You can't prevent poaching, so focus instead on retaining staff

A reader, who requested confidentiality, but did reveal her name and company to me, recently told me about a recruiting tactic that had infiltrated her agency.

A reader, who requested confidentiality, but did reveal her name and company to me, recently told me about a recruiting tactic that had infiltrated her agency.

A reader, who requested confidentiality, but did reveal her name and company to me, recently told me about a recruiting tactic that had infiltrated her agency.

A phone caller, who identified himself as a VP of marketing at a large, name-brand corporation, went through the main number of the agency, asking to speak to the person who headed up a specific account. The caller said he wanted to discuss an RFP he was putting out to prospective firms.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you the rest. The caller was an external recruiter for a competitor agency, who revealed his true intentions to the account lead after securing his name. Though unsuccessful, this example of attempted creative poaching is the most egregious sign of increasingly desperate tactics that are starting to emerge in the hot race for PR talent.

Another maneuver by some agencies, one that has been mentioned by a few contacts recently, is the practice of e-mailing en masse a large number of employees at an agency with a generic invitation to make a career change. Very strategic.

Companies of all kinds are in a bind over how and where to recruit great people, and poaching will continue to be rampant while the good times roll. But in the war for talent, agency-to-agency is the front lines. The skill set and mentality of experienced agency folk can be difficult for transitioning journalists or corporate professionals to adapt to. Moreover, great client relationships may be carried along the way.

Certainly, agencies should and will continue to aggressively pursue their competitors' top people, using all the financial, cultural, and opportunity-based means at their disposal. And if ethical - or taste - lines are crossed, chatter about those practices may begin to reflect on the firm's reputation. Almost nothing evokes more righteous indignation than a poorly handled poach, and even those who are not typically given to criticizing their competitors will publicly cry foul over disagreeable recruitment practices.

But the fact is, despite the minor uproars, there is nothing that will prevent companies from identifying and attempting to lure away your best people. "You can't stop this stuff," affirms Don Spetner, CMO of Korn/Ferry. "They are going to find out who your stars are and who your best people are." Spetner's point is that companies need to spend less time worrying about the sneakiness of their competition and focus instead on how to retain their best people for the long term.

He makes an excellent point - one that certainly bears repeating, particularly at a time when people are starting to feel the strain of the new business bounty. But I don't want to leave these recruiting agencies off the hook, either. The character of a firm is reflected in every interaction one has with it. My predecessor at PRWeek taught me this when he advised me about writing recruitment ads - what you say and how you say it reflect on the organization. Even experts in that dynamic sometimes need reminding.

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