Business Communications — 29 November 2012
PR Agencies: Why your staff are leaving

When I tell people that I’m a specialist PR recruiter, many people say, “Wow, you must have tons of people applying for your jobs. PR seems really fun”. These people are only half right. PR is a dynamic, creative, interesting, challenging, competitive industry that can be very fun and rewarding. But do I have tons of qualified people jumping at roles I advertise? Absolutely not.

Most of my time is spent finding creative ways to connect with top PR talent worldwide and developing a strong working relationship with them. It allows me to tap into the talent in my network when a client comes to me with a great job brief.  The best talent have a multitude of options because there are less and less people in agency PR.

So why on earth are these people so hard to find?  The answer is simply that people are leaving PR agencies and opting for other opportunities.

In speaking to talent, I’ve found out why:

1. They’re burnt out

They are working exceptionally long hours on a regular basis, and some of these endeavours don’t end up in a result (i.e. not winning the pitch). Of course there will be times that everyone has to put in harder yards during pitch season or a major campaign, but when it’s ongoing, eventually even the hardest workers will say enough is enough. Many agencies, due to budget constraints, will not hire enough staff to manage all that they have on. This leaves the top talent carrying a huge load.

The Solution? Leadership should keep a close eye on work-flow, and spread the workload across the employees. And if there simply is too much work on everyone’s plate, hire somebody new, or interns to help. It’s much more costly to lose an exceptional employee than to hire a junior to shoulder some of the responsibility.

2. Promises are broken

People choosing to work in Agency PR are often driven, thrill-seekers who can handle the ups and downs, and are often motivated by it because the reward is enticing. But oftentimes, the promised reward never arrives. I recently had a candidate who won an exceptional amount of new business for an agency at the cost of many a night away from their partner — all in the expectation of a promised bonus, only to be brought into a room and told there would be no new business bonuses, after the work was done. The result? The incredible talent left immediately and had 3 other offers within a week. The agency was left high and dry.

The Solution?  If you say you’re gonna do it, DO IT. Put it in writing. And if you know you may not have budget to stick to it, don’t promise it in the first place, or you’ll lose your best employees.

3. You didn’t ask

Sometimes staff won’t say exactly what is bothering them. They let it build up and discuss it with their close friends and partner, but as their manager, YOU’RE the one who could do something about it. It can be intimidating for an employee to run to a manager, or they may think it’s trite and you don’t have time to hear their grievance. So check in! Ask them what would motivate them. Would they like to work across practice areas? Where do they see themselves going and how can you help them achieve those goals? These questions will enable you to nip an issue in the bud before it blossoms into a resignation letter. I recruit for a number of agencies that do this on a regular basis, and their staff wouldn’t leave for anything. Feeling valued is priceless.

With a few small tweaks in your staff retention strategies for your PR business, you could save yourself a lot of time, money, effort (and clients!) — and most importantly, keep your staff (happy).

More reading

What makes a kick-ass Account Manager?
PR Professionals: What works better for you? Agency or in-house?
Employee disengagement – and the remedy
What does a PR professional do anyway? 


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(7) Readers Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

    My sense is that in a creative function such as this people are looking for opportunities to create something greater than their own job.

    Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’ talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose as drivers for people to stay engaged and contribute to the organization.

    Not sure how many agencies spend time to get their staff aligned on the ‘why’ of their existence. Probably, a good point to start and retain staff.


  2. Loved this article. This resonates with the kinds of experiences most of my friends have had in agency life.

    • Thank you, Brennan!

  3. Really liked the candidate bit you’ve shared. The candidate was bound to feel cheated after not getting the much deserved incentive! If you find a competent employee, the company should ensure that they are well rewarded for their hard work to retain them.

    Making promises you can’t really keep can be so off putting!

    • Indeed! :-)

  4. Sometimes it seems in-house practice makes more sense in terms of pay, workload, etc…

  5. Pingback: A guide to resignation etiquette, Business

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