Why don’t more PR firms offer share options for employees?

PR agencies continue to be puzzled about why they can’t recruit quickly enough. Last week, I talked about how offering higher, more transparent bonuses might be an effective tool to help agencies attract and retain staff. This week, a couple of things happened to me that have moved this debate on a bit. I was congratulating myself on raising this issue over drinks with a senior agency director who I consider to be at the top of his game. I’m not suggesting he’s necessarily PR perfection, frankly I wouldn’t know, but he’s good. If I ran a corporate PR firm and I could afford him, I’d give him a job. The conversation meandered until we touched on share options and his lack of them. Between us, other than a few independent firms, we could list very few PR agencies where share options are available for employees, event at a director level.

So that was the first thing. The next thing that happened was after the PRCA Awards, when to avoid a rail-replacement bus journey home, I stayed up in town with a friend. A banker friend. OK, so yes he’s a banker, but he’s an irritatingly nice guy, with a lovely wife and three perfect children. But I digress, the point is while I’d like to think I had the edge when we went to University, in terms of salary and net worth he is now kicking my arse. Obviously he’s kicking my arse salary-wise, but he also has unvested and vested stock options with his employer Morgan Stanley. Each year he gets more unvested stock (assuming things go well) and each portion of unvested stock vests after three years. And after twenty years everything unvests automatically.

He’s worked there for around 15 years. He’s very good at his job (I don’t pretend to fully understand what it is he does, but like most highly paid jobs, it can be loosely summarised as high-value sales!) and he clearly gets head-hunters calling him up all the time. And he’s not interested; it’s absolutely not worth him leaving Morgan Stanley. He’d loose a fortune. It’s not worth him even considering it.

As he’s got stock options he knows that if Morgan Stanley does well, he stands to benefit. Very, very few PR firms offer share options in their business to employees (independents such as Lansons aside).

We all make decisions in business, so not offering share options is fine, but then don’t moan about why you find it difficult to attract and retain the best people.