3 Tips for Hiring Outside the PR Field

Brenda Jones Barwick
Brenda Jones Barwick

Hiring outside of the traditional public relations industry has proven to be an effective strategy for tapping into new business and energizing our agency’s team.

In the last several years we have recruited executives from the political, investment and real estate sectors which, in turn, has helped to triple our agency revenue since 2010.

To expand out talent pool, first we hired three people who worked at The White House and U.S. Senate as public information officers and constituent liaisons. The hirings planted the seed to launch and grow a public affairs team that is now the largest practice area in our agency. What is more, we now integrate public affairs elements into our traditional clients’ campaigns in order to bolster the accounts.

Another executive, who had 15 years of experience in the investment and real estate industries, launched our corporate communications practice. On his first day on the job, a large capital investment firm unexpectedly called and said, “You’re exactly what we are looking for” and fired its other agency. Along with this B2B expertise, we have added to our portfolio architectural, aerospace, financial and energy clients.

In our experience, bringing in nonagency and nontraditional public relations people have led to the following (and highly positive) outcomes:

1. Competitive edge. They bring to the table a background and industry network that deepens our bench and opens doors to companies that typically would not consider a PR agency.

2. Diversity. Obtaining industry expertise energizes and challenges the agency team by learning about new industries (and transferring such insights to our other clients/campaigns). For example, our work on public affairs issues, such as education and transportation, provides deeper insights for economic development organizations and trucking companies.

3. Insights. When we can speak a specific industry lingo and provide intel on market trends and networking news, it goes an extremely long way with clients because they can better relate to the PR process.

The nontraditional hires have fundamentally altered the makeup of our firm.

Prior to 2010, our staff consisted of 100 percent traditional public relations pros. Today, however, 40 percent of our staff consists of people who did not come from PR precincts. Sure, there is some onboarding you need to do because the person may have never heard of Cision or 15-minute increment time tracking.

While agency owners may assume that bringing in nontraditional hires is an entirely different onboarding ballgame, it actually is not.  Every new hire—whether he or she is from the PR field or not— goes through a full week of training regarding our agency’s systems, processes and procedures.

Our shift in hiring was sparked by the economic downturn in late 2008. The aftermath of the downturn created a crowd of unemployed professionals and—combined with the proliferation of new communications tools—the result was a growing number of people hanging out a shingle. Agencies were then competing with multitudes of one to two-person shops for fees considerably less than agencies charge.

While the communications model was shifting, brands and organizations wanted executives  who understood their industry and the new communications world. They needed to cut through the clutter. Both existing clients and prospects asked: “How will your agency’s efforts increase our market share, or change public opinion on an issue, or integrate social media with our marketing plans?”

The answer is hiring industry experts full-time or, depending on your budget, for freelance projects.

Is your PR firm increasing the number of hires outside the traditional PR world?  If so, we would love to hear from you about how it’s going and what you’re learning from the experience.

Brenda Jones Barwick, APR, is president and owner of Jones PR. She can be reached at [email protected] 


Sign up  for our email newsletter, Inside Edge…Business Strategy for PR, Media & Creative Service Agencies