The demand for talent continues to outstrip supply

In anticipation of our conference at the end of November looking at why there is a talent shortage in public relations, we wanted to look at the current trends of supply and demand in PR's market for people.

“The state of the PR recruitment market right now is one where demand for talented individuals continues to outstrip supply,” says Heather Yaxley, communications author and academic, which is great news for those looking to make a career move. Although there is a ‘but’ and that is that Yaxley is not sure what impact Brexit will have.

Discussing where there are richest pickings, Yaxley says that the majority of employment opportunities are in-house, although, historically the greatest level of churn is in the consultancy sector. “In the late 1980s, some firms doubled staff numbers before slashing them a year or so later. Indeed, Bell Pottinger/Good Relations and its sister agency, Harvard Communications, cut employee numbers by a quarter between 2001 and 2002.

Experience pays

“Such volatility affects individual careers and presents significant recruitment issues. Those with experience and connections tend to survive – we’ve seen this recently with Bell Pottinger staff being employed by other agencies.”

Although the market is good for PROs with experience, things are tougher for new entrants says Yaxley: “We are seeing a tendency towards a ‘gig economy’ with employers offering temporary jobs and self-employment contracts to young practitioners rather than robust early career-development programmes.”

In agreement that now is a good time for talented PROs, Trevor Morris, co-author of book PR Today and academic, says: “Despite Brexit and a 'weak' government, the PR sector seems to be doing a lot more hiring than firing. Linkedin is alive with organisations looking for people. The PR economy is least for the moment.”

Morris also agrees that the crash of Bell Pottinger has not dented the confidence of PR candidates: “Has the Bell Pottinger scandal made the job of recruiters now and in the future even harder? Will young people turn their back on a career in the 'dark arts'? I see no evidence of this at all. The closure of the News of the World didn't put people off wanting to be journalists and nor did the banking crisis put people off lucrative careers in banking. People understand that all industries have their bad apples .What they look for is the reassurance that the industry takes such problems seriously and acts on them. The industry did.”

Below we ask recruitment consultants for their views of the state of recruitment in PR, whilst a recruiter for Edelman discusses how the PR firm finds, and nurtures, talent these days.

Recruiters reveal all

Don’t underestimate returners is one piece of advice from Amanda Fone, founder and CEO of agency f1Recruitment: “With unemployment at 4.3%, finding talent has never been more challenging. Our clients (in-house and agency) are busier than ever, hiring at all levels for both permanent and contract roles. It is a candidate-led market certainly at the junior to mid-management level (£35K-£100K salaries) across all sectors and all PR consultancies.

“Companies are being forced to become more and more imaginative about how they attract the best staff. So we advise our clients:

  • Returners are a talent stream not to be underestimated. Next week we have over 30 companies and agencies attending our annual returners speed dating event on the final day of our Back2businessship programme.
  • Flexibility is key for everyone. Most people want some degree of home working/agile working in a five-day week. No one nowadays wants to have to ‘earn’ the right to work more flexibly.
  • LinkedIn is saturated so rethink how to cut through the digital noise. With so many jobs being posted online it’s difficult for individual jobs to stand out.
  • Be known for your inclusivity not your exclusivity. Get involved in any programmes that promote inclusion, diversity and social mobility.”

Agencies need to differentiate themselves and be flexible says Colette Brown, co-founder of recruitment consultancy Prospect Resourcing: “The recruitment market is interesting at the moment. With it still being candidate-short and without a magic wand to wave over the industry to create more relevant talent, it’s not set to change any time soon. Both agencies and in-house are fighting to find quality people; agencies possibly more so as they struggle to find a point of difference. This means when candidates are looking at agency land, they often decide to look the other way and wait for the right in-house role; otherwise they feel they’re just swapping like for like.

“Previously in a candidate-short market, there was always the option of money. In order to get someone over the line, you could just offer that bit more, but, there’s less cash in the pot now, which means that carrot isn’t so much of an incentive.

“The talent shortage is only set to get worse, so we are forever encouraging our clients to be as flexible as possible, not just around working patterns, but people’s skill sets and what else they can bring if they’ve perhaps come from a different sector. We also encourage clients to invest in their teams. PR is increasingly becoming a first career and we are seeing as many people leaving as there are joining. We need to encourage people to stay within the industry and keep the talent pipeline full.”

There is a particular boom client-side says Justyne Whyke, director at recruitment firm PRFutures: “Describing the last year of domestic and world politics as a bit of a roller coaster is a large understatement, and the future state of the economy seems to depend very much upon which newspaper you read. With that in mind, the next year or so is probably going to see more political, and therefore economic, uncertainty. However, up to this point, we haven't seen a drop in the PR sector and the majority of our clients have been recruiting and expanding their teams this year.

“We've found that the permanent market has been very buoyant, with a drop in freelance, meaning companies have confidence in increasing their head count. Another interesting movement is that we've seen more companies bringing their PR function in-house and this has resulted in a 60% increase in recruitment client side for PRFutures. As always though, there is a real shortage of ‘top talent’ and more companies are focusing on employee engagement and experience, being complacent about staff will mean companies will lose out to competitors.”

Now is the time to sort out your CV says Stephanie King, head of the recruitment, HR and talent management practice at recruitment consultancy BlueSky PR: “The job market generally ramps up towards the latter part of the year as many professionals assess their career and decide that a change is in order. Consequently, individuals who are in the market for a new opportunity should spend time updating their CV with their latest skills and experience, as well as seeking out networking events to ensure that they are made aware of opportunities.

“And whilst there are certainly more candidates in the market at this time of year, employers will always struggle to source talent in some areas. At BlueSky PR, for example, we have just recruited four account executives and, contrary to popular belief, they can be the hardest role to source. Whilst there are many entry-level candidates entering the market, finding individuals who are not only a good cultural fit, but who also have a very strong writing ability coupled with a demonstrable interest in PR and the sectors we operate in, is no easy task.“

PR agency case study

How we find talent Natasha Angileh, recruiter at PR firm Edelman: “Edelman has had a sustained period of growth over the last few years and although our heritage lies in earned media, we continue to evolve as an agency. We have an award-winning integrated, full-service creative department; so we’re constantly connecting with talent that might not have existed here at Edelman two years ago. It’s very much a journey for us, thinking about how we can attract those more integrated skillsets.

“As a way of addressing our future talent needs, earlier this year we scrapped our graduate scheme and introduced Edelman BETA; our new entry-level scheme open to anyone aged 16+ which opened the opportunity to school leavers, return-to-workers and those changing careers. The change reflected Edelman’s commitment in searching for the most diverse talent to better answer our clients’ business challenges in the ever-changing landscape. It was hugely successful and we had an 860% increase in applications compared to our old scheme.

“Whilst there continues to be a shortage of mid-senior talent for more traditional comms roles, we have a strong brand and IPs that are known even outside of our industry meaning we don’t particularly struggle to recruit those roles. That said, as any PR recruiter will tell you, those niche healthcare and financial roles continue to have much smaller talent pools and will continue to do so for many years still.”

Everyone agrees that now is a perfect time to look for a new role if you have experience. Even if you are a new entrant, your prospects are good as long as you demonstrate a passion for PR combined with writing skills .For employers, things are tougher, which is why is it’s important to nurture people in your business, for example by providing excellent training and offering flexible working practices.

PR's talent crisis will be discussed further at our next PRmoment event on 30th November, tickets are still available.