Why is there a talent crisis in the Public Relations industry?

We at Hartigan Recruitment recently attended a very insightful event run by PRmoment, asking the question – why is there a talent crisis in the public relations industry? It was a really interesting morning, where we heard from PR industry experts and University lecturers, to well-respected agency staff and PR recruiters. So, we thought we would share our thoughts!

Why is there a talent crisis in the Public Relations industryOne thing that we find with the majority of PR professionals we work with and what was evident from others’ experiences, is that they are hungry for a career that offers professional development, the opportunity to work with exciting clients and the chance to climb the ladder – fast.

This ambitious attitude is born from the fast pace that PR demands. As client accounts grow, so must the team that supports them – the scope to progress quickly and take the next step up the PR ladder is often encouraged. This in itself poses the issue of competitors enticing staff away from their current positions, by offering increased salaries, promotions and the promise of fast track progression. As a result, PR’s do move from role to role relatively quickly. In fact, the churn rate in PR is between 20-25%.

On the other side … PR’s tend to be optimistic and individualistic people who are looking for a rewarding career and the chance to utilise their entrepreneurial mindset. This throws up the next challenge – of the experienced PR leaving their job and setting up shop on their own. This means that one agency loses an experienced professional, who then becomes another competitor agency fighting to recruit talent.

The challenge for many of our clients is how to retain staff, keep them happy and motivated, and avoid them moving on to a competitor! This is a core issue across the PR industry in general and agencies are taking steps to make changes within their organisations to maintain morale and loyalty.

Along with progression being key to keeping a PR happy, training is also very important. Whilst there are professional qualifications from the CIPR and other trade bodies, it appears that the uptake is relatively low and perhaps the work that goes into them isn’t acknowledged as much as it should be by employers.

Therefore, ‘on the job’ training is key to maintaining high morale. We’ve found that a few of our clients encourage their staff to undertake ‘extra-curricular’ learning through various benefit offers – be that piano lessons, cooking lessons or learning how to code. PRs are naturally multi-skilled and generally relish the opportunity to learn; so digital marketing courses, a sommelier course, technology training and everything in between could make a difference. Training and development is obviously not the sole responsibility of the employer, but rather an open partnership between employer and employee.

Another thing that was highlighted as being a key point of consideration for PRs is the opportunity for flexible working – and I have to say that this is something we see being requested by candidates more and more.

The average age of PR professionals is only 27, which makes it a very young profession – with a lot of millennials (sorry – I hate that word too!). There is an expectation from this generation for the opportunity to be able to work from home, or have flexible hours to some degree. They don’t want their life to be their work. This is definitely an issue that the industry as a whole is going to need to overcome, or agencies will run the risk of missing out on excellent talent because their way of working isn’t as appealing as others. We are seeing more agencies offer this flexible approach, but we’re still a long way from it being standard. (We wrote about this before … Working From Home – the new norm?)

The other major factor that draws people away from agency careers are in-house roles – that revered world, where hours are regular and the pace isn’t quite as intense. Often, professionals make the move in-house, usually mid-career, in part to make balancing work/family life a little easier. Part time agency work is almost unheard of in the industry, and flexible working is still unusual, although being adopted a lot more across the board. This can make juggling demanding family life and demanding agency life a real challenge, and we also see plenty of people taking career breaks during this time, due to a lack of flexibility.

Finally, attracting graduates to the industry is obviously key to ensure a consistent flow of talent into the PR pool. Internships are widely adopted in the industry and give grads the chance to ‘try before they buy’, plus act as a great way for companies to snap up the talent before anyone else! In my personal recruitment experience, we receive more applications at this level than any other and speak to genuinely passionate grads every day about why they want to be in the PR industry, so don’t personally see this as being part of the problem contributing to the talent crisis.

To sum up – whilst the event was interesting and it was great to hear others’ experiences of trying to overcome the challenges that seem to go hand in hand with PR recruitment, there wasn’t a ‘lightbulb’ moment where we all of a sudden figured out the key to finding, hiring and retaining the extremely sought after talent.

In my opinion, there are a number of things that need to change in the industry to help with the crisis. Namely, training and development to ensure that today’s Junior AE’s will become tomorrows hot AM’s, and flexibility and a new approach to how people work, which will help encourage people to stay in their roles, where their job works for them and not against them.

Look out for our next blog post, where we will explore some of the challenges PRs face throughout their career.