Senior agency staff ‘earning themselves out of a job’, claims PRIA consultancy group chair

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L:R Benson, Cullen, Vineberg, Moore, Rugge Price

The chairman of the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s Registered Consultancy Group has suggested PR agencies are sometimes happy to see the back of senior staff because they are not worth the money they are paid and are “earning themselves out of a job”.

Adam Benson told the CommsCon conference, in Sydney yesterday, that high staff turnover rates can sometimes be a blessing for agencies if the right people quit.

Speaking on a panel of industry leaders, Benson said there are “people you want to keep” but others, including those who receive annual pay rises but who have outgrown their usefulness, who companies are pleased to see leave.

Benson said data analysed by PRIA showe that turnover rates in the industry vary between 15 per cent and 30 per cent, depending on the size of the agency.

“Don’t forget there are two types of turnover,” he told the room of PR professionals. “There are people you want to move on. There are people who outgrow their roles or outgrow their productivity and you are paying them more every year, but they are not actually billing more, adding more value or bringing more money into your agency. So they are essentially earning themselves out of a job.”

On the flip side there are people you “absolutely want to keep in the business”, he added, including “seniors who have quite good delegated authority”.

Benson’s comments came during a wide ranging discussion on a panel which included Ogilvy chief executive Kieran Moore, Public Relations Council chair Melissa Cullen, GE branding and communications vice president Emma Rugge Price and PRIA NSW president and national board member John Vineburg.

Both retaining and recruiting talent was identified as a problem area for the industry, with Moore, who said Ogilvy has a staff churn rate of 30 per cent, describing it is one of the “biggest challenges” facing agencies, particularly as they begin to diversify into other areas, including media buying and creative work.

There is a “massive responsibility” on the industry associations “and us as professionals” to coach and train young talent, she added, particularly in such a rapidly changing environment.

“The biggest challenge for agencies… is finding the right people that you need for an agency that’s going to be doing a bit of media buying, a bit of creative, a bit of work on issues and crisis and moving into some of the technical areas where we may not have been,” Moore said.

She also questioned the quality of university courses which are relying on the same books – albeit updated versions – used by students three decades ago.

Any institution which pretends to be across all aspects of the evolving industry dynamics “would be lying”, Moore told delegates, as even those already in the workplace are struggling to keep pace. Nevertheless, she stressed there needs to be an improvement in curriculums.

“We are spending a lot of time with heads of communications departments trying to talk to them about their curriculum because they are using text books that are version 15 of the same book I had in 1984. So there is a curriculum gap,” Moore said.

Earlier, the PR boss expressed frustration at the debate over the expansion of media agencies into PR and urged the industry to “get off the hobby horse”.

“Just run your own race,” she said.

Steve Jones


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