It’s no secret finding and retaining top public relations talent is one of the biggest challenges for agencies and corporate PR departments. It's okay to breathe a sigh of relief after landing a plum prospect, but don’t fool yourself: hiring is a big and painstaking step, but it is only the first in many steps for the company and the employee to realize mutual satisfaction and value, and build a long-term relationship.
The truth is every employee without a contract (and some with them) is a “free agent” when it comes to their careers and considering other offers or moving on. If PR companies and departments realize this, then the onus is on them to make their “package” more desirable than competitive ones. If you can’t make your story attractive, buckle up for some defections.
Here are some ideas to consider in your efforts to retain talent:
Strong employee value proposition. There are four basic pieces that draw most employees to any PR organization: the quality of the leaders and people they work with; the reputation of the company itself and its culture; the actual work; and the compensation. If you are proud and comfortable with how your organization feels about these elements, you’re off to a good start.
Fitting the job for the person, rather than fitting the person for the job. Typically, a PR company or department has an opening and they seek people who can do that job. It may or may not take advantage of that person’s strongest skills. While this is important in the hiring process, it is even more significant in efforts to retain employees. Let them help create their own roles, naturally performing the tasks that you hired them for but also letting them expand their responsibilities from their personal strengths and interests. Create ongoing dialogue with people to keep this concept at the forefront.
Let them shadow other employees in areas of interest. This not only helps employees learn more about an organization and feel more a part of things, but also exposes them to areas they may eventually have an interest in. Whether it’s social media, copywriting, pure publicity, press relations or being a spokesperson, letting employees experience other core company competencies shows you care about them and their career path.
Communicate, communicate. One of the most common neglects in any organization is not staying in close communication with valued employees. Sometimes these employees are so good you take them for granted and spend all your time and energy on the more challenging staff members. Managers must schedule regular meetings with their people, go over their work, sure, but make it a two-way dialogue, listening to how they feel, what they like, what they need, and what you can do to help them.
Communicate, communicate—Part II. In a more general manner, make sure your organization has frequent internal communication with the entire team. A weekly note from the manager goes a long way—info on new accounts, changing strategies, interesting articles, internal promotions and landmarks, educational opportunities. Keep people engaged—it’s a strong reflection of your culture, and it will pay off for you.
Money makes the world go round. Compensation must be competitive—let’s not kid ourselves. But perhaps just as important is making sure your top people see a real, achievable career path and financial progression. This sets the stage for longer-term harmony.
Embrace and celebrate creativity. Some of those “B” level ideas may not be so bad. While organizations constantly strive for “A” solutions to meet client needs, too many very good ideas sometimes get rejected in pursuit of the perfect solution, which might never come. By rejecting these good ideas, team members get frustrated and discouraged and stop offering suggestions at all. Go out of your way to strongly consider good alternatives from good employees to keep them engaged and help them feel valued.
Keep a close eye on your mid-level performers. It’s no wonder PR firms have plenty of uncertainty hanging onto mid-level talent. They don’t command the royal treatment of top performers and nor the attention of problem people. But this is a group of strong, necessary performers who might be the most susceptible to leave. Make a point to identify some of these people, and while it’s never easy, try to find the time to extend some of the same ideas mentioned above specifically to them.
Work-life balance. Cliché as it is, truth be told: Most PR professionals would be hard-pressed to maintain a true balance from the time and focus devoted to work vs. the rest of their lives. So even if it is merely lip service, it’s a feel-good concept, gives employees a boost, and you’ll get points for mentioning it and supporting it.
Jim Alkon is a contributing writer for PR News and is currently Editorial Director of BookTrib.com, a website where readers discover emerging authors.