By Adam Wakefield 

The state of play

Linda Weaver, managing director at Weber Shandwick and chairperson of the Public Relations 

Institute of Southern Africa’s accreditation committee, says the publicity industry today is all about engagement, being online and available 24/7, adapting to the messaging influence of social media, and driving the conversation rather than the conversation being driven by someone else.

“The industry is still dominated by women and still the opportunity to hold high-level, corporate position seems bleak,” she says. “It’s increasingly difficult to attract male students, yet it’s males holding senior positions in this field. Gender diversity is still an issue and one that needs to be resolved.”

Given this current state of play, the most valuable characteristic she looks for in new hires are attitude and passion.

“If someone lacks the skill, natural ability or feel for the profession, this can be taught via on-the-job training or being directed by a passionate role model,” Weaver says. “People who also pay attention to detail, are quick adapters, good writers, can use their own judgement and take decisive action, are valuable to any agency.”

Find square pegs for square holes

Sarah Gooding Kobus, deputy general manager at WE Communications, describes the change in the PR industry as being linked to the “explosion of technology and its pervasiveness in every element of our lives, be it work or play”.

“The ability to be flexible with your strategies is key with monthly to quarterly adaptations a must. Creativity and a honed understanding of content has never been more important,” she says.

When it comes to new hires, Gooding Kobus says it depends on the level being recruited for.

“As we see communications taking a far more strategic role at the boardroom table, for your mid-to senior hires, the ability to demonstrate a true understanding of the business and in turn the capacity 

to provide a high level of consultancy to clients, be it strategic advice on a regular basis or in times of crisis, is critical,” Gooding Kobus says.

“Obviously knowledge and experience in the digital communications space is essential for today’s integrated consultant. The days of merely priding oneself on strong relationships with the media are long gone. Casting back to the more entry-level hires, attitude and propensity to develop is a must.”

At that level, a willingness to learn is key since training can take place on the job. Beyond that, being able to demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between content, its desired audience and available platforms as a conduit between the two is imperative.

“Finally, a sense of humour, to find people who are motivated to progress their careers and are serious about the work they do, but who don’t take themselves too seriously. It is important to have fun at work,” Gooding Kobus says.

No price on experience

La-Tasha Pucoe, founder and head of PRuth Communications, seeks team members who are outspoken yet humble, and hardworking.

“It’s important to be able to listen and accept direction. I also look for people who are naturally creative and who think outside of the box,” Pucoe says. “Having a flexible schedule is also important because in PR, business takes place wherever the client is so flexibility is important as well. Working for my company isn’t glamorous as people might think it is – I look for people who understand that and are willing to add value and learn.”

Like WE, Pucoe also runs an internship programme, which she feels are very important as they provide students with real life working experience in the PR industry.

“Lectures and books are good for a basic start but there also needs to be practical tasks in order to grasp a full understanding of PR,” Pucoe says, giving students a chance to combine theory with the practical realities of the industry.

Are you a PR company hiring new talent? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.