This post appeared original on the Institute for Public Relations blog, written by Pamela Blum and Vanessa Tremaro. In any service based industry, client retention and employee retention are inextricably linked. In public relations consultancies, a firm’s success hinges on its employees and the level of service they provide. Their creativity, diligence and intelligence are firms’ most valuable resources.
We conducted a study that evaluated and analyzed the factors that contribute to employee disengagement and turnover and uncovered six key areas for preventing the loss of key talent in PR firms.
Many of us have found ourselves unhappy with our position, projects or bosses at one time or another in our lives. Hopefully, just as many of us have also been inspired by new and challenging endeavors that expand our capabilities and leave us fulfilled. Each of our stories – the triumphs and the tribulations – is unique. So is it possible to really hone in on what drives retention and engagement? Or are these reactions too individualized, too personal to really address on a large scale?
Throughout our study, which included extensive secondary research and two primary research elements – an online survey of PR professionals and in-depth interviews with HR executives at PR agencies – we were continually surprised that although our participants’ backgrounds varied widely, there were staggering similarities in their responses.
One profound conclusion emerged – it seems people who choose a career in consulting are a different breed – driven by different factors than those who might choose a life in a large corporation, a non-profit organization or even government. Employees of public relations consultancies – especially high performers – are not best motivated by the standard factors top-rated in most employment studies, like pay, benefits or work-life balance.
Employees of public relations consultancies are best motivated and feel most fulfilled when stretched — driven beyond the norm and reaching for a new pinnacle.
So, how does a manager keep the level of challenge high and the work fresh on a daily basis? Based on our study, we recommend six key opportunities to guide firms in avoiding unwanted turnover among their best people:
1. Variety – Provide employees the opportunity to work on challenging projects of various types. It is essential that work be delegated fairly with development in mind. In the primary research, respondents’ level of responsibility was ranked the most important factor to an employee in terms of his or her intent to stay at a firm.
2. Training – Create an aggressive management development program that includes training to help managers improve relationships with their direct reports. Direct supervisors have the most influence on the day-to-day life of an employee. In the long run, good people managers nurture an environment where employees want to stay.
3. Direction – Make sure your employees know your firm’s mission, and work to instill a sense of shared vision among your employees. Employees who feel they really matter as individuals are more likely to stay at your firm. They’ll also be better performers. Drive your firm for growth by making your goals ambitious and communicating them broadly.
4 Selectivity – Refine your hiring practices. It takes a certain kind of employee to thrive at a public relations consulting firm. Individuals who are cut out for life in a PR firm (as opposed to working on the corporate side or in an entirely different industry) thrive on challenge. Characteristics of the firm’s culture should be identified, and interviewers should seek out candidates with attributes that fit with the firm’s culture.
5. Culture – Create a distinctive environment and corporate culture that is diverse and different from the rest. Working in a public relations consulting firm can be extremely difficult — with long hours, constant pressure and fewer intrinsic rewards than similar positions in corporate companies. According to our findings, these employees want more – more challenging work and more opportunities for advancement – which in turn amounts to more pressure. If you celebrate this type of behavior in your firm, employees will enjoy the attention.
6. Communicate! – Spark a robust dialogue within your organization. Two-way communication is a must. It supports all of the other five recommendations above and helps develop specific tactics to identify shortcomings and devise remedies. Participate in an ongoing discussion among your employees. Use the conversation to create a sense of team in winning new business, sharing recognition both in trade publications and among the wider public. Celebrate the wins, and mourn the losses – together.
Some of these recommendations may seem like common sense measures, and many PR consulting firms may have some form of these programs in place already. But are they working? What more can we, as practitioners, do to motivate one another to be a valuable contributor to our teams and achieve success on a large scale, yet achieve as individuals?
The answer is consistency. Creating a work environment that will remain attractive to the best and the brightest is a continuous challenge for management. It requires truly living by these best practices on a day-to-day basis. Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.