Flexible Schedules Become Trump Card for Retaining PR Talent

Money talks. But in the PR department at Philadelphia-based software company Mindbridge, there are some things that talk even louder. "A lot of our folks, especially on the marketing side, have wanted to work from home and to have more flexible scheduling," says COO Scott Testa. Flexible scheduling, telecommuting and extended vacations all have gained popularity in recent years as companies have searched for benefits that will retain key talent despite shrinking salaries. This benefit is especially key in the PR arena, where employees often don't need -- or want -- to be tied to a particular schedule. Flex Time Solves Turnaround Flexible work and vacation schedules make all the difference for many PR employees. Laura Love, president of GroundFloor Media in Boulder, Colo. rarely sees her eight employees, most of whom work in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. "I designed this company with the idea that everyone would work virtually. I wanted people who were talented and seasoned, and I really didn't care where they lived," she explains. Love's vacation policy is basically a free-for-all. "They can take off whenever they want," she says. This fall, Love held extensive discussions with her employees about retention and benefits, and the feedback she received validated her emphasis on openness and flexibility. "They said the two things they really like are the ability to work from home, and the fact that I do not micromanage them," she says. Senior Media Relations Specialist John Shors says when it comes to a work environment, there are few things he prizes more than his liberty. "Laura and I may talk 20 times a day, either by phone or email. There is constant communication, but ultimately I am free to pretty much run things as I see fit. I have the flexibility to do that in my own way and on my own time," he says. This is more than just a matter of personal preference. Shors says his work habits are in fact intimately tied up with his choice of PR as a career. "In order to be able to manage these important accounts you have to be a self-starter," he explains. "The best people in this business are the people who don't have to be micromanaged, and who don't want to be micromanaged." Companies that are focusing on making work schedules more flexible are convinced the benefit not only helps employees, but makes the organization as a whole stronger. At Mindbridge, Testa notes that flexible work benefits typically are not available among other firms in the conservative Philadelphia business community. By offering such perks to potential PR employees, "it certainly differentiates us in this marketplace," he says. "A lot of times [PR job applicants] will ask us straight out whether there is an ability to telecommute. It has allowed us to attract people we otherwise would not have attracted, and that it has helped us to retain people who otherwise might not have stayed." John McGill, president of PR firm McGill Associates, also believes his liberal vacation policies help him to retain good people, and there's a tangible benefit to the company, he says. "People don't call in sick unless they are really sick. They tell you: 'I will be off next Tuesday, I have already talked to the client, everything is taken care of.' Things are much more predictable." (Contacts: Scott Testa, 610/666-5262, stesta@mindbridge.com; Laura Love, 303/417-1132, llove@groundfloor-media.com; John Shors, 303/926-0973, jshors@groundfloor-media.com; Jeff Raleigh, 925/631-9020, jeffr21@yahoo.com; David Bell, 416/597-0188, dbell@davidbellsearch.com) Shrinking Salaries Make for More Stability Money may be tight these days, but the job market is, too. Many PR practitioners are sticking with one company in order to advance their careers. "During the height of the boom in the late 1990s, there was a tendency to just throw money around," says Brian Flynn, president of RLM Public Relations. He says salaries became the trump card in the competition to attract top PR pros. Flynn calls that "a failed experiment" on the grounds that it did not promote stable teams. Flynn's own shop was a revolving door, by his account, with a 30 percent to 40 percent turnover rate. By comparison, in the past 14 months, he has lost only one employee.

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