Building the future of PR in 2002 and beyond

During the dot-com boom, PR firms struggled to find talent. The Council of Public Relations Firms responded by hosting career fairs in major markets, developing screening tools to identify high-potential non-traditional candidates, and a training module - PR QuickStart (codeveloped with the PRSA's Counselors Academy) - designed to familiarize new employees from outside the industry with the jargon, resources, and nuances of agency life. But as the dot-com bubble burst, agencies sought creative ways to retain top talent while reorganizing and restructuring their businesses for future growth. That meant laying off more than 20% of the industry's workforce, suspending bonuses, cutting salaries, deferring new hires, and halting training and development spending.

During the dot-com boom, PR firms struggled to find talent. The Council of Public Relations Firms responded by hosting career fairs in major markets, developing screening tools to identify high-potential non-traditional candidates, and a training module - PR QuickStart (codeveloped with the PRSA's Counselors Academy) - designed to familiarize new employees from outside the industry with the jargon, resources, and nuances of agency life. But as the dot-com bubble burst, agencies sought creative ways to retain top talent while reorganizing and restructuring their businesses for future growth. That meant laying off more than 20% of the industry's workforce, suspending bonuses, cutting salaries, deferring new hires, and halting training and development spending.

While the outlook for 2002 appears to be more positive than last year (4%-6% growth projected by the Council of PR Firms), agencies are still cautious about making new hires and investing in talent. However, most see the value of building and maintaining a pipeline of talented, young stars for the future growth of the industry. In doing so, we must continue to highlight the exciting and lucrative opportunities for careers in PR to high school students, undergraduate and graduate college students, interns, and proteges.

The Council's Talent Committee, spearheaded by Padilla Speer Beardsley chair and CEO Lynn Casey, has developed an exciting and ambitious program for 2002.

- Compensation and Benefits Study. The Council has commissioned Deloitte & Touche to conduct a comprehensive analysis of PR-firm employee compensation and benefits, as well as bonus structures and other incentive compensation models. Study results - broken out by firm size, geography, and specialty - will be available at no cost to participating Council members; non-members may purchase copies of the report for $2,000-$10,000, depending upon firm size.

- Agency Management Curriculum. Nearly 80% of all PR students seek employment at PR firms, but few are taught how to manage clients. Therefore, the Council developed a management curriculum for graduate and undergraduate students, which was piloted this spring at Syracuse University's Newhouse School. The curriculum will be made available to all PR schools; Council-member CEOs will teach the course on area campuses.

- Diversity Outreach, Mentoring, and Intern Best Practices. The future of the industry depends upon our ability to diversify our workforce and develop our young people. The Council is studying best practices for internship and mentoring programs, as well as developing guidelines for firms to hire top undergraduate minority students. The Council will be working with The Lagrant Foundation, A Better Chance, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, among others, to introduce PR career opportunities to their students and alumni.

- Career Pathing and Professional Development. The Council is partnering with the PRSA's Task Force on Professional Development to explore a career-pathing initiative that would develop recommended proficiency requirements for PR professionals. The Council, with the Counselors Academy section of the PRSA, will examine proficiency requirements for staff at different experience levels within a PR firm. The requirements will help firms sharpen their internal education programs, and help guide external professional development choices.

- HR Roundtable. A group of more than 100 HR professionals from Council-member firms, headed by Ruder Finn's Judith Harrison, meets regularly to share insights, develop strategies to meet the growing demands of employees, and help guide the Council's talent initiatives. The group maintains an active ListServ, and will next meet on June 3.

Lynn Casey, Chairman & CEO, Padilla Speer Beardsley, 2001-2003 Chairman, Talent Committee, Council of Public Relations Firms. For more information about the Talent Committee and its programs, or to find out how your firm can join the Council of Public Relations Firms, call toll-free 1-877-PRFIRMS (877-773-4767) or visit www.prfirms.org.

- This column is contributed and paid for by The Council of PR Firms.

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