Ian Monk: Talent bites the hand that feeds

It is inevitable that the abrupt resignation of a young talent from the company that mentored him should cause angst.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Feelings tend to run especially high when the individual departs on the crest of a wave built up while working for the company he is leaving, and against which he now seeks to compete.

It is to the credit of both sides that public utterances following Stuart Bell's defection (via long gardening leave from The Outside Organisation) have been restrained, despite tensions behind the scenes.

Nurturing young talent is as vital to PR companies as it is to the UK's thousands of other wealth-creating SMEs. It is crucial to broaden the company offering to its clients and, crucially, to succession planning.

Many of us older hands see it as an increasingly rewarding element of our work to identify, hire and mentor our proteges. We happily invest scores of hours filtering our experience to enable them to adapt it alongside youthful skills and enthusiasm.

Smart bosses recognise that it is equally part of the folly and the irresistibility of youthful talent that it will demand the keys to the kingdom, either in the form of moving into the boss's office or moving out to become its own boss.

It is then that the delicate balancing act between carrot (incentives, share options etc) and stick (long notice periods and restrictive covenants) begins.

Those who criticise the stick element miss the point of a business' right to protect itself. Preventing its fledglings from biting the hand that fed is fundamental to this. Permitting employees to wander off with chunks of a company's clientele was a symptom of the cottage industry approach to PR 20 years ago. In today's professional environment this is a non-starter.

It remains a proper business dynamic that youth is free to take its entrepreneurial chance.

But the young entrepreneurs only deserve plaudits if they genuinely expand the PR business as a whole rather than simply cannibalising that of their previous employers.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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