal data.

Ben Smith: Is there still a rush for all the in-house jobs?

Julia Fenwick: Absolutely, PR candidates are far more likely to be interested in moving for an in-house role. When we advertise or try to headhunt a candidate for a role at a PR agency, the response is slow, and the interest is very limited. Mention the words ‘in-house’ and the response is completely different. In fact, I sent a message to 20 potential candidates the other day for an in-house role and got 10 excellent and positive responses within 10 mins. We like it when that happens.

Ben Smith:. Why is there always a sector-wide shortage of account managers?

Julia Fenwick: Account managers are the lynch pins of the PR team and companies are doing their utmost to retain their staff at this level. Offers of more responsibility, promotions to SAM and of course salary increases tend to keep them from moving. It’s the same at AD level too.

Interview by Ben Smith, founder, PRmoment.