Solid staffing goes hand-in-hand with growth

Confronting the challenges of agency growth - especially when it's rapid - can be a welcome test for small and mid-sized firms. But it requires a solid action plan, with staffing being a key element.

Confronting the challenges of agency growth - especially when it's rapid - can be a welcome test for small and mid-sized firms. But it requires a solid action plan, with staffing being a key element.

While PR pros with five to eight years of experience are in high demand at firms of all sizes, at quickly growing smaller and mid-size firms, filling those posts is only one part of the hiring equation. Just getting a new account fully staffed while managing a current roster of clients, or adding executives to an established account that's increasing its assignment load, are additional challenges presented by rapid expansion.

"I don't think anything is more important than the depth and diversity of your staff," says Bryan Harris, managing partner at New York-based Taylor. And when an agency grows, he adds, the staffing bar is raised for everyone.

"The expectation level increases considerably on both the agency and client side," Harris notes. "If you don't address that, you cannot meet those challenges [nor can you] provide the [necessary] level of service to your client."

There are numerous approaches agency management can take to keep expansion hurdles in check, says Margaret Booth, president and CEO of New York-based M Booth & Associates.

She says that finding the right people to staff a piece of business is a challenge that can be lessened by an effective HR department and an arsenal of first-rate freelancers.

"When you have a big growth spurt, make sure your HR department [is] constantly and aggressively interviewing good people at all levels, so you have people to turn to if needed," Booth advises. "A lot of it is knowing who might be out there that you [can] tap."

Having access to a cadre of freelance employees who can take long-term assignments while "you are looking to get the right team in place" also helps, she notes. "Have people who can come in and manage, do media work, digital work, and events."

New York-based DeVries Public Relations addressed its staffing situation by hiring a director of talent to supplement its existing HR staff, says EVP Stephanie Smirnov.

Having a team member dedicated to filling posts, she says, "gives us that flexibility and ability to quickly staff up when we have those moments of expansion."

Once a full-time hire is made, getting that new staffer up to speed quickly becomes imperative.

Doug Spong, founder and president of Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch Spong, says his firm offers training courses designed to acclimate new hires to agency life and help them understand what will be expected. The courses include a 90-day new agent training series, a "buddy system," and a "head-rush" program designed to help new execs figure out what skills they'd like to develop.

"Our biggest challenge is getting [new staff] on the team right away, and helping them feel comfortable with the culture," Spong says.

Key points:

As a firm grows, so do clients' expectations for quality and quantity of work

New hires should be woven into the fabric of the agency as soon as possible

Agencies should be aggressive about employee outreach at all times, not only during times of growth

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