Why PR agencies need to get back to basics to attract and retain talent

In this guest post, Jocelyn Hunter shares three tips to keeping good PR staff.

According to the Global Communications Report 2016, produced by the Holmes Report, agency and corporate executives strongly believe that the ability to attract and retain the right talent is the greatest challenge facing the global PR industry.Jocelyn Hunter - Bench PR

Last year, PR Week revealed that the turnover rate in PR agencies was between 20-30%. That’s nearly one in three staff leaving a PR agency, every single year.

As a service based industry, we all want to work with creative and supportive teams on interesting campaigns for clients who value what we do. However, as agencies, companies, government departments and others fight to attract and retain the best PR and communications talent, the ‘perks battle’ seems to have taken over.

Increasing numbers of ‘Best PR agencies to work for’ awards combined with recruitment adverts listing ‘doona days’, regular massages, free lunches or team trips to far flung places are becoming increasingly common.

As an agency owner, I think we’re in danger of forgetting the basics here. It’s much easier to give a team member an extra day off, than it is to actually fix some of the deeper and more fundamental problems that might be happening causing staff to leave in the first place.

Forget the ‘doona days’

Perks are great. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked in a number of different agencies, both in the UK and Australia and experienced most of them. Those agencies, like the majority of successful PR agencies had a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture and when the hours are usually long, ‘fun perks’ or ‘feeling appreciated’ can get you through.

Silhouette of stressed business woman in the office.

But, no amount of free food, massages or doona days are going to help if your team members are regularly working 12-14 hour days. If they’re expected to work across too many accounts for example or respond to clients after 6:00pm or before 8:00am, free perks aren’t going to keep them coming back into work.

Focus on outcomes

As an industry, we have to get better at making flexible work, work. The focus should always be on the deliverables, rather than the hours spent in the office.

Most of us want to work for interesting clients who value what we do. We also want some kind of life balance (note I didn’t say work/life balance as work is only part of your life) where we can pursue outside interests, be part of our respective communities and be able to spend time with our friends and families.

As agency owners and senior PR leaders we need to help set those boundaries, set an example and resource our teams effectively. We need to do our due diligence when taking on new clients and fire those who don’t respect those boundaries or take our advice.

These conversations aren’t easy to have, but my experience has certainly been that by showing my team respect and support, they pay it back in spades and loyalty.

Invest in new tech tools

Asking your team members what’s keeping them back after 6pm or being able to track this through time management systems, can help identify where the problems are.

It might be a particular process or way of doing things that needs to change and become more efficient or one client could be demanding more time than they’re paying for. It’s often these ‘small things’ creating the ‘daily pain’ that make people want to leave.slack new offices

We use tools like Slack and Asana to help us manage our workloads, reduce time spent in meetings with each other and gives us all visibility into what we’re all working on.

Whilst we don’t offer ‘doona days’ we do send birthday presents, or flowers for a job well done, we have regular team nights out, discretionary bonuses and trips overseas, including a trip to San Francisco earlier this year.

But, none of these perks replace our fundamental goal of being able to enjoy interesting work for our clients, that adds real value to their business, that they appreciate and are willing to pay for.

Jocelyn Hunter is managing director at Bench PR


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