Public relations is one of the most diverse and ambiguous fields out there. In fact, if you ask any given individual what it is, chances are you’ll get a different response 75% of the time. One thing is for sure, public relations is important. I see public relations as the practice of managing the relationship and spread of information between an organization and its publics. Whether it’s a recruiting agency and its clients, a sports team and its fans, or a product and its consumers, a positive two-way communication model must be maintained to effectively elevate an organization’s brand. After all, a happy public is what draws sales and a wider audience. What organization wouldn’t want that?
The trouble however, lies in the specifics of public relations. Is it like marketing or advertising? Is it about press coverage, crisis management, or media relations? What is it exactly and how is a company to know how to hire the best PR professional? It’s a bit of everything and it all comes down to your company’s philosophy and goals. I spoke with three top PR professionals to uncover the best PR interview questions, and what you need to learn from the candidate’s answers. Ask the following interview questions and you’ll be able to assess whether a candidate will fit what your company is looking for:
1. What does public relations mean to you?
This question evaluates a PR candidate’s mindset and approach to public relations. Because public relations can be broken down further, touching upon such areas as marketing, crisis control, or online community management, this question allows you to see whether a candidate’s perceptions of public relations are in line with your company’s philosophy. A PR pro should be well rounded, but a specialization can help your company move forward in the right direction.
2. What skills have you acquired that would help you communicate a client’s message?
Overall a good PR candidate is one who has great written and oral communication and is able to be persuasive, meet deadlines, and make long lasting connections. Betsy Hays, the lead Public Relations Professor for the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at California State University Fresno, says, “A great PR professional is a great writer that understands human nature. They have beautiful intuition and can articulate their ideas in a clear, concise way.” What makes them even better is their ability to be energized and creative in communicating a client’s message. Does the PR candidate have skills in video production and editing? Photography? Community management? Diversity of skill is key.
3. How can you use social media to reach and impress traditional media?
We live in the digital age where social media can either leverage your company’s brand or break it. Social media goes hand-in-hand with traditional media like print, television, and radio. How good is a PR candidate in promoting their own personal brand on social media? Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communication and publisher of PR Daily, points out, “The successful PR candidate will understand the connection between producing great content and social media. If I look at a job candidate’s LinkedIn page or Twitter feed, and it’s unimpressive, why would I think the candidate would be any more successful representing a client?”
Moreover, does the candidate have a good understanding of the media to be effective with social media? Dr. Alan Ray, a Media Relations Professor at the University of the Pacific states, “The qualities that make a great MR candidate are an understanding of current issues, a great media writing style (short, succinct sentence structure), superb time management and organizational skills, and good listening techniques.”
4. How would you handle… (a product recall, corporate fraud, etc.)?
This is the problem-solving / crisis management question. Pick a situation that could – in the worst of circumstances – happen to your company. Take a moment to flush out the scenario, i.e. explain why the product was recalled or what corporate fraud occurred so you can see how the candidate spins a story. How well will your PR candidate work within deadlines and under pressure? With this interview question, you are able to understand how a candidate may structurally or creatively handle a particular situation. It can be small problems such as working with colleagues and resolving conflicts. Or it can be much bigger, like managing a product recall. Can your candidate stay calm, collected, and act rationally? A strong and confident candidate is what you should seek in a PR pro.
With these interview questions, your company will find the perfect PR pro to build your company’s brand in no time.
Laura Hong is a Media and Public Relations graduate student at the University of the Pacific, and the social media intern at SmartRecruiters. She is also a Comic Reviewer at CC2KOnline and the Web Editor for Blue Lyra Review.