Industry Insights - Media - Not enough people!

David Ko
Executive Vice President, APAC
Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

Not Enough People!

Investing in our people needs to start on day one and be sustained

Several factors contribute to the shortage of experienced PR talent in the market. Firstly, the PR industry is organised into distinct sectors or practices that do not always cross over. Skill sets are not directly transferable within sectors, especially at director level or above. For example, a consultant specialising in finance PR is not likely to specialise in technology PR at the same time. This means the talent pool is fragmented.

Besides, tertiary educational institutes are not graduating enough from PR and communication studies. The education system is not generating enough PR talents. In addition, in today’s economically depressed environment, agencies are finding it hard to maintain the profit margins they had 10-20 years ago. Operating costs, including salaries, have been in an upward trend but client budgets, on the other hand, haven’t increased proportionately. When one is in a demanding business environment, it is a stretch for many companies to invest in time and resources to actively engage employees whether through training or compensation and benefits.

• The allure of going in-house PR also poses a challenge for us by draining talent away from agencies. Many people spend several years in an
agency before deciding to go in-house because they believe that they can get greater work-life balance or higher pay. This is not necessarily
true nowadays but the perception persists.

• Retaining talent is challenging as well because the agency environment is very dynamic - consultants working on several accounts simultaneously is not unusual. It attracts people who enjoy challenges, love to learn and who are excited about the variety of working in such an environment. However, it is a risk that people can burn out and leave the agency altogether, or they choose to stay in PR but lose their passion for it as a career.

I believe we have one of the most generous benefits for our staff. We offer all employees, regardless of level, 20 days personal leave per year. This increase with length of tenure. In comparison, we’ve seen some agencies offer between 14 to 16 days off only. We offer work-at-home days. In fact, it is on our team scorecard this year to ensure at least 5 work-from-home days for every employee. We do not see it as benefits to our staff but for the company. We have this implemented because we believe that our people can be more effective if they have flexibility, and are empowered to plan their time and work priorities.

Also, we have dedicated staff devoted to training and development. We also have leadership development tools that we use across all countries in our agencies. Psychometric personality profiling is mandated for mid-to-senior levels, and go-forward career planning completed for all employees twice a year. There are several internally developed courses on leadership, mandating a certain number of training hours for employee. This is in fact another metric on our scorecard to meet.

Moreover, we have put in place an annual global exchange programme open to all employees in the agency, where employees tell us which office in a different country they’d like to work in for two weeks, and we choose the best entries. We’ve found it to be a great motivation for our staff, enabling them to have a global view of the business whilst showing them that we invest in our people.

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