By Jennifer R. Farmer
As we approach 2018, your organization may be looking to expand your communications team, or build one (assuming you’ve received funding to do so) from the ground up. If you’re looking to hire communications and public relations all-stars, here are four things you should do:
1.) Commit resources to invest in staff salary and benefits as well as professional development. In communications, as in other critical industries, you will get what you pay for. And trust me, you don’t want to cut corners on the people who will help you maintain a trusted brand. As you’re thinking about hiring for communicators and PR pros, invest in a wholistic strategy to attract and retain talent. In addition to a competitive salary and benefits package, be sure to include other incentives, such as a fund for professional development, resources for your communicator to travel to conferences to network with journalists and communicators and any other reasonable benefit that your team flags as desirable.
Year-over-year, jobs in public relations have been deemed to be among the 10 most stressful, according to CBS News. Since public relations pros are (or should be) among the first to learn of an organizational crisis, and must be available for rapid response, it’s important to reward them accordingly. Part of attracting a talented team is making a commitment to invest in salary and benefits and other areas that make the job more attractive.
2.) Commit to include your communications team early and often. It takes time to develop a communications strategy for organizational campaigns or programs. Since it’s ineffective to develop tactical responses without a broader context for the work, don’t make a habit of bringing in communicators at the 11th hour. Additionally, communicators are relying on journalists, producers and TV or radio hosts to help them tell your story, and members of the media need advance notice. They need lead time to pitch a story idea to an editor, interview other sources to determine the validity or impact of an issue, or fit in your story with the others they’re working on.
It’s a sign of respect – for your team and the journalists your work with – when you include your communications team at the beginning or outset of a campaign or very quickly after the campaign has begun. By including them early in your planning, you are giving them a chance to work effectively on your behalf and also demonstrating that you value them and their contributions.
3.) Keep your communications team close. When I was starting out in communications, I worked for the Service Employees International Union/District 1199 (KY/WV/OH) and had the privilege of working with labor leader Dave Regan and later with his successor, Becky Williams. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they granted me a huge advantage by involved me in media interviews, including phone and face-to-face conversations with reporters.
This allowed me to learn more about the union and leadership’s position on any number of issues. It also assisted me as I developed relationships with reporters. As a bonus, after sitting in on numerous interviews, I really learned the leadership’s voice and was able to be an effective spokesperson on the leadership’s and union’s behalf. If you’re hiring a communicator, see this individual as important enough to keep at your right hand.
4.) Make a commitment to hire a diverse staff from the perspective of race, gender, age and career backgrounds. So many brands make terrible mistakes, and I imagine some of them can be attributed to the fact that their teams, or the people charged with vetting their commercials and content, are dominated by people from one or two backgrounds. Without a diverse staff, you may not consistently understand how organizational behavior impacts people from different communities. In addition to race, gender and age diversity, you also need diversity in terms of career background.
A well-rounded communications team ideally should have people who have a journalism, public relations, advocacy and/or political background. You’ll want people who have experience in working for either a Public Relations agency, an in-house Public Relations team, a political campaign or advocacy organization. Experience working as a public relations consultant is also beneficial. The key is not developing a team that is homogenous from the standpoint of career background and career experience. The diversity in career background will ensure you have people who think and see the world differently.
Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and public relations expert. Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J or on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.