What do public relations agencies have in common besides the effects of COVID-19? High employee turnover. While the world is dealing with Coronavirus, the ICCO World PR Report 2020 showed that the global PR industry is also dealing with a pandemic of its own - loss and scarcity of skilled talent.
Based on the conversations we’ve had since 2020 when COVID-19 hit, and the research highlighted in the 2020 ICCO World PR Report and the 2020 Nigeria PR Report, it is clear that all over the world, talent retention is a major problem.
With how difficult the past two years have been, trend-watching, managing expectations and delivering on client objectives alone must not be the core focus for PR practitioners the world over. While it is important to understand the trends, it is also imperative to measure success in a way that not only justifies our work but also helps career progression. And none of this is possible without a great team.
On Thursday, November 18, 2021, in London, I spoke on a panel that discussed the 'Skills for The Future' at the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) Global Summit. And while speaking alongside Nick Band, Founder, Berlin PR; Maxim Behar, CEO, M3 Communications Group; Barbara Phillips, Director, Brownstone Communications and Owen Cullen, Managing Director, Cullen Communications, I was clear about one thing, fixing this issue will save the future of the industry.
I wasn’t feeding PR professionals from over 30 countries pipe dreams. I was speaking from a place of facts because this strategy has continued to stand BHM out in the African PR industry, even as we take on the world. We are not just building our business; we are growing the industry as well.
How? You might ask?
Invest. Don’t Be Afraid To Upskill Your Workforce
In an evolving world where finding and retaining key talent ranks among the top issues PR agencies face, according to PRovoke, many employers are becoming increasingly reluctant to invest in talent development over the fear of them leaving. While talent is valuable, it is also very scarce, and many lack the skills required for employment. My recommendation and what works for us at BHM? Hiring and training new talent with passion, the right mindset and interpersonal skills.
Yes, it is scary. Why should we invest only for them to leave? My question is, why not? Why not build them to build our industry? Our responsibility is to show them the right way to do PR. Don't look for that perfect person; you're really not going to find them.
Focus on building talents rather than hunting for perfection. I like to work with my team to vary their work experiences, identify upskilling opportunities and work with them to grow and smash those goals. That, coincidentally, is the only reason why I am still on this journey today and making impressive strides.
I came into BHM as an intern. I did it for about seven months, and five years later, I can continue to chart this course. It wouldn't have been possible without that strategy we have at BHM – of building people.
We’re also not scared of them leaving because we know our investment in them is an investment in the industry. They will go on to do great things and will always remember why and how they were enabled to do so. It is a strategy every PR company across the world must take on.
Offer and Encourage Balance
Along with the demanding nature of public relations agencies, employees expect extensive career development opportunities and a better balance of the elements in their lives. Public relations firms have developed a philosophy that ensures employees are stretching their skills on a regular basis and institute several programs that will meet their cultural expectations to prevent unwanted turnover.
While it is important to open your staff up to more on-the-job opportunities, why not consider customising their work experiences? No two staff will function the same way.
At BHM, we have toyed with remote work from as far back as 2015 and now, we encourage staff to do what works for them. We give them their time and as adults, we expect them to map their day-to-day life, such that their lives are not built around their work but is infused into their lives.
Not only is it important to understand your team’s unique peculiarities and strengths and in doing so, but also work with them to find what works. Also understand that employees see and hear everything, so fairness and transparency are equally key.
Use Your Own Medicine
Practice what you preach to your clients. Communicate. Build your employees’ ‘user experience’.
Effective two-way communication must be in place at firms to uncover employees’ expectations, gain their trust, and to create a motivational environment to achieve the shared goals for success.
It is not enough for public relations companies to be concerned about building their businesses; it is important to invest in talent development which will, in turn, continue to grow the industry.
How else can you invest? Engagement, data and insights. Through your interactions, gather information on your staff and use that data to guide your future engagements with them such that there’s a personal touch to your interactions making employee engagement as unique as a healthy interpersonal relationship.
As in PR, talent retention is like stakeholder engagement. Recognise that communication starts at recruitment. How are your potential employees engaged? What happens to those that don’t make the cut? What happens with those that do?
What is an average employee’s ‘user experience’ like in your organization? How do they go through onboarding, engagements, their exit, and beyond? Do you keep a loop with multiple touch points, lasting several months or years? If agencies adopt that 'UX design thinking' approach in talent management, then we'd be doing better and retaining the best hands.
At BHM, our recruitment process is as easy as opening an account on Instagram or using new generation banks like Tide or Anna. And for those who do not eventually get hired, the lines are still kept open as that is how a number of our staff became employees.
Compensate and Incentivize
We can’t deceive ourselves to think that high pay, bonuses and perks are not big motivators. It is important to always make your offers magnetic—and to also deliver on them.
According to the PRCA, the average agency salary is £44,805, down from £54,311 in 2013. Pay at the senior levels has also fallen, but professionals who are Account Director-level or below have seen a small increase. In-house salaries on the other hand increase more uniformly, and the average salary is £43,591, down from £50,438. The average freelancer salary is £56,789, down from £73,322 in 2013.
Dare I say it, there is a significant pay disparity between men and women with an average of £9,111, according to the PRCA PR Census. And while public relations is seemingly well-paid with lots of opportunities for progression for ambitious individuals, it is still not as attractive as other “flashier industries” and this is a big issue.
Tech, where it seems like most PR professionals pivot to, has a median annual wage of $91,250 as of May 2020, which is higher than the median annual wage ($41,950) for all occupations, according to the US Bureau of labour statistics, This is indeed a big deal.
For as long as I have worked in BHM, we have always aimed to pay the best the market can offer because we understand the economy and want our employees to be as comfortable as possible.
Be Prepared For The Turnover
Employee turnover is part of the natural progression of an organisation and can provide employers with an opportunity to refresh the talent pool or make needed changes to their infrastructures.
If the last 24 months have taught us anything, they’ve taught us to always be alert.Be prepared for constant change and sudden disruption. Be ready for turnover and never be afraid to see your staff go.
The emergence of trends like the 'gig economy' have changed how individuals view work and career. The idea of loyalty from employees is also changing because people now want to try their hands at multiple jobs and side gigs while working remotely with no long term attachments. This has been made popular in tech, and the attitude is fast seeping into other professional services and creative fields.
Career changes, pivots, resignations and retirements are inevitable. The question is, what are you doing to prepare for them? Understand why people are leaving. Is it you, the company or them? It helps to contextualize. And if it’s you or the company, please fix up!
Passionate industry entrants and high potential public relations professionals are unlike any other subset of the workforce. These high performers and determined newbies crave challenges and responsibilities. They feel most fulfilled when being treated fairly, pushed to their limits and appreciated for their hard work.
A Gallup report describes millennials and Gen Zs as 'the job-hopping generation', and the PR industry is not exempt from their dynamic lifestyles.
But how are we preparing ourselves to ride the wave to the end?