GETTING HIRED in PR: How to land a job in public relations in 2020

  • Public relations firms have cut hundreds of jobs in the pandemic, but are still hiring to meet increased demand for crisis help and experts to staff healthcare, pharma, and tech accounts.
  • Business Insider spoke with recruiters, insiders and experts at the leading PR and strategic communications firms including Publicis' Kekst CNC and Edelman about what it takes to get hired there.
  • We also analyzed government data to reveal what the industry pays staffers, from account executives to managing directors. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Public relations firms have cut hundreds of jobs due to the pandemic-related downturn, but the field remains high-paying and intensely competitive. PR agencies are hiring to meet increased demand for crisis help and experts to staff healthcare, pharma, and tech accounts.

Business Insider spoke with recruiters, insiders and experts at the leading PR and strategic communications firms including Publicis' Kekst CNC and Edelman about what it takes to get hired there. 

How to get hired

Firms like WPP's Finsbury, Kekst, and Gladstone Place Partners have carved out a lucrative but little understood industry within public relations, working on high-stakes crises like WeWork's downward spiral and blockbuster mergers like Disney-Fox.

The pay can be lucrative, but the tradeoff is that people have to thrive under pressure and have a high tolerance for long hours.

Read about strategic consulting firms: How to get hired at strategic consulting firms, where junior staffers can start out making $95,000

Publicis-owned Kekst CNC, one of the most prestigious public relations firms, pioneered a new space for PR in advising on mergers and financial crises.

It uses interviews with employees at different seniority levels and a writing test to assess candidates' empathy and judgement.

Candidates also get a test presenting a made-up situation like a crisis, earnings call, announcement, along with some data, requiring them to draft a response or communications plan.

Go deeper: How to get a job at Publicis Groupe's Kekst CNC, the PR firm behind some of the biggest deals in the world, according to hiring execs there

Strategic communications firms like WPP's Finsbury and Gladstone Place Partners seek people who thrive under pressure and use the interview process to test job candidates' intellectual curiosity, commitment to their job, and if they're good fits.

Current and former employees at these and other firms shared the toughest questions candidates can expect, which can include deceptively simple ones like "Why are you interviewing for a job here?" and head-scratching riddles.

Read more: Tricky job interview questions to expect at strategic PR firms like WPP's Finsbury and Publicis' Kekst CNC, according to insiders

Worldwide PR firm Edelman is highly competitive, with its US offices having gotten more than 4,000 job applications per month for an average of 175 openings.

Recruiters gave tips on how to land a job and get ready for an interview, by researching company culture, preparing to talk about your mistakes, and more.

One tip: Edelman doesn't ask for cover letters and looks for people who aren't on the job market, so having a current LinkedIn page is crucial. 
 
Read about interviewing at Edelman: How to get a job at PR giant Edelman and what to expect if you land an interview, according to the company's recruiters

What PR jobs pay

Around 270,000 people worked as PR specialists in the US as of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Business Insider analyzed government data for the largest independent and holding company-owned PR firms and found salaries range from $62,000 for a senior account executive at finance-focused Prosek Partners to $420,000 for a managing director at consulting firm FTI Consulting.

Learn about PR salaries: PR industry salaries revealed: How much top firms like Teneo, BCW, and FTI pay employees, from consultants to managing directors

Hiring trends to know

Pandemic-related layoffs have given public relations employers a hiring edge for the first time in years and made PR recruiters, a vital link between employers and candidates, even more critical.

Business Insider identified a dozen leading PR headhunters, including two in-house recruiters.

Among the trends they're seeing: clients are hiring to staff growing areas of healthcare, pharma, and tech PR; diverse candidates are in high demand; and brands are hiring more than agencies.

They also said good internal communications experts are in demand as companies look at to stay connected with their remote employees.

What leading headhunters say: Meet 12 top public relations recruiters to know right now 

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