The Apollo 17 Principle of Recruitment

Today’s Repman is penned by Peppercommer Carl Foster…

APOLLOI don’t know about your industry but the world of PR is hotting up, and I find myself interviewing an increasing number of candidates.

When I interview people, particularly junior level candidates, I look for something I call the Apollo 17 principle.

You might be familiar with the Apollo principle. It’s the premise that everyone in an organization can pull together toward a common goal. It’s based on the 1960’s anecdote in which John F Kennedy, while on a tour of Cape Canaveral, asked a janitor what he did. “I’m helping put a man on the moon, sir” was the reply.

The Apollo 17 principle is different. It’s about valuing skills that are either innate or have taken a long time to develop over easier to develop skills, like PR and marketing.

Following Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969, NASA launched five more Apollo missions, each manned with highly trained astronauts – the objective being to study the lunar surface. That required the skills of a geologist, so the astronauts undertook geology classes.

But here’s the thing, NASA realized that instead of an astronaut trained in geology, what they actually needed was a geologist trained as an astronaut. It turned out to be easier to layer astronaut training over years of study in geology than train astronauts to sort the lunar wheat from the lunar chaff. Step forward Harrison Schmitt, who studied geology at CalTech and Harvard. Schmitt was the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17, and now, with the passing of Gene Cernan yesterday, he is now the last living person to have walked on the moon.

The result of putting a geologist on the moon was that the Apollo 17 crew returned more rock of more value to earth than any other lunar mission.

So if you’re thinking of applying to Peppercomm but don’t have a background in PR or marketing, don’t let that immediately dissuade you, especially for entry level positions.

The same principle applies to skills and traits rather than experience. I once interviewed a junior candidate with zero PR or marketing experience, but she had set up dance schools in Africa, interned at foreign embassies and generally had an all-around “can do” approach to life. Unfortunately, she didn’t join Peppercomm, but wherever she lands, the astronaut part of her career will be easy to learn. She has the geology part sorted.

2 thoughts on “The Apollo 17 Principle of Recruitment

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  2. Granted I’m one of your colleagues, Carl, but I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d say it’s an absolute priority that smart organizations hire people with different backgrounds and different points of view. We won’t grow unless we continue to bring in people that have been trained in other disciplines. Our world has become much to complex to rely just on PR people and marketers. Case in point is that one of our best speechwriters is actually a playwright, first and foremost. But he brings his skills in storytelling and writing dialogue to the B2B communications world by helping executives be more eloquent.