A few weeks ago, Patrick Coffee asked a pretty good question: Why Does PR Have Such a Big Turnover Problem? It’s a question I’ve heard far too often. I anticipated a blend of pontification and vitriol-laced responses from all corners of the industry. I waited for the senior pros and agency owners to blame Millennials’ lack of loyalty, while young and new pros would chime in with a heated stance on an industry in need of “disruption.”
Yet, there seem to have been few who were willing to comment in response to his question. Coffee even offered an option for anonymity… still, nothing.
Maybe no one heard the good Mr. Coffee. Or perhaps no one is really sure how to answer. I figured I’d help prime the pump with my thoughts.
While high industry turnover is often seen as the new normal, I believe instead that there is a clear cause: poor management.
I would argue that inadequate leadership in the following four ways is the biggest culprit generating higher PR industry turnover.
1. External recruitment rather than internal support
Behind hiring mid- and senior-level staff, the recently released Holmes World PR Report lists retaining key talent as the biggest hiring challenge among those surveyed. In addition, when asked about hiring strategies, respondents go on to overwhelmingly cite poaching staff from competitors as their most likely source for talent this year.
While the report doesn’t specifically include information regarding internal development plans, I’d argue that lack of leadership, direction, support and training is the main reason so many are willing to jump ship to a competitor. The idea that the grass is greener on the other side is an enticing prospect for most overworked and overwhelmed staffers; couple that with the prospect of higher pay and you get mass turnover.
It’s time to take a good internal look at what’s being offered to staff and how companies are keeping up with the changing expectations of today’s workforce. Whether you’re managing a 60-year-old international PR brand or three-year-old boutique, focusing on promoting internally and making sure your staff is properly supported in their career is one way to keep them in the yard.
2. Low wage increase is the new normal
Through the recent recession, most people felt lucky to keep their jobs, much less to get an increase. At the time it was understandable. Decrease in business and a shift of budget from PR to advertising meant if you were lucky you might get a raise at some point, and on average it maybe hovered around three percent.
Although PR has since seen an 11 percent growth surge and is anticipated to hit 12 percent industry growth through 2022, wage increases still remain below 3 percent annually. With the possibility to increase your salary by 10-20 percent and sometimes as much as 50 percent, by jumping ship, it’s no wonder why our industry is in such a state of employment flux.
Again, considering that PR companies in the US are admitting that they see poaching staff from competitors as their primary recruitment strategy, it’s clear to see how a transient career lifestyle can be to ones benefit.
While I know it’s probably easier said than done for some, offering competitive increases to the staff you have will be one way to entice them to stay put. Once someone has indicated that they plan to leave is not the right time to start offering them more cash. By that point it’s likely already too late.
3. Lack of management accountability
Does the following statement sound familiar?
“I love the work that I’m doing and really enjoy the client, but there’s a lack of direction from senior management.” How about, “Interesting work, but staff is burned out quickly”?
One more: “A lot of responsibility is passed on to Jr. staff, very small group of mid-level managers and I really have no idea what senior managers are paid to do… that is, when they are actually in the office.”
Check out Glassdoor.com and you’ll likely see some variation on these themes.
In my opinion, senior management just isn’t being held accountable for their responsibilities to subordinates and junior staff. A manager’s responsibilities should always include training, mentoring and protecting their staff by making sure they are properly prepared to do the work being assigned to them. Whether you’re a VP managing a staff of ten or a Senior Associate supported by a couple of junior pros, it’s your job to make sure they are properly trained and groomed for advancement.
4. Nonexistent Onboarding
I’ve known practitioners who’ve been required to lead client meetings within their first week on the job. While some might consider this trial by fire an opportunity to rise to the challenge, it’s also a poor management technique. It shows that a company is trying to fill a hole or ramp up to support a client that they weren’t prepared for.
No matter how seasoned you are, starting a new job means facing a learning curve. It takes time for a person to get the lay of the land and most just can’t do it in a week. By not properly onboarding staff at each level, you’re already starting them from behind; even the best cyclist can’t be expected to build a bike while riding it.
Develop a proper onboarding plan. It’s that simple. Whether it consists of two weeks spent meeting with each department to learn about the work being done and how the company operates, or sitting through several training classes and client downloads, acclimating incoming staff should be a priority. I’m not saying it should be as intensive as Hamburger University, but if you expect staff to start off with a solid foundation, they should at least know where the color printer is before heading into a pitch.
Management must begin to look inward and ask the question “what did I do to cause a person to leave?” or better yet, on day one they should be asking “what do I need to do to make sure you have a long and healthy career here?”
While job hopping can sometimes be healthy and there is nothing wrong with seeking change and new challenges, we have to ask: how well are we serving ourselves, the industry and our clients with such high turnover? I’d argue that no one really benefits in this situation. Companies are unstable, clients are perturbed and staff leaders aren’t able to truly grow.
Coffee’s question regarding PR industry turnover is an important and necessary one. Until the problems I have highlighted above are properly addressed and resolved, poor retention will continue to be a plight on the PR industry. I invite you—just as Coffee requested— to leave your comments below and continue the conversation.
Bio: Laurent Lawrence is PR Swiss Army Knife. He has a broad range of experience in all PR fields and has worked at large and small agencies, association and for companies throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.