Are PR agencies prepared for a rebound? At the risk of jinxing it, I can report that the latent whisper that business is improving has swelled to full-blown chatter. Not everyone is seeing improvement, of course, and the sustainability of this nascent recovery has yet to be tested.But if the good news is true, and business does indeed continue to increase, agencies that have been running on fumes for some two years will begin to face other complications besides empty coffers. The perils of overly hasty staffing decisions have been well-documented, thanks to the many dot-com-era hiring debacles. Rigorous screening of prospective candidates must continue to weed out the poor performers. Obvious stuff, but then we keep hearing that there is an impending crisis in the middle-management talent pool in agencies. Smart entry-level people are easy to find, and we are told that the same is true of senior executives looking to make a change. But great professionals that have between five and ten years of experience are proving tough to hire, in part because many were lured into other professions in the downturn, and others are disinclined to take a chance on a new position. But the industry must continue to resist the quick-fix hires that undermine long-term relationships. Unrelated to post dot-com wisdom is this much-touted new era of transparency and ethics, a by-product of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and corporate malfeasance. Companies are more concerned than ever that all of their partners and vendors are operating well-run and ethical businesses -that is a fact that has been affirmed by the participants in more than one of our regional forums. Agencies that haven't audited their own credibility as they would a client's will not stand up to the heightened scrutiny. In the gallop to keep abreast of these alleged new business opportunities, firms need to continue to focus on the hard-earned lessons of the recession and run their businesses as if their reputations depend on it - because they do. PR must start telling its own story better Tim Dyson, CEO of NextFifteen, offers an early New Year's resolution that I hope we all can stick to longer than the pledges to lose 15 pounds or read Proust. "I [am] struck by the fact that as a group [PR professionals] still express remarkably little insight or vision for our industry," he says. "I hope that's something we can all focus on in the coming year." Dyson says the industry needs to take on issues of "credibility and value," and I agree with him. One way I hope that we can encourage this is by pressing contacts to move past generalities when talking about the industry, and explain what they really do for companies and clients. At the moment, it is possible to get through an entire interview and never encounter an action verb. Jargon and polysyllabic buzzwords substitute for tangible details of how PR contributes positively to a company's fundamental objectives. Tired cliches put everyone to sleep. Confidentiality can be a factor, of course. But when the story can be told, why not tell it well? Language is supposedly your business. So why don't you tell us what you actually do?
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