10 unconventional ways to find a PR job

Your online presence—from editing your social media profiles to starting and maintaining a blog—can help potential employers find you, and not the other way around.

Finding employment is a bit like money—it takes employment to find employment.

There’s a theory in PR employment that I’ve observed on both sides of the table as both a job-seeker and a hiring manger: The good PR people already have jobs. To find talent, employers have to poach from existing employers.

With unemployment hovering at just below 8 percent, overcoming this notion is yet another challenge. But wait, there’s more: the deluge of résumés. Hiring managers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants. If an application gets a look, it’s only cursory with the reviewer specifically looking for an excuse to toss a résumé into the recycle bin.

As PR pros, we have skill set we can put to work on our own behalf: To break through the clutter, we have to run a marketing campaign on ourselves. Recently, I was looking for work, and while I have found gainful employment in a relatively short period of time, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way.

I wish I could say this was a well thought out plan, but it wasn’t, it was an evolution—trial and error—and so this list is sequential:

1. Contact everyone you know.

The first thing I did was contact everyone I knew—by email and social media. This led to numerous phone conversations—perhaps 50—and I was truly surprised at just how many people were more than willing to help. I was also surprised by those who wouldn’t—and Jason Falls nails the reasons why. To those who helped me, hit me up anytime. What did I ask for? An introduction to anyone in the Raleigh-Durham area that might be able to describe the employment environment, recommend networking organizations, or make an additional introduction. Complete strangers agreed to take a call from me merely as a result of an introduction, and with each call, I picked up a tip about the area and potential employers and was able to refine my pitch.

2. Edit your LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn is incredibly important for a job-seeker. eMarketer reported recruiters are increasingly using LinkedIn to find talent. It’s obvious why: In a few clicks, prospective employers can see your work history, recommendations, network, and work samples—it’s a solid snapshot of a candidate. However, it works only if hiring managers can find you:

  • Edit the title and location. The title and locations are important parameters for searching LinkedIn. Originally, I had my last professional job (Director of PR) listed as the title, and my location was set as Washington, D.C., where I was living. The chances of a hiring manager in Raleigh searching for that specific job title are slim, so on the advice of a career consultant, I edited these. For the title, I chose key words that described what I wanted to do: PR, content marketing, and social media. In editing my location, I also explained in the first paragraph of the profile to explain that I lived in D.C., but was seeking to live and work in Raleigh.
  • Link to multimedia. LinkedIn has changed the profile formatting which means that video from YouTube and presentations from SlideShare are now added under the “Background” section. I culled YouTube to find video interviews, many of which were conversations I had forgotten about, and created SlideShare presentations to include here as demonstrations of my work. Add multimedia to LinkedIn by clicking on this icon in the “background” section of your profile:

  • Add publications. LinkedIn offers the chance to add published works to your profile. For this section I chose a set of links from contributed blog posts I had published, but a job-seeker could also include virtually anything published on the Web, a press release or media placement you pitched, for example. To add published works to your LinkedIn profile, look for the pencil icon on the “publications” section of your profile:

  • Ask for recommendations. There’s a lot of endorsements on LinkedIn, but one of the most powerful features is the recommendations section. Don’t shy from asking people to recommend you—this is a great point of validation of your talent and skills that will aid in a job search. After all, PR is about third-party validation.
  • Subscribe to LinkedIn. Rather than wait for jobs to be posted, I’d actively research companies I was interested in on LinkedIn and find decision-makers. Wherever possible, I’d ask someone in my network to make an introduction, but in the cases where I had no “link” to the targeted company, I’d use the InMail feature to send a note. Subscribing is expensive, but I do plan to deduct the cost on my taxes this year. The response rate was about 20 percent.

3. Edit all your social media profiles.

I edited every social media profile to describe myself as an experienced professional seeking work in PR, content marketing, or social media in the Raleigh-Durham area. Twitter proved to be the most important among these, and I received a number of inquiries from friends on social networks asking how they could help.

4. Create a landing page.

For the last couple years, I’ve diligently kept a running list of links to demonstrate the work I’ve done. I edited this page, including the title, to provide a brief introduction about goals and background. (I’ve since re-edited it to remove this.) Later, I got smarter about it and added a completely separate page to be used solely for content marketing purposes, and I ensured that no other page on my blog linked to this particular page. It’s a “dark site,” basically. This is because I planned some social and PPC ads and linked to this page, so I wanted to be able to clearly distinguish in Google Analytics where the traffic was coming from—and whether those ads were effective. If I were still on the job market, I might consider writing yet another page—a “top 10 reasons to hire me” type of post—and then run A/B testing in social advertising to see which performed better.

5. Run social ads.

Social advertising is inexpensive, and some sites offer the ability to precisely target the audience. Because I’ve successfully used this form of paid media to earn media, I decided to run a campaign on myself that linked to the landing page mentioned in No. 4. I started with LinkedIn, and targeted people with HR, recruiting and C-suite titles that were based in the Raleigh-Durham area. Initially I experimented with paying per click, but later determined that paying per 1,000 impressions provided better click results. In addition, I continually analyzed and tweaked the ad copy to improve performance. Next I created Facebook ads, again targeting the same demographics. In all cases I set limits to my spend keeping it to about $100 per month.

6. Run Google AdWords.

Though I’ve worked closely with a lot of really talented PPC professionals, I’m not a PPC expert by any means. But this was a chance to experiment with the medium, learn something new, and strive to drive targeted traffic to the landing page I had created. Unlike social ads, AdWords do not allow you to target by title, but rather by keyword and geography. The geography was obviously the Raleigh-Durham area, and keywords centered on related topics such as “Raleigh public relations” or terms I thought hiring managers might search for such as “human resource management.” I also ran ads against searches for the names of 14 public relations firms in the area. My thinking was the opportunity was twofold: (a) executives at those firms might search for their own company to view results and see my ad, or (b) someone thinking about hiring a PR firm, might search for them, find my ad, and consider me as a potential hire or for freelance work.

What amazed me was that I discovered very few PR firms run PPC ads on their own companies, so it was cheap traffic, and my ad had a really good chance of showing up in related searches given the dearth of competition. In running these ads for a very short time, I could see in Google Analytics that my landing page earned 63 page views from traffic in North Carolina and visitors spent on average 43 seconds reviewing content. That’s 43 seconds with 60 potential employers I might not otherwise have earned. In combination with social advertising and personal networking, I was working to ensure employers heard from me on multiple channels. I also learned that if I ever opened my own shop in Raleigh, I’d crush larger and more established firms in PPC—and have another service to sell in integrated communications.

Tracking referrals in Google Analytics told me my ads generated 60 views from potential employers.

7. Create Twitter lists.

Twitter lists are an effective way to study a target audience. After developing a list of tweeters in Raleigh-Durham, I turned it into a Paper.li that I could read every day to learn about new programs and initiatives and stay on top of topics of interest to the people I was trying to reach. It was through this content curation tactic I learned that Ketchum had acquired Raleigh-based Capstrat, and because I’ve got considerable experience with acquisitions, I wrote a post reacting to the Raleigh-Durham PR acquisition news. There are several combinations in Google search that will put this post at the top of page one. Through my network, I later learned this post had been published on a Facebook group for PRSA’s counselor academy members—exactly the type of audience I’d wanted to reach.

8. Subscribe to blogs.

I culled through lists of “Best places to work in Raleigh” to identify prospective employers—the Triangle Business Journal’s “Book of Lists” also proved useful (thanks Glenn). Next I found companies—and their blogs—on the Web and subscribed to them via RSS using NetVibes. I monitored the blogs of companies and movers and shakers in the region where I was seeking employment and categorized them by (1) PR agencies, (2) corporations, and (3) people I felt were influential. Every day, I’d read and schedule tweets from posts I liked. This wasn’t just about sucking up to a potential employer—there were a lot of poorly written blog posts (and blogs) I didn’t tweet—but it was also a chance to study the market: which of these companies really understood the Web and how it has changed PR. Should I wind up in an in-house gig again, I’d want to have a sense for which firms really “get it” and which do not.

9. Read and respond to HARO queries.

Anyone in PR who has not heard of Help a Reporter Out needs to get caught up. Yes, it’s owned by my former employer, but HARO is still free, and it’s still incredibly useful. If you have a solid answer to a reporter’s or a blogger’s inquiry, why wouldn’t you pitch it? The biggest challenge I had is reporters weren’t sure how to cite my role. I settled on “freelance PR consultant,” because I was, in fact, doing freelance work.

10. Ramp up your content.

I started posting three times per week, writing in-depth posts, and spending hours on them. It was incredibly liberating, and my blog has grown tremendously as a result—more than double the total traffic, the bounce rate plummeted, page views more than doubled, and time on page increased dramatically. However, I also wanted to be sure to do guest posts—an earned-media effort to compliment my paid-media efforts—and so reduced the volume to two posts per week. In the process, I discovered I’d actually earn more visitors with just two posts than with three, which was more than enough to maintain audience interest. I’ve deduced that three posts per week was overwhelming for my readers, so they would just stop visiting. It’s likely when I return to working full-time, I’ll drop the frequency to just one per week, but I’ll do so knowing I can ramp it back up anytime.

Additional tips.

There are a few other more general tips I’d offer to job-seekers that were reinforced during this search:

Keep regular hours. It’s imperative to keep a set schedule. Despite my military background, I’m not a morning person. I’m pretty grumpy, and it takes about an hour and a good strong cup of Starbucks to warm me up. However, I kept a set schedule, working at least eight hours per day on this marketing program to find a job. There is always something more I could do.

Don’t spend too much time on the job sites. Yes, it’s important to be on job sites—here are 20 places to look for a PR job—but don’t spend too much time on them. Often jobs are never posted, and I discovered, there’s a whole lot more opportunities in DC than in Raleigh. I’d go two or three days before running through my list of bookmarked job sites, searching for open positions, and applying—and I’d be done in about two hours. Searching through job sites can be depressing, when there aren’t that many positions posted or you can see that 100 other people have applied. Instead, I focused my efforts on helping an employer find me.

Blog. If there’s one thing PR pros can do to help their careers, it is to blog. If you are still in college, start now. If you’re an industry professional, get going. Blogging will help you to grow in so many ways—refine your thinking, sharpen your writing skills, and force you to learn basic Web marketing, HTML code, and technical details. It also gives you an appreciation for what content works and what doesn’t. I’m amazed at the lousy pitches blogs get—and from people that really ought to know better. Blogging will expand your portfolio, build relationships with other bloggers, and demonstrate dedication, a work ethic, and competency to potential employers for your chosen profession.

Volunteer. One company in particular, a small business, needed some help. The people there didn’t ask; I volunteered. We chatted about ideas one day, and I offered to put them in writing. That 30-minute conversation turned into a nine-page content marketing plan that they can execute. I’m considering making the plan generic and posting it, because it’s good advice for a small-business content-marketing program. The process kept my skills sharp.

Read. Read. Read. One of the best things a job-seeker can do is learn something new. I’ve long been a voracious reader, but much of my reading has migrated online, and the stack of books on the night table has grown. I’ve plowed through a dozen books in the three months I’ve been looking for a job. Titles have included books on child development, such as “What’s on your Toddler’s Mind?” because I have a 2-year-old daughter, and PR books such as “Rethinking Reputation,” and tomes about relationships, such as John Gray’s “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.” Certainly there’s personal gain by reading these titles, but there’s also an element of psychology to PR, so they also have professional merit. One other book I’d strongly recommend for anyone considering opening their own gig, is “Quitter: Closing the Gap between your Day Job and your Dream Job” by Jon Acuff. I couldn’t set the book down; it’s a must-read.

Experiment with other social sites. With so many social sites, we often have limited time with which to experiment. Social networks have so many nuances, we might miss them until we really dive into testing. With the demise of Posterous, I spent a considerable amount of time on Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest as part of a content-marketing program to help myself find gainful employment.

Know what you are worth. Understanding what the market is willing to pay for your skills and experience is incredibly valuable once you get your foot in the door for an interview. Benchmark salary data for corporate communicators and PR agencies types can be found on these links.

Have fun. Quite simply, I had fun running this little marketing program. I learned a lot, made productive use of my time, and achieved my goal.

Final thoughts: Relationships still matter

I’ve landed a new gig. I’ve resettled in Durham and am excited to start a new chapter in my life. Though I’ve learned a lot during this search—which was a huge risk—there’s one point that was really driven home: Relationships, above all else, still matter. I landed where I am because of a personal introduction to a person to whom I was connected like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Our paths have crossed over the course of my career several times. This person knew of me but, more important, knew an employer I had worked for 10 years ago, and knew a colleague I have worked with at three different jobs. I came with recommendations. Certainly the work on this blog helped, but it was the total package—the combined effort that secured the position. It’s worth bearing in mind that each and every day, we are writing our résumés.

A version of this article originally appeared on Sword and the Script.

Topics: PR

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