"Working class candidates need not apply" by John Brown

"Working class candidates need not apply" by John Brown

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In this guest post Hotwire PR's John Brown argues that the public relations business only has itself to blame for the lack of diversity - and he's got some suggestions for how we should fix it. We have a diversity problem in the public relations business, and to be honest, we only have ourselves and our recruitment processes to blame for this.

Public relations agencies have been hiring the same type of people from the same candidate pool for decades.

If we’re to break free from the dodgy publicist stereotype, or indeed get a bit smarter in the way we work, we need to start exploring beyond our recruitment comfort zones.

So what can we do to shake things up a bit? Here are three ideas.

#1 Make braver hiring decisions

We are a middle-class industry. If we want fresh ideas and a more creative approach to the campaigns we run, then we should be looking at having people within our industry that have come from all walks of life.

Sometimes I feel that insisting on a degree is a barrier to many people who are talented enough to work in our industry but are at a disadvantage because they needed to earn straight from school.

Initiatives like the Taylor Bennett Foundation are an excellent start, but I can’t see how someone from a working class background could afford to work for an agency or organisation in London.

We’re locking talent out.

#2 Specialists not dumbralists

The phrase ‘a well-rounded PR’ really pisses me off. I consider myself a well-rounded PR, but that’s purely due to my body shape rather than my skill-set.

Personally, I’m lousy at account management, but pretty good thinking creatively and strategically.

So why do we insist on looking for the same attributes in all of our recruits? Instead, we should look to hire individuals who have specific skill-sets and provide them with a career path that will allow them to grow and nurture their specialisms. This could be anything from researchers to designers, strategists and storytellers.

The more we can break free from the AE, AM, AD model the better we’ll be as an industry and the more chance we’ll have of finding new talent.

#3 Beware floaters flooding the industry

I have had my fair share of people who on paper were the perfect candidate. In practice, they were coasting along doing the bare minimum.

Don’t get me wrong, they had bags of talent, but choosing public relations for them was like choosing a Mulberry handbag or pair of Grensons. It was a lifestyle choice for these people not a career decision.

As a consequence their passion for doing things differently, challenging the status quo and striving for excellence was little. It’s these floaters which have flooded the industry.

We need to adjust our recruitment methods to sniff them out so that we’re left with passionate people who care about their work, their profession and their personal development.

Asking in interview for personal development achievements based on outcomes rather than time served would be a start.

We love to slap each other on the back for our great recruitment policies and employee charters. But to quote Tyler Durden, "sticking feathers up your arse does not make you a chicken."

Interview with purpose

Until we consciously walk into interviews with an open mind of what makes a successful public relations professional then all we’re doing is paying lip service to this issue.

We might as well stockpile organic hummus and watch our budgets evaporate as clients head towards other marketing and communications disciplines with more diversity and more skills on offer.

If you recruit, it’s plainly your choice.

John Brown is a director and head of engagement at Hotwire PR. He’s from a working class family, is well-rounded and out spoken. You can connect with him via Twitter @brownbare.

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