By Colette Brown. Posted in Blog

For years, our industry press has been publishing articles about the talent shortage & we’ve all been party to the ‘where is everyone?’ conversation and the huge impact the lack of talent is having; not least within agency walls. Most people have an explanation or an opinion; the lack of graduate recruitment back in the day, the industry not being the best at its own PR; but whatever reasons are cited, it’s a trend that’s not in reverse. If anything, it’s accelerating.

Part of the issue, and the PR industry is not alone in this, is that we have moved much more towards a war on talent, rather than for it.

In a market where there is a focus on fee income and client service, PR is still a people business. We know that. We know without those people there is no business – yet why do we so often make the same mistakes when it comes to both attraction and retention of talent?

A generalisation of course, but more & more people we speak to appear evermore dissatisfied with the day job. Whether it’s around the constraints of their role and level or a sense that no matter the name above the door the work delivered is along the same lines; there is little point of difference and therefore little incentive to move within the industry. The perception that a change really only means swapping one client portfolio for another only serves to encourage talent to look outside of the industry altogether if they are to have their needs met. Needs which are frequently about the desire for autonomy, creativity, flexibility and balance.

This is never more evident than right now. Having recently delivered another graduate recruitment project, it’s always fascinating to understand what the ‘next generation’ is thinking and looking for in their career and it strikes me that these young people are the future of the PR industry if, and I genuinely mean if, we can convince them to stay.

As we talk through their experience it’s evident that these generations, whether millennials or Gen Z, are busy; and I don’t mean working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. So many of them have side projects. Things they are heavily involved in or have started themselves in the spirit of entrepreneurship that run alongside their academic or professional commitments. To illustrate, one interviewee had to reschedule our meeting in favour of an investor lunch for a project they had founded at University, another had set up a social enterprise in their college across a social media platform while another was looking to monetise an online magazine they had created.

While money still clearly matters, not least because these people have had to invest a lot of cash into their education, the next generation of PR practitioners want more if they are to stay engaged.

For the majority, it’s more about purpose than profit. They want to feel connected to their employer, want the brand to stand for something rather than solely drive the bottom line. For them workplace standards are key, and culture is vital with more emphasis on work-life balance than ever before. One of the most important things to young people today is a “start-up ecosystem and entrepreneurship” according to the Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017.

Is this therefore the key to attracting and retaining talent within PR? Adopting more of an ‘intrapreneurial’ approach maybe the answer to regaining some longevity in the business.

For this to work though, fundamental changes need to occur.

We need to begin to address the stigma around ‘job-hopping’. It’s a fact young people are less attached to organisations in the same way as previous generations and are more likely to have several careers in their lifetime; an opportunity for the industry to provide compelling reasons for talent to stay surely? Whether it’s more of a bottom up approach, a chance to inform their role through external influences or just have opportunities to network, all this shifts the needle in terms of engagement.

Young talent also has a hunger for knowledge and regularly seeks feedback which is important to them. Rewind back to the point that people often feel frustrated by the constraints of their role and level. Whilst we understand they can’t catapult to Associate Director within 6 months, are we able to create a better forum for them to feel less bound by these things & provide more opportunity to take on some risk and responsibility to help address some of the daily challenges?

In an environment where talent is busy outside of the workplace and less engaged within it, adopting more of an intrapreneurial culture could go a long way to helping us improve the talent drought in what is a people business. Many millennials wish to be more in control of their personal development, their income and importantly their time. They have more of a desire to be self-employed.

If the PR industry can move towards a working environment that meets these people where they are at; creates opportunities to help them grow and engage them in challenging projects which offers ownership and empowers them, we may be able to take a step towards growing our businesses with a millennial workforce. And then we might (maybe) have an answer to the question ‘where is everyone’?