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How can we tackle the PR industry’s rising demand for new talent?

by | Oct 20, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

Jobs, jobs and more jobs

Job vacancies are surging in both the US and UK—there are more jobs available today than at any time in history in the States, while available positions surpassed one million for the first time ever in the UK this August

This rings particularly true within PR and communications circles. After over a year and a half of lockdown and uncertainty, confidence is returning and budgets are unfreezing, which means that there is a huge demand for new recruits across the industry, both in-house and agency side.

With the pandemic and lockdowns radically realigning people’s priorities when it comes to their work lives, staffing has suddenly become a huge challenge.

A LinkedIn poll of Five in a Boat’s PR colleagues suggested that the vast majority of them are on the lookout for fresh PR talent—as many as 90 percent hired in the past three months or are currently hiring.

The next generation

So what can agencies do to overcome this problem and make sure that it’s resolved effectively? The answer lies in the next generation of PR professionals.

It’s all well and good sending out recruiters to poach the existing AEs and SAEs of this world, but that ultimately means that the pot of talent remains the same size, which is currently too small to fulfill demand.

Prior to the pandemic, internships were few and far between. Heavy competition meant that certain employers considered it acceptable to offer unpaid opportunities to new recruits. Entry-level roles required years of experience. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that there is now a shortage of skilled industry professionals given how many were put off by being unable to gain entry into the world of comms over the past year.

When demand outstrips supply, we find ourselves in an employee economy. By making the industry an attractive and welcoming place for graduates, offering paid work experience placements and internships and investing in training, the industry can broaden the pool of talent in the long term.

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of communications, so rather than allowing the industry to return to pre-pandemic levels of oversubscription, agencies and in-house practitioners have a chance to take control and change the industry for the better.

The Great Resignation

Recruitment isn’t the only problem for agencies today—retaining existing talent once you’ve attracted it is also a cause for concern.

The Great Resignation is underway: workers who clung on and rode out the almighty Covid storm in positions they were lucky enough to retain are now faced with sunny vistas by comparison—greater job flexibility, huge demand for talent, and the prospect of higher wages.

According to Bankrate’s August jobseeker survey, approximately 55 percent of American adults are planning to switch jobs, with nearly twice as many Gen Z (18-24) and millennial (25-40) workers as Gen X (57-75) who said they’re hunting for new employment soon—77 percent and 63 percent versus 33 percent respectively.

How to retain talent

A high employee churn rate costs companies a great deal in terms of turnover and lost productivity, as new recruits take time to onboard. So what can be done to ensure that once you have the right talent, it sticks around?

As per those surveyed in the Bankrate survey, flexible work arrangements (56 percent) were just as important as higher pay (53 percent) and job security (47 percent).

The prioritization of flexible work arrangements shows how remote working has brought with it a better work-life balance. The world took the office home during isolation and now it’s here to stay. Expecting employees to go into an office five days a week is simply not reasonable anymore.

However, flexible work arrangements can have an impact on company culture. Rather than wheeling out the ping pong table and free fruit bar, the focus for employers must be making employees feel valued and united behind a common goal. Although social time is still key for building relationships and allowing people to let their hair down.

Regarding higher pay,  instead of purely investing in physical work perks, employers must focus on delivering greater financial rewards to employees—the ultimate reinforcement of their value. This also extends to promotion cycles and not necessarily sticking to a prescribed timeframe if an employee has demonstrated real progression. Thank them by moving them up to the next level—throwing a congratulatory bottle of something into it won’t hurt either.

What does this mean for the industry?

Ultimately the demand for PRs will decline, as it does in any cycle. But as the saying goes: every problem is an opportunity in disguise. Out of the current predicament of recruitment and retention, the industry has a valuable opportunity to adapt itself for the better in the long run. It’s time to lay the foundations for a bigger, better, and more welcoming industry for all.

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Jules Herd
Jules Herd is CMPRCA and Managing Director of Five in a Boat.

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