Do PR and marketing graduates seeking jobs in PR agencies have what it takes? Do they have the right education, knowledge and skills? Do they have the preferred personality traits?
According to the latest survey from Gould+Partners, PR M&A specialists and management consultants, the answers depend on the agencies’ wants and needs.
Entitled “What PR Agencies Require of New-Hire Junior Account Executives,” the survey was answered by a cross section of agencies from GP’s national database of hundreds of firms.
Said Don Bates, author of the survey, GP senior counselor, and New York University professor, “Most of what’s required today has always been required, but with a few obvious differences based on current trends and issues in the expanding PR agency industry.” More than 85 percent of the survey responses were from agencies with under $3 million (54.55%) or $3 million-$10 million (30.91%) in revenue.
Five Key Questions & the Results
Q1: Minimum education: Nearly 97 percent of PR agencies want a bachelor’s degree as opposed to a Master’s degree, but that’s probably because the question asks solely for the minimum. One agency emphasized, “At the entry level (junior AE) we are looking for self starters that are curious about our world. We prefer if they have had a PR internship and understand the basics or have some experience but [we] care less about major in college. Most folks here do not have PR degrees – we prefer to have folks from many disciplines.”
Q2: Preferred degree major: With a choice of seven majors, the three most important were public relations (92.86%), journalism (73.21%), and marketing (64.29%). Mass communication came in fourth (50%). No one added “other” majors.
Q3: Preferred basic job skills: “Writer” was the clear first (92.59%) with “Media Pitcher” a close second (88.89%), and “Researcher” third (59.26%). Researcher in this instance means someone who is good at finding and analyzing information, not someone who is a professional opinion researcher. Writing, a perennial issue in PR as well as in K-12 education, elicited the usual clichés:
• “Please get them to have good writing skills! That is so important and yet missing in most college grads.”
• “Strong writing skills are our first priority in a new hire.”
Q4: Preferred knowledge: For their three choices among eight, the agencies picked Social Media Practices (88%), PR Practices (69%), and Marketing Basics (60%). Business Practices came in a close fourth at 58%). The emphasis on social media practices reaffirms the growing dominance of social media in today’s PR marketplace. The need for greater knowledge of business was expressed as follows:
• “Most . . . students are graduating with little to no business skills.”
• “Need students to take at least one or two business classes.”
Q5: Preferred personal attributes: With a choice of five of eight attributes, the respondents chose articulate (83.93%), motivated (82.14%), strategic thinker (69.64%), cooperative (55.36%) and client centric (51.79%). One respondent interpreted cooperative as “team player,” a better term for future surveys on this topic.
Other required skills that were mentioned include public speaking, presentation delivery, creative writing, storytelling, digital and video capabilities, and “out-of-the-box/online thinking.” Technical skills like proficiency with Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel were also listed.
One agency provided a detailed description of its new-hire philosophy: “We look for a diversity of skills, we don’t want all traditional PR experience, but what else does the talent bring to the conversation. Where they have lived, worked, volunteered. How up to date are they on trends, digitization, economic and global issues that will be discussed with clients. What’s their Rolodex look like? What do they read, what events do they/have they attended, what knowledge to they have on brands and the perception of those brands so we know how they think?”
In general, new hires need to have most of the job requirements when they walk through a prospective employer’s door. As one agency made plain: “We do not have time to teach remedial PR– and many of these skills cannot be taught if a core competency does not exist after four years of college.”
Bates added, “Gould Partners did the survey to help PR and marketing graduates have an easier time finding jobs. We also did it to help the agencies themselves codify their hiring requirements.” He said future GP surveys, in addition to its annual PR agency benchmarking and billing utilization studies, will address PR agency use of interns as well as staff training.
Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, is senior counselor at Gould Partners, PR agency M&A specialists and management consultants. He specializes in assisting social media and digital PR and marketing agencies to merge with larger companies in exchange for cash, equity, executive responsibility and more. Don also teaches at New York University and runs private and public workshops in the U.S. and internationally.
Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, NYU Professor