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Pitching for staff

Published on Friday, 21 Sep 2012
Lynn Grebstad and Paul Hicks want creative PR people.
Photo: Berton Chang

With the rapid proliferation of public relations (PR) firms in Hong Kong over the past few years, and the complex requirements a PR job entails, it is not easy to find the right person for mid- to high-level PR positions.

For a fast-growing company such as Grebstad Hicks Communications (GHCAsia), which was set up in 1998 and now has five offices in Asia-Pacific, the secret lies in grabbing the right people when they are available.

“We’ve got to be quick on our feet, identify talent and develop people. I’d rather overstaff and then go and get new business,” says founding partner Lynn Grebstad.

She adds that with the company’s expansion rate, she is always looking to recruit new employees, from account executives to managers and directors.

The company specialises in travel, hospitality and lifestyle, and offers a lot of excitement for its employees. There are opportunities to entertain, organise restaurant and bar openings, attend food and wine tastings, and accompany journalists on press trips.

“It is a dynamic lifestyle and a creative, hands-on job,” Grebstad says. “We look for people who are positive, engaged and willing to embrace the wonderful opportunities this position offers to travel, experience new countries, stay in five-star hotels, and experience food and wine.”

She and her founding partner Paul Hicks are very clear about what makes a good PR worker. While university education is necessary, they prefer a degree in PR or journalism rather than marketing, which can produce people who are too sales-orientated. Candidates from the PR and marketing areas of the travel, hospitality and lifestyle sectors, however, are welcome to apply.

Because the job is about servicing clients, it is important to have a positive approach to dealing with people. This does not mean an account manager simply follows whatever the client wants. Applicants should have self-confidence, leadership qualities and integrity to effectively advise clients and earn their trust.

“Staff have to become trusted advisers, so that our clients value their opinion,” says Hicks. “They have to advise and not passively wait for orders.”

To build self-confidence and presentation skills, and help staff come up with creative ideas, the company encourages active participation in brainstorming sessions.

Another important skill is the ability to pitch and sell story ideas to journalists. “The most difficult part of the job is to write press releases where you have to decide what makes a good story and how you can present it to the press so that they are interested in it,” Hicks says.

To be good at pitching, it is important to be well-informed about what is going on in the world. Applicants should have an international perspective, an enquiring mind and be creative. Grebstad encourages her staff to read magazines and websites, and experienced staff share their knowledge with younger ones.

“You are what you read. You have to understand what makes a good story and you have to understand the focus of different publications,” she says.

GHCAsia wants to provide clients with a true partnership and provide a holistic service that offers a one-stop shop for all their PR needs. To fulfil this, they look for people who are open-minded, quick, sharp and proactive, and can think on their feet.

New hires are given an induction by the team-leader account director on systems and procedures. This is backed up by a carefully crafted staff handbook which serves as a reminder for new hires and further explains how things should be done. Brainstorming sessions, specialist training and discussions about different publications help team members sharpen their skills.

An annual regional meeting is held, where account directors from the five offices flown to Hong Kong to discuss future directions and training needs. Account directors can put forward training suggestions that include participation in any local or regional workshops, seminars or conferences.

GHCAsia is also active in supporting charities, such as Po Leung Kuk, Operation Smile and the Foundation for Arts and Music.

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