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Top tips for hiring and retaining the best talent in PR

We’re in the thick of the merry-go-round time, pitching to prospects who see 1 January 2020 as a fresh and exciting start. And on top of all this excitement and growth, January is also the month that people think about changing jobs.

Why might they leave? Could it be low pay, relationships with colleagues or clients, maybe boredom, perhaps, “I’ve been here a long time and I need a new challenge”, or, sadly, it could be burnout. Whatever the reason, you need to really know why anyone leaves a company. You need to do exit interviews and beg them to be brutally honest then fix the problems you can, so it doesn’t become an epidemic.

It’s a job seeker’s market in PR. Granted, PR is a hard industry to break into with no experience. But there are more vacancies for skilled people than there are skilled people, and the projections for the future suggest this will get worse, according to The ICCO World PR Report 2020.

Every industry is experiencing talent challenges and the PR industry is no different. Recruiting and retaining top talent remains the number one concern for PR leaders, yet from the ICCO World PR Report there is little evidence to suggest that anything is being done about it. Motivated people are what keeps the PR industry thriving, but improving recruitment and retainment seems to get lower and lower down the priority list.

I’ve been running Firefly for many years, hiring and retaining the best talent I can find, whilst always staying true to our culture. I have hired some outstandingly brilliant people, and I’ve also made mistakes and lost a few. Here are my top tips for hiring and retaining the best talent in PR:

1. It’s all about the employee experience

Netflix and Amazon have created a world where we expect everything to be personalised to our wants and needs. And hiring and managing talent is the same. An employee experience needs to be more than a welcome email from the CEO. Jobseekers now expect a tailored and personal service when applying to a job, during the onboarding phase and throughout their time at the company. Make that person feel special and unique because you need them more than they need you. Have you thought how many headhunting approaches an account manager might get? Possibly one a day. As PROs, we are personable people, so using those skills with our applicants and employees should be easy!

2. Empower people with confidence

One of the global challenges is that every country is facing uncertainty – whether it’s political, environmental or social. So, the need to empower employees has become even more in demand. As PR people we know all about making our clients look and feel good as well as protect their reputation, so why don’t we do the same with our employees? Compliment great work, reward excellent performance, celebrate every year anniversary of them joining, celebrate birthdays, take time to listen to worries and concerns, help them develop and grow professionally, take a personal interest in their career development, accept them for their strengths and for who they are.

3. Prioritise wellbeing

Mental health is a hot topic and we hear about more and more people suffering from mental health problems caused by stress in the workplace. PR agencies are extremely fast-paced environments and it can take its toll on employees – especially those fresh from university who may not be used to the working world. Making the time to talk to colleagues about their wellbeing and offering solutions and initiatives when times get tough is vital to retaining employees. Notice when people are working long hours or are far too available and responsive on emails at weekends or when they should be having time off. React and respond with supportive plans if a person or a team seem to be struggling with a tricky project. You should have their back and support them unconditionally.

4. Improve the work culture

One of the things I like to ask our Fireflies from time to time is what they think about the agency’s culture as we can always continue to improve it. Fitting into and around the culture of an agency is just as important as the client work that’s involved. A team-spirited, performance-based culture can gel a team together and deliver more impactful work, but a self-centred survival or competitive culture can blow an agency apart. The best way to find out what kind of culture you have is to ask your own employees how it feels and what they want to improve. After all, they create it as it lives and breathes every working minute. And every time a new person arrives, the culture shifts a little. Know what your culture is, and know how to improve it.

5. Look out for the soft skills

If we want to recruit the best in our industry, we need to be open minded. Looking out for certain skills or certain degrees from particular universities will only limit your talent pool. Instead, we should be looking for skills like exponential thinking, problem solving abilities and general confidence – we can worry about the hard skills later.

As January 2020 approaches, the recruiting rush begins, and people will be actively looking for opportunities. Whether you’re looking to retain your employees or seeking out fresh talent, it’s important that we make PR talent a priority. We need to keep and develop talented people in our industry.

Fix any problems, but don’t focus your energy on blocking the reasons people want to leave. Have confidence in yourself and your agency and our industry. People stay with an agency because they want to, so give people reasons to stay.

Written by Claire Walker, group CEO at Firefly Communications Group

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