Why Application Forms Don’t Work in PR

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time. However it was my overhearing of a “water cooler conversation” that prompted me to take to the keyboard. Colleagues were noting the stark contrast between what people recently interviewed had said they could do, and what they could actually perform once in their roles. Some of this related to social media usage and the Grand Canyon of difference between running your own personal Facebook page and knowing how to operate a corporate page for your employer.

I highlighted the importance of this kind of experience in last week’s post about the cost of employing staff with this skill set, particularly for local councils.

You may also have, like me, had discussions at work about why Facebook Likes as a departmental target will not work because of Facebook’s new algorithm and focus on Promoted Posts and how this doesn’t equate to engagement and awareness raising.

Cue senior managers’ eyes glaze over with a mixture of confusion and admiration. Yes, congratulations, you hired someone who actually knows what they’re supposed to know.

To give them their dues, most employers know that it is important. As potential employees, we know that they know it is important because they want us to fill a big box with specific examples about how we have achieved and executed this skill in previous roles. And the application form part is necessary to speed up the criteria matching process. The problem arises when a lot of people can talk the talk but stumble slightly when they walk the walk.

So how could this issue be addressed? How could organisations ensure that they hire people actually capable of the job they’ll be required to do? Well PRexamples had a great idea recently that, futuristic as it might seem, might just work.

OK so it wasn’t a recruitment exercise, it was a competition to win a prize, but it involved PR students actually proving that they knew their engagement and targeting from their tea and biscuits. Rich Leigh (PR Pro and founder of PRexamples) gave each entrant a unique affiliate link and asked them to promote it. The aim was to sell as many copies of the prize (Sarah Stimson’s book “How to get a Job in PR”) as possible, effectively making her their client, with the commission earned going to charity. The winner of the competition would win a copy of Sarah’s book.

As Rich himself explained on the blog post;
“My aim was to highlight something I think is lacking in public relations (and marketing in general) – a focus on delivering more than just coverage, or ‘awareness’ for our clients.”

When I saw this Apprentice-style competition, my heart skipped a beat. Part of me was jealous that I wasn’t able to take part because my student days are far behind me. And part of me was inspired. I really think this kind of thing could work in our industry. Of course it takes resources. It takes time to coordinate and evaluate. It requires managers who know their stuff to design it and senior managers with enough confidence in their PR staff to sanction it. And don’t even get me started on how it would work around Northern Ireland’s unique Section 75 recruitment shackles!

Thankfully I don’t think we’re too far off it. It’s inevitable that with the fast-pace of technological advancement other elements of the workplace will eventually catch up (or be dragged up with it) including Human Resources. We’ve seen job-seekers get creative with their CVs, companies advertising through social media and even the odd quirky recruitment campaign.

I know all too well how much every job-seeker hates the dreaded “test”. In Communications it normally involves a blind press release writing session, timed (when you may not be feeling at your creative best), blind (without the help of Google or their own literature) and cold (when you are completely new to an organisation you would never be left to do this without someone to ask questions of). It makes my hands sweat. But I know I can do it.

The crux of the matter is, when you know your industry you’re desperate to prove it. Not only for your own self-worth, but because you want to make it better. You want to improve practices, you want to enhance the reputation of the profession at senior level and you want to know that if someone beats you to a job, they didn’t do it with a bunch of words they found in a PR thesaurus.

But mostly, PR people are driven by challenge.
We like to be dared.
And we like to win!