Agencies should provide way in to PR for graduates

As the market heats up in the Valley, I’ve noticed agencies are mainly looking for staff with 3-7 years’ experience – the senior account executive to account supervisor level. These are the folks who form the core of account teams and campaign implementation.

I’ve noted before that the number of people with this amount of experience is low due to the lack of graduate recruitment during the downturn. Now we are feeling the pinch.

However, the number of agencies recruiting at graduate level now seems to be low. I’m not sure why – in order for teams to progress agencies need to bring in staff at the base. There is plenty of work to be done at that level, but I sense that many agencies are reluctant to train new entrants to the industry.

Graduates with a Mass Communications or Journalism degree do take a lot of training before they can become ‘client-facing’. Many candidates fail – I’d say as many as 50% don’t make it to the 36-month mark. It’s a tough job and not suited to everyone. I guess some agencies have taken an HR policy of only recruiting people that have a couple of years under their belts. Those candidates know the basics but are still willing to learn, don’t have bad habits and can have an immediate impact.

But that’s a short-termist approach, and not good for our industry. There has to be a clear track into PR to attract fresh talent. I’d say the larger the firm, the greater the responsibility to have a solid graduate training program.

On a personal level, I also think it makes sense to recruit and train graduates. Seeing someone who you have trained get their first BusinessWeek clip or broadcast piece, win their first new business pitch, get praise from the senior client contact, even recruit their own team, is one of the most satisfying parts of the job. Of course senior people can do these things – and I’m sure we all enjoyed each landmark ourselves – but there is more pleasure in training others to achieve their goals than to simply repeat the exercise yourself.

So let’s see agencies take a more responsible view by operating internship programs, and recruiting at the account coordinator or assistant account executive level. [I’ve just looked on several large agency sites and many have nothing for graduates or aren’t advertising junior vacancies]. Sure we all want that core team with 3-7 years, but don’t slam the door on new entrants just yet. In three years’ time, you might just need them.

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