When hiring analyst relations team members, should firms look for senior or junior staff?
That’s the question I’ve been evaluating recently in a discussion with a colleague in Silicon Valley. “If AR is done right there are no seniors and juniors, it is just one team acting in unison”, says my correspondent.
There’s a lot of reason in that view. The most effective analyst relations teams are overwhelmingly composed of professionals with several years of experience in corporate communication. Most AR professionals are in their 40s or 30s: both the communications managers leading the outreach, and the executives who are running communications inside those teams and developing the infrastructure they use to reach out to analysts. They have less hierarchy than less effective teams.
However, some organizations do hire more junior people. A good example is Hill and Knowlton which, like most public relations agencies, is hiring graduates with a year’s work experience to pitch its clients into analysts, to liaise with account managers in the analyst firms and to write analyst newsletters.
My correspondent comments that “When a company has to have a “junior person” (aka one with little or no skills), obviously AR is not being done right especially when that person is given tasks that are of little or no consequence to the bottom line.”
I’m not so sure. Some people would argue that it’s a greater error to have an unskilled person doing work that is going to impact the bottom line.
However, I feel that there are three things at work here.
- Strong tiering. Some firms allocate resources in line with the differing impact of different analysts. Imagine if you have a $500,000 budget for analyst relations, and your research shows that 30 analysts influence 80% of your sales, and a further 100 influence 15%. So that means that you can hire a few skilled AR professionals, each of whom focuses on ten individual analysts, and then find some other way to deal with the others. Logically, you have to allocate $75,000 to service 100 analysts. Immediately that suggests that you need very different service levels, and also less costly people because one person can’t deal with 100 analysts very easily. I’ve seen some organizations address that by using students for ‘sandwich placements‘ or internships, for example allowing students to handle inbound inquiries from less important analysts or to use them to develop a parallel communications program for those analysts that is based on inviting analysts to use low-resources services like extranets, newsletters, media releases, conference calls and large events.
- Weak tiering. I’ve seen some organizations focus on too many analysts. That means they have to allocate the same service level to analysts. This is especially the case when analysts are tiered according to their influence on the media. Analyst profile in the media is more widely distributed than analyst influence on sales. Furthermore, because the analysts who influence sales are often not those in the media, tiering methods based on the media tend to break down. That break-down forces even more analysts into the scope. With too many analysts, only low-cost resources can be used, even to communicate with the most influential analysts.
- Measurement by volume. One vendor I know rewards its public relations agency for maximizing the number of briefings it organizes. That means they have a lot of briefings to organize, each of which presumably needs a briefing note, a summary of the analysts’ research, a pre-briefing session for the spokespeople, a warm-up call or three for the analyst, and lots of follow up. This vendor is very happy that the agency organizes five briefings every working day in Europe alone. That’s over 1,000 a year, in just one region. This vendor swears that it is effective. I am not so sure about that, but I am pretty sure that the number is being measured — and that’s why it is being maximized. Naturally, every agency needs to create a return for its shareholders and so they will look to use the most junior resources effectively.
So, there are a number of reasons why junior colleagues could be useful additions to your team. But the precondition is having full confidence that your firm is tiering the analysts well. If not, you’re just creating a frustrating experience for the analysts and for professionals who are early in their careers.