Developing online events

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The public relations industry has a recruiting problem: "It's difficult to find qualified people in the four-to-seven-year range," said Rick French, president-CEO of agency French/West/Vaughan. "Movement tends to be more prevalent at the junior levels. At the middle level, they tend to stay put, which helps create a shortage of talent."

It also helps create a new revenue stream for PR Week, a Haymarket Media publication with an audience including mid-to-senior- level professionals. The magazine recently added a series of virtual career fairs to its portfolio, expanding on existing offerings, such as print employment advertising, an online job site and a career guide.

The three career fairs contribute to a growing number of online events that target tight employment sectors, said Brent Arslaner, VP-marketing at Unisfair Inc., a virtual events company that worked with Haymarket to develop the events.

"The media companies already have the audience, so it becomes a no-brainer as a way for them to increase sponsorship revenue," he said.

The virtual career fairs allow exhibitors to interact with attendees, gathering resumes and contact information. Candidates who enter a booth bear credentials that help recruiters decide whether to initiate a live chat or simply leave the prospect to browse online components such as white papers and webinars.

At the inaugural PR Week virtual career fair in December, recruiters from 13 companies saw an average of 560 unique booth visitors each and more than 50 submitted resumes, said Steven Sottile, display advertising director at the publication.

"In a market that's extremely competitive to hire for—that's valuable," he said.

The magazine sent out targeted e-mail blasts and advertised the event in its publications and on its job Web site, attracting 2,000 registrants with the promise not only of PR employers but also of content such as a webcast focused on top PR jobs, he said.

"What is key is having two webcasts during the event that draw them in for another reason," Sottile said. "While you have them in there viewing the webcast, they can see the exhibitor booths in the event platform. Curiosity kills the cat."

The event drew a crowd that would not traditionally attend a face-to-face job fair, where midcareer candidates might feel vulnerable publicly exposing a desire to switch companies, said Evelyn Valls, advertising manager at PR Week.

"The biggest factor is anonymity," she said. "Otherwise this would be tailored to entry-level positions. That's not where the crisis is in the industry."

Exhibitors pay a little less than $6,000 for a virtual booth that provides access to a nationwide talent pool—something few face-to-face career fairs offer, Valls said.

"It's really cost-effective," she said, noting that companies do not have to fly recruiters to regional events and that the online fair provides leads organized by criteria such as skill level and industry specialty.

Booths can host multiple company representatives, so candidates can interact with regional recruiters, Sottile said.

For PR Week, the event entails minimal in-house involvement, Sottile said.

"We don't need 15 people," he said. "It's the project manager, and it's off and running."

Unisfair works with exhibitors to help them set up the virtual booths, and the company provides sales tools that allow exhibitors to understand what PR Week is selling—integral components of a successful fair in an industry without a strong technology base, Valls said.

PR Week will offer its second fair on April 19, she said. She expects the show to draw participation similar to the December show.

"It's a lot easier this time around," she said. "People can see something." The company will host a third show in the fall.

The development spreads recruitment resources across the PR Week portfolio, Valls said. "You want to be integrated," she said. "You want to be in different types of media."

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