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How to tackle the current talent shortage in PR

Tackling the current talent shortage in PR starts with finding new and diverse talent. Here, experts offer advice for enticing brilliant people into your business.

Speak out about your contribution to society says Hugh Baillie, president of the X Practice in APAC & EMEA at PR firm Weber Shandwick: “In the same way a cobbler’s children have no shoes, the marketing industry does not do enough to promote itself. The huge impact the industry can have on society should be more widely recognised and rewarded. Brands and agencies should be more confident in celebrating the work of campaigns.

“Also the industry as a whole could do more in applying our skills and passion to tackle bigger issues – something younger employees care about when looking for work. Marketers have incredible power to bring attention to key issues. Our own research shows that millennials remain more loyal to CEOs that speak out on important issues.”

Offer paid work experience says Juliet Cameron, COO at PR agency Launch: “It is clear is that the formal interview process doesn’t work for either side. Instead. when it comes to first (comms) jobbers, we commit to paid-work experience, quickly suss out whether the potential is there, and then we act fast.

“Over the past few years this has provided our business with a hungry, hard-working and smart bedrock of home-grown senior account executives, account managers and account directors.

“You can get an MA in communications today and the likes of the CIPR do a great job of ‘professionalising’ comms as a career pathway. Importantly though, the class of 2018 has an innate understanding of the reach that a well-crafted blog or signature insta-aesthetic can achieve before they start work. They also know what a poorly thought-through post can do to a reputation.” 

Tap into your people’s passions adds Cameron: “The Holy Grail is always recruiting at certain levels from account manager to account director and keeping them. Today we focus on tapping into people’s passions – making things interesting, ambitious and flexible.

“The challenge isn’t just attracting fresh talent, its keeping talent fresh.”    

Don’t just focus on graduates says Ruth Kieran, managing director at agency Cirkle PR: “Despite the industry providing a vibrant career, I was dismayed to read recently that only 8% of graduates are choosing the creative industries as a career. None of us know what the future of PR looks like, but we all know that we need to do more to captivate and attract young talent – and attract it from all walks of life. 

“So should we, in fact be taking a step back and looking at more creative ways to recruit? Perhaps ‘talent’ doesn’t necessarily appear waving a degree certificate? It seems that other industries have already worked out that school leavers can benefit their businesses, so why is the PR sector so slow to catch up?

“Cirkle has recently started to work with Career Ready, a charity which partners with schools to give young people access to work and mentoring across a range of industries which they might not be able to get in to (or in PR’s case, not even be aware of). Their work helps young people to see what a career might involve, and in turn challenges businesses’ entrenched view about what talent looks like – and it’s often not a graduate.

“What we’re doing is of course a small step, but I’d encourage other agencies to get involved – we must work harder at promoting ourselves to the next generation, even if our mums still don’t really know what we do.

“We’ve also just hired a school leaver at Cirkle, and have hired apprentices in the past, so walking the talk!”

Think beyond PR says Alex Jones, head of earned media at digital marketing agency Hallam Internet: “The nature of a career in PR requires individuals that aren’t only creative, sociable and strategic, but are excellent writers, reactive and aren’t afraid of rejection – and to some, that may be hard to find!

“As our accounts get larger and our clients more demanding, it has become more and more difficult to find candidates ready to jump in and immediately take on client work at the level we expect. Especially within the digital PR space, as a new and evolving service within the industry, finding candidates with both digital, let alone traditional experience, can be extremely tough. Tackling this shortage has required us to think outside the box, and search for talent with transferable skills in traditional PR, but also in industries with parallel skills as well e.g. recruitment, sales and advertising.”

Promote your company is another piece of advice from Jones: “Although it may seem obvious, it’s also important to ensure that as an industry we practice what we preach when it comes to recruitment to attract the best PR talent. Whether that means promoting our holiday and free lunch benefits, issuing new recruitment releases, or putting our exciting client names and case studies on pedestals – it’s important to invest in building both our brand and people in order to stand out in our competitive industry.”

Engage your staff and they will be your best advertisement says Mike Smith, lead trainer at agency Ripley Training: “Ironically, one of the easiest ways of attracting new talent to your business is maximising opportunities to promote your business through regular and cost-effective PR. But PR agency jobs are often seen as less stable as in-house marketing or comms work. Job descriptions are often more detailed for in-house work as agency is more dependent on a particular clients demands and so can be more volatile.  

“Overall, quality candidates want to be associated with successful businesses who provide not only the right development opportunities but also challenging and innovative work. Bar a few exceptions, agencies don’t usually have the same recognition as brands and so can struggle in that department.

“Part of the equation is ensuring your existing team members feel valued and engaged in the organisation through effective leadership and management as well as involvement in developing these PR articles to share the good news to potential quality candidates, new and existing customers – good news sells!  Consideration also has to be given to how engaged and valued existing staff feel?  Get this right and they will also talk positively talk about the business through their professional profiles on social media, discussion groups as well as direct word-of-mouth recommendations with fellow professionals. By attracting quality new talent through PR, strengthening and maintaining employee engagement and developing your leaders, you will build a reputation of being the best employer.”

Working towards diversity

Amanda Fone, CEO of f1 Recruitment explains what needs to be done to attract a more diverse workforce.

“Our sector is still unrepresented by talent from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. Statistics tell us that more than 91% (CIPR) of our agency and in-house teams are white.

“As part of our ambitious diversity and inclusion drive, I co-founded BAME2020 with Adrian Walcott in 2016 to ‘shake a few trees’ and speed up the pace of change in the make up of talent in the PR, media and marketing sectors. We are determined to get the message out that these sectors are open for business and keen to attract a much wider community of talent.

“Two years on BAME2020 has a community of over 2,000 people intent on speeding up and being part of the pace of change. At our BAME2020 summer event in July, we welcomed over 50% of our audience from a BAME background. The average age of this 50% was under 25 years old. All of these youngsters (18-25 year olds) were there to find out more about careers in PR or marketing and the best routes in. To find mentors and make connections. They mingled and networked with talent managers, comms and marketing directors, CEOs of agencies, diversity and inclusion directors.

“If we carry on going to Russell Group graduate fairs and advertising in the PR trade press and on familiar job sites, this won’t change or accelerate the applications we receive from fresh, new talent. The talent we need is talent that doesn’t necessarily have parents and family friends already working in our sector or in corporate life. Talent that doesn’t even know about the great careers we have in our sector.”

 Investing in finding and developing a wide range of talented people to enhance your business is an investment not just in your company, but in the PR and marketing industry as a whole, which has to be good for everyone.

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