PR agency hierarchy could be to blame for the recruitment problems
currently experienced by the industry, says Matthew Ravden
Unless I’m much mistaken, there is a quite serious skills shortage out
there right now. It also seems to be particularly acute in the
Agencies can make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves by having
rigid, hierarchical management structures which intimidate potential
employees and make recruitment decisions more complicated than they
Even going beyond recruitment, the traditional agency hierarchy -
account director, account manager, account executive - promotes
divisiveness and inefficiency.
Divisiveness because junior people are made to feel junior. If you’re
taught that tracking features is an ‘account exec task’, then you’ll
spend your time desperately trying to shed that mantle, gain promotion
to the next level and then dump the ‘rubbish’ onto the next unsuspecting
Similarly, if you work in an environment where account managers do most
of the media liaison, you’ll probably distance yourself from it when
you’re promoted to account director. So we have many, talented people
in the industry who have lost touch with the art of getting coverage
because it is perceived to be below their station.
Dividing up the PR function into job titles is arbitrary to say the
least. What, after all, is the difference between an account executive
and an account manager? If I were to ask 100 different agencies, I’m
sure I would get 100 different answers. Basically it doesn’t matter.
The alternative is to develop an extremely flat structure, where job
titles are de-emphasised and teamwork is paramount. That might sound
like idealistic waffle, but actually it isn’t. If you remove job titles
from business cards you discover that clients don’t actually care about
them. It means individuals are not perceived in terms of their level of
seniority and the specific role that goes with it, rather in terms of
their PR skills, personality and style.
The upshot is an agency full of all-rounders, rather than an
uncomfortable mix of specialist senior managers and specialist
The traditional PR hierarchy is not an accurate reflection of career
growth. It deals in career jumps, not career paths. It’s far healthier
and more natural to have a continuum, where there is a smooth path -
essentially tallying with experience - from the most junior to the most
senior member of a company. There will always be a pecking order, but
it’s a tacit knowledge rather than something that dictates every action.
The same fluid approach to management structures can be usefully applied
to recruitment. Again, the key is to forget about job titles. When we
recruit, it’s not so much a case of looking for account managers, so
much as simply looking for bright, ambitious, like-minded PR
Focusing recruitment on job titles means homing in on others’
definitions of an account manager, rather than the qualities you are
looking for in your own agency.
Of course, I can intellectualise all I like, but much of the success or
failure of a recruitment campaign comes down to chemistry. Our third
interviews take place at the local pub and I’m sure it is more
intimidating and nerve-racking than any formal interview process. At
the end of the day, though, people who are likely to fit in and thrive
in such an environment fall in love with us, and invariably it’s mutual.
Matthew Ravden is managing director of consumer-tech agency Bite