Cracking the code of J-school hiring
By Abe Peck
At a recent journalism school job fair, one b-to-b executive complained, “Our magazine is the Time of its field, but we're not getting attention.” B-to-b recruiting at J-schools can be frustrating. Most students remain ignorant of b-to-b's very nature, much less its career opportunities. And as instruction becomes platform-agnostic, it can be hard to decide which prof to approach.
Yet some b-to-b executives have discovered what Ed Gillette, president-CEO of Scranton Gillette Communications, calls “the secret sauce” of recruitment and retention. Here's how a smart mix of targeting and training can help you attract tomorrow's top content staffers.
• Educate about b-to-b: “Going in, you're not going to be the big candy bar,” cautions Vern Henry, longtime Cleveland-area editorial director and successful recruiter for Advanstar Communications. “You're going to be the Tootsie Roll.”
But Tootsie Rolls can be tasty. If you're American Lawyer or IEEE Spectrum, tout your well-written, cross-platform packages. A product book? Emphasize digital search and metrics.
• Learn who cares: At the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, I evangelize as director of b-to-b communication. The school fills long-term undergraduate b-to-b residencies (American Salon this quarter). American Business Media's McAllister Fellowship program brings top managers and editors to campus. My grad-level Inside B2B Media project course grew from nine to 18 students—one was hired at Scranton Gillette a few weeks ago.
Chicago's strong b-to-b concentration led Columbia College to launch a b-to-b writing course. “Students are oblivious to [b-to-b titles'] existence, let alone what skills they need to work for them,” says Columbia College associate professor Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin. “After this course, many are interested in internships and entry-level positions.”
• Network: Find local magazine profs through aejmcmagazine.arizona.edu, then reach out. Carol Holstead, an associate professor in magazine journalism at Kansas University, suggests contacting not only faculty and career services but also student organizations.
• Match your niches: Ag and tech expertise, for example, can reside outside journalism departments. Offer internships, including through ABM's reinvigorating Business Press Educational Foundation (bpefinternships.org).
“Schmooze 'em,” Henry suggests. “Invite faculty to planning meetings. Once you start hiring, the schools like to place the graduates.”
• Use your “b-to-b-dar”: Bill McDowell, VP-editorial director of Meatingplace, frequently guest-lectures at Medill, his alma mater. Meatingplace's most recent Medill hire has proven herself, from hard news to handling social media for three titles.
McDowell comes to class without illusions concerning student love for processing red meat and poultry: “One is nodding off, six or eight are on Facebook. But one or two are making eye contact, nodding affirmatively, asking a question. More often than not, they're the ones you have the five-minute chat with while you're putting your computer away. Follow up.” • Walk the students' walk: “Go where the students are,” advises Kimberley Cornwell, Medill's associate director of Career Services. “Use social media. Start talking about the writing. Do information sessions. Bring your alums to be the articulate advocates. Talk about advancement. This generation is very much around using tech; but, when it comes to their career, they want that high touch.”
Cornwell suggests sending younger employees to campus. But senior management can make decisions. Before flying back to New York after one job fair, Roger Friedman, president of Lebhar-Friedman, extracted every bit of legal candidate information I could give him this side of their shoe sizes.
• Build a retention culture: Frankly, some students enter b-to-b not planning to stay. But many learn to enjoy impact within small staffs, access to market players and rapid masthead rise. “We have to keep these people excited,” Henry says. “Get them in on story planning. Listen to what these young professionals are saying. It's just amazing.”
• Put it all together: Scranton Gillette has more than doubled the number of its brands and added 40 employees over the past four years. “We bring in very bright, capable, solid journalists,” notes Gillette, a Northwestern—but not Medill—alum. “We then put them into our training program, and they are exposed to the brands, markets, software, the basics of magazines, video, events.”
On the company's website, “SGC Editorial Rock Stars” videos feature recent hires talking about their accomplishments. “You show them a career path,” Gillette says, “then, after a year, because they're so bright, they're easily able to be moved up very quickly.”
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Gillette concludes. “If you try to skim these schools, you'll have a bad experience. You have to be in it for the long haul.”
Abe Peck is director of b-to-b communication at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He can be reached at email@example.com.