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Who to Hire: Your Utility Public Relations Department

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Your utility’s public relations department probably has plenty of “old heads” who’ve been around for a while and know all the ropes.

But what about when you need to hire replacements or additions, especially lower-level folks?

You probably have two choices -- people fresh out of college (or a couple years out) or journalists looking to transition into public relations.

Both have pros and cons.

Recent graduates likely will accept a lower salary and good ones will be enthusiastic and bring a fresh perspective. They’re also more moldable and can be taught your way of doing things.

You’re also more likely to find a “star.” After all, everyone has to start somewhere.

There are downsides, of course.

You may well land a dud, whether the new hire is sloppy or just doesn’t get the hang of your business. They’re going to require a lot more supervision and hand-holding. Some people simply can’t write, which is a major problem for a PR professional.

And let’s face it. Not a lot of 22-year-olds are going to understand how the electric utility industry works. The learning curve may be steep.

A lot of young employees don’t understand how the workplace functions and the transition can be difficult. At my first PR firm, we used to receive occasional memos reminding staffers not to wear ripped jeans when meeting clients – or to not use text slang like LOL in client communications.

As for journalists, you know a little more what you’re getting because they have a track record. You can read their past work and see how good they are. They know what their brethren are looking for. They respect deadlines.

Ideally, you can hire a former utility industry journalist who already understands what you do. Prior to my first PR job, which involved working with financial services firms, I was a finance reporter for a business newspaper.  I didn’t need tutoring on what our clients did.

Of course, there are drawbacks to hiring reporters. They’ll likely want more money. They may be more set in their ways and have preconceived notions about the industry.

And there will some learning curve, too. Plenty of journalists become PR practitioners, but the two professions are far from identical.

So, which should you pick?

Ideally, you’ll have a mix on your staff as the different experiences brought to the table can produce a strong team.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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