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The solution to PR’s recruitment crisis

29th August 2014


Make no mistake, there is a recruitment crisis in UK PR right now. Most large PR agencies in the UK I know are unable to find sufficient numbers of appropriately talented people.

I’ve written before about some of the reasons for this – it seems to me that recruitment in PR has become a process of risk avoidance, rather than a positive mind-set of can this candidate do the job.

The recruitment process in public relations has been made more challenging because PR as a discipline is a market in disruption, and therefore the skill sets that have been relevant in the past, are only partially relevant today. It is for this reason that PRmoment and the PRCA have recently launched PR Jobs London, which we hope will help connect PR candidates with PR employers but I have no doubt recruitment in PR will remain difficult.

It is within this context that I remain at a loss to explain the sector's continued reluctance to make life as simple as possible for working mums. A recent CMI report suggested that a “woman's salary begins to fall behind at the age when they are most likely to be starting a family.” While last week the CIPR launched a scheme to support public relations professionals through maternity.

PR employers need to be making life as easy as possible for working mums. Flexibility and technology will no doubt be an important part of any approach.

I recently interviewed 3 Monkey’s Sarah Ogden on how she manages life as a director of a large London based PR firm. Sarah commutes from Brighton to London, she has one child already and another one on the way! (Congratulations!)

Ben Smith: Why do you commute to London, would it not be easier to work nearer to home?

Sarah Ogden: I don’t mind commuting because it’s London. I love London, I was drawn to the type of PR work that is done there. I’d be much less likely to work on the brands that I do work on if I didn’t work in London. If I was asked to commute to somewhere else, without these benefits – then it just wouldn’t happen.

Also, I used to run my own PR firm in Brighton, and we had a lot of clients in London, so I used to go up a lot anyway!

BS: But there is a difference between doing the commute a couple of times a week and doing it every day….

SO: Yes there is.

BS: So how do you manage the work-commute-home thing?

SO: There are a few things that mean that it works for me. My husband also commutes into London and we have a drop off, pick up way of working. So rather than working in the office for 3 days a week, I have flexibility, which means that I’m either in at 10am/10.30am and go home at normal time or in at 9am and leave early to do pick up. My husband obviously does the opposite to whatever I’m doing. Layered on top of that is flexibility to work from home as and when the need arises – as it often does with young children.

BS: The technology is key to this I guess but how does that work?

SO: Technology plays a massive part in the success of it, I work on the train. I frequently get more work done on the train than I do in the office. I must have a seat and I must have a table.

BS: You get a seat? In standard class? I think my rule would be if I was going to commute again that I must get a seat, and coming in from where I do, that means more often than not first class.

SO: Oh I get a seat, and if I ever don’t I’ll upgrade to first so that I get a seat and a table. I must have a seat and a table because I do loads of work on the train.

BS: Is the Wi-Fi good on the Brighton route?

SO: I don’t need Wi-Fi. I use a Three MiFi dongle – which changed my life. But actually it’s a different type of work on the train; it tends to be more writing and less communicating.

BS: Oh right, so in a sense PR is possibly the ideal commuting profession? Because you do have some thinking time if you work in public relations. 

SO: Bear in mind that when I’m in the office I have a team of 20 people. It’s an open plan office and I’m across all of it – when I’m in the office that is it – I’m pummelled. People, questions, meetings – it’s non-stop, so it’s hard for me to concentrate. Plus, I'm quite a morning person.

BS: How does this work for 3 Monkeys? There is a recruitment crisis in PR so the concept of retaining intelligent, experienced (SO: talented!) people within the workforce is a pretty obvious, probably partial solution, to this problem. I think PR firms are a lot better at making working in PR easier for mothers than they used to be, but it seems to have not quite worked industry wide as well as it might have done. Why do you think that might be?

SO: Because I think not all women are the same. Everyone has different wants and needs. I think agency environments are tough, fast, relentless, demanding and clients come first. That’s the reality and you’ve got to be in a position to be able to respond and react to that, it’s the nature of the job.

BS: So actually the child-care sharing with your husband is probably the most important bit of this?

SO: Hugely important. In fact with our second child we’re going to be taking Cameron up on his legislation and Tim (Sarah’s husband) is going to be sharing the paternity so I’m going to be taking five months and Tim is going to be taking the remainder. I’ve done a lot of work with ‘Working Families’, who support families in the work place and the evidence is absolutely screaming that equality in the workplace isn’t going to happen unless we change how we treat men in the workplace.

BS: For blokes to be taking paternity leave can’t be a sign of weakness.

SO: Exactly.

BS: So why does this flexible approach work for you?

SO: It works for me because I really enjoy the quiet time on the train. I can calibrate my thoughts, particularly in the morning, I get a lot of written work done and I get the benefit of living in Brighton.

BS: In essence you get to earn a London wage and live in Brighton.

SO: Basically yeah. I read something recently which said that a long commute was one of the worse quality of life inhibitors, but it also said that if you earn over 40% more than the average wage of where you lived – it neutralised the suffering of the commute!

BS: In many ways it comes down to affordability doesn’t it? If you’re earning £25K and commuting from Brighton – it doesn’t add up. So, brutally, you need to be earning enough to make the commute worth your while! Otherwise if you’re giving 20% of your salary to South West Trains – the people are not going to do it are they. It’s as simple as that.

SO: The other great benefit of course is that I get to spend some quality time with my daughter during the week. If I’m on drop off I have at least three hours quality time with her each morning and the same in evening.

BS: And what are the advantages for 3 Monkeys?

SO: On the assumption that they think I’m a decent employee – why wouldn’t it work? There is absolutely no impact on the business of my flexible hours at all. I’m always on email – I’m actually visible and connected the same working hours as if I’m in the office. In fact I start work before most people because I’m on a train and working before they get to the office.

BS: Good point, the stereotypical PR office is one where there is the constant buzz of the phone – but that has long since changed.

BS: Last one, what is the mind-set of a commuter? Because you can’t get angry can you?

SO: Well, you do have to deal with a lot of idiots. People do get aggressive and I have to say most of them are men! For example, I yawned without my hand over my mouth the other week, as you do sometimes in the morning, and the guy standing next to me said, “Don’t you breathe on me!”

He looked like he was going to kill me. I just looked at him and thought, “you’ve got to be joking!”

So you do need a relaxed mind-set but you’ve just got to balance it off, it’s not ideal, but the benefits for me outweigh the drawbacks.



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