Talent Assessment

From entry level to the highest ranks, Tanya Lewis takes an in-depth look at the state of talent in PR

From entry level to the highest ranks, Tanya Lewis takes an in-depth look at the state of talent in PR

Demand for PR talent is enormous – even greater than last year – and it shows no signs of slowing. PR's value as a business asset con-tinues to increase and drive profitability, demand, and expansion. Agencies and corporations alike still struggle to find mid- and senior-level talent, and candidates at all levels are increasingly selective and demanding. Junior positions seem relatively easy to fill, and internship programs and campus recruiters help. However, there is ongoing need to attract young talent and invest in training and developing tomorrow's leaders.

“The job faucet is fully open,” says Don Spetner, CMO at executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International. “Ten years ago, I [wouldn't have] wanted my kid to go into PR. Now, it's phenomenal. The demand for PR is going to be strong for a long time.”

Korn/Ferry has 54 active searches, a record number for them, and minimum salaries range from $180,000 to $1 million, higher than Spetner has ever seen.

Smooch Repovich Reynolds, CEO, The Repovich-Reynolds Group, says PR is playing a more significant role than ever before in corporate leadership, thus “communications pros with astute business acumen are in very high demand.”

“Talent is out there,” she adds. “Coupled with demand, the challenge [is] practitioners' seeming lack of interest in developing business skills on [the] analytical side and in investing enough time assessing intangible human qualities they bring to the job. Corporations and agencies should also invest time on [the] intangibles that allow people to move up. It's the single biggest deficit in the communications industry.”

Celia Berk, MD of HR at Burson-Marsteller, says the agency experienced “a generational change in leadership” last year, but that it's always on the lookout for top-notch C-suite leaders. She also feels there are lots of candidates at all levels, but few exceptional ones.

“Truly exceptional candidates [are] role models, trusted advisors, and strong [managers],” she says. “It's not easy to find people who embody all of that. We also need people who [can] manage a digital image and brand around the world. At senior levels, we consciously look for people who [can] stay up to speed.”

The Corporate Story

Spetner reports “a lot of activity” on the in-house side, with the biggest need falling at the number-two level. He notes equity is making a comeback as a critical element of compensation, and he sees a new trend
in corporate senior-level need.

“Three to four years ago, turnaround people [were hired to make] corporate communications departments more productive, more business-oriented, to prune them,” he says. “Now its about teaming, growth, and management – about being a good leader.” Many of Bloom, Gross & Associates' (BG&A) corporate clients are emphasizing internal communications and need people with those skills. “There is also high demand for corporate communications [and]
reputation management experience – on the corporate and agency side,” says principal Karen Bloom.

Repovich Reynolds notes clients are distinguishing between global business (i.e. opportunities in various geographic locations) and international business (i.e. fully embracing varying cultural business practices).

“For the next decade, communicators becoming international in thinking will be huge,” she predicts.

Spetner says hot sectors include healthcare, which he calls “almost recession-proof,” professional services (law firms, accounting, consulting, HR), which typically pay well, and financial services.

Laura Smith, US human resources MD at Edelman, reports that finding talent has “gotten a bit harder” this year. Healthcare experts have been the most challenging for Edelman to find, and Smith is “very surprised” to see consumer talent becoming scarce.

Jens Bang, president and CEO of Cone, reports that his firm has had a consumer practice VP position open for six months. Bang believes the entire industry needs people with broader skills. “People need to understand marketing, positioning, branding,” he stresses.

Motivating Employees

Differentiation is key to landing talent, says Berk. “If you offer someone not only the training opportunity, but sense that they're going to learn emerging trends and even help shape those trends, you can start to differentiate yourself in a candidate's mind,” she notes.

Smith reports that Edelman's turnover rate fell last year from 39% to 25%. She attributes that to the firm's training its managers to uncover motivation. “You don't know what motivates employees unless you actively listen,” she says. “People will leave their managers far more than they leave the [company].

“A big [factor] that's been overlooked,” Smith adds, “is giving them more interesting assignments or work in another office or practice area. What's the point of being global if you don't give people those opportunities? HR [must] be more creative and find ways that haven't traditionally been our responsibility.”

Repovich Reynolds says personal preference is a big factor in career navigation. “Career success is fueled by passion,” she notes. “Passion is the single biggest driver of satisfaction, new opportunities, and being compensated commensurate with talent.”

Focus on cause branding and corporate responsibility helps Cone attract a broad range of young talent. “Corporate responsibility [is] becoming a business imperative,” notes Bang. “More and more young people are seeking out opportunity to get into that arena.”

Entry-level jobs were easier for Edelman to fill last year. Smith cited great success in campus recruitment and in the firm's efforts to hire more interns.

Burson took on 40 interns this year out of 600 who applied. Typically, 30% to 40% become employees. Some refer others or sign with clients.

“There is no down side to an internship program,” Berk notes. “We pay them [and] treat them like pros, and they behave like pros. They do great work; they don't run around getting coffee.”

Candidates in the Driver's Seat

Candidates, unsurprisingly, have become demanding, but employers are also willing to wait for the right fit.

“Employers may [look for] a higher level of specificity – and they wait for it,” says Bloom. “Candidates are also very specific about what they look for. It's gotten more difficult to make those connections happen. Candidates know they're in the driver's seat and take full advantage of that in negotiations sometimes.”

Bloom doesn't feel employers “want to buy talent” by paying outrageous salaries. So, she adds, some of her clients offer salary ranges of $25,000, say $75,000-$100,000, with only the top number in that range being acceptable to candidates.

Every offer Edelman made last year was negotiated. “We're challenged to be creative in offers,” says Smith. “It's got to be much more than base compensation.”

Candidates at all levels want to hear about opportunities, but Bloom says they don't necessarily act.

“They're selective about moves and locations,” she notes. “Agencies are crying louder, but corporations in difficult geographic locations definitely feel it. [We represent] a great company in Indiana, but people don't want to go to Indiana. They [also] don't want to commute. We've seen increased rigidity by candidates. Also, work-life balance is so much more important.”

Repovich Reynolds reports clients “crying out for talent who come to work for the sake of doing great work.” Clients tell her that many new hires spend a third of their time plotting their next move. “They're not giving 100% to the job they were hired for, [and] clients say great work begets opportunity,” she notes.

“Salary creep is a challenge at junior levels,” says Smith. “It's huge and will continue. It's painful when we get a resignation. [Often] we can't even counter.”

Bang thinks PR's increasingly positive reputation will continue to fuel growth and provide candidates plenty of choice. “The status of a PR [pro] has gone from spin doctor to consummate professional,” he says. “It's more attractive for people getting in, and with business getting better, marketing funds increase.”

The market is undoubtedly burning white-hot. “The big question is when it will start closing out,” Spetner says. “My guess is 18 to 24 months.” n

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