strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

ATTN Managers, Prioritize These Four Traits When Hiring Communicators

Date - March 3, 2018 by Jennifer R. Farmer

By Jennifer R. Farmer

In any organization, hiring is always a critical matter. In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins noted that one of the first things great leaders do is “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Interestingly enough, they do this before they set the vision and the strategy for their companies. So, while we know hiring is important, it’s critical to exercise great care when hiring the team that will manage your organizational brand or share your vision with the world.

Based on my experience in the communications and public relations field, I’ve learned to prioritize these four traits when hiring communicators:

  • Judgement. From deciding which interview requests to grant, and the underlying questions one should ask in order to determine if an interview is beneficial, communicators must have judgment. Open-ended questions such as, “what steps do you take to gauge whether an interview is beneficial to your organization? Or what factors should be considered when determining an organizational response to a crisis” can give you a window into a person’s thought process. Another way to assess a candidate’s judgement is to offer a “working interview” where the candidate works a portion of the day and you observe how they handle various situations. If you opt to do this, be sure to compensate the person for their time.
  • Teachable Spirit. Regardless of how skilled a team member may be, you want a communicator who has a teachable spirit, meaning they’re open to feedback and willing to learn your organization’s culture and norms. There is a learning curve for every organization and for every position, so it’s critical prospective hires are willing to learn your organization. For instance, after years of working in politics, the communications tactics I was accustomed to were more aggressive than was warranted for most nonprofit organizations. Once I left the political arena, I had to discard those tactics, and develop approaches that were more suitable for my employer. In the end, it’s not beneficial to you or your organization to hire someone who is highly skilled, but unwilling to take feedback. Regardless of how much experience a candidate has, there is always room to grow, and there is always one more thing to learn. Without a teachable spirit, the staffer may be unwilling to follow organizational leadership or receive input from organizational partners. And trust me, this will not turn out well for you or them.
  • Drive. You can’t teach drive. A person either has it or they don’t. “Drive” is important in many careers, but it’s especially critical in advocacy communications. Hire people who are self-motivated and passionate about the issues they’re advocating for and against. This will assure that the staffer meets your expectations, and goes about the business of setting new goals and priorities that will help advance your work. Without drive, you will likely have an employee who needs to be spoon-fed every detail and every assignment. In a 24-hour news cycle, executives need thought partners, rather than order takers.
  • Solid Written and Oral Communications Skills. From press releases, to pitch notes, to opinion essays to communications plans to general office correspondence, communicators must write. You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, but you do need someone who writes reasonably well, and someone who has an interest in writing. You can help a person grow, but they must have both the interest and a modicum of talent. Oral communication is important as well. Communicators must be able to communicate an idea and articulate your work and vision to the reporters with whom they interact. In an environment where reporters are bombarded with requests from scores of public relations professionals, a communicator must be able to, well, communicate.

My intention in sharing these tips is to help hiring managers better evaluate candidates, and identify those who might be good fits. Cultural fit is important as well, and perhaps I’ll tackle that in a future post.


Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and public relations expert. Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J or on Facebook at

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“Passion is not enough. Being effective in communications and PR requires creativity, responsiveness and relentlessness”Jennifer R. FarmerExtraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide. Order now from Barnes & Noble, Politics & Prose or your favorite book seller.



Jennifer R. Farmer is a leading professional in communications strategy. For over 15 years, she has made her mark in social justice movements, working with entities as varied as PICO National Network, Advancement Project, the Service Employees International Union, SEIU District 1199 (WV/KY/OH), Obama for America, the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus and the Ohio Department of Transportation (in the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland). She is the founder of Spotlight PR LLC whose mission is to develop high-impact communications workshops and trainings.

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Testimonials and Endorsements

Jennifer Farmer is one of the smartest and most talented communicators I know. She’s passionate, knowledgeable and relatable about her work. Plus, when we spent time together, she made sure I never ate alone.

Ari Berman, Contributing WriterThe Nation

When we worked together in the Forward Together Moral Monday movement, Jennifer Farmer skillfully heard me. She allowed me to be myself, while teaching me and the NC NAACP staff foundational communications techniques.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Founder, Repairers of the BreachThe North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP,The Forward Together Moral Movement

The noise in the public square is deafening. And yet, more than ever, the ability to penetrate that noise so that your story can be heard is critical to successfully contesting for power. Jennifer defines a way to think and steps to take to insure your voice is heard. This book, filled with wisdom and practicality, is delivered with humor and passion.

Scott Reed, Executive DirectorPICO National Network

I loved this book. It is smart, practical and filled with personal examples that underscore the author’s central message: there are concrete things you can do to promote your organization with or without a large budget. Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget is required reading for anyone wishing to use strategic communications to make a difference.

Celinda Lake, PrincipalLake Research Partners

Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget is one of those rare books that is straightforward and poignant. It guides readers in crafting an effective and executable PR strategy – all on a budget! This is required reading from a trusted PR expert!

Becky Williams, PresidentSEIU-1199, WV/KY/OH

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