Getting new hires up to speed from the outset

For new account executives at Voice Public Relations, a typical first day on the job isn't like a stereotypical first day at all.

For new account executives at Voice Public Relations, a typical first day on the job isn't like a stereotypical first day at all.

When the firm welcomes a new hire to its downtown Philadelphia office, the usual first-day introductions are already out of the way, and there's actual work to be done, says Finbarr O'Sullivan, Voice's director of PR. Rather than keeping new hires out of site where clients are concerned, he says the agency has learned from experience that it's best to get people into the mix as quickly as possible.

"We're excited to have this person. Why wouldn't I share that with my client?" O'Sullivan explains. "A lot of firms think, 'Oh no, someone left, what a disaster.'"

According to O'Sullivan, new AEs come into Voice the Friday prior to their official first day to go through the accounts they'll be working on with some of their colleagues. That's different from starting at other firms, he says, when new hires must often drag through weeks of reading and research before any real work starts.

"When she comes in on Monday, there will be work waiting for her," O'Sullivan says. "Not to the state where we're going to say there's an event to be organized, but we're going to funnel work down to her, and have her funnel work back up to us. What that means is that in a few short days, we'll be introducing her to all the clients."

Hiring and training are issues agencies have been dealing with as long as they have been in existence, but increasingly a new generation of senior-level executives is rethinking models for how this is done. One way agencies are tackling the problem is to ensure there isn't one person with too great a hold on any single account.

"Make sure you have enough bench strength so that you're not caught off-guard," says Marylou McNally, EVP at Dorland Global Public Relations. "One person should not be the end-all keeper of knowledge for an account. I think clients used to say they wanted that one specific person.

I hear that less and less these days. We keep accounts for a long time if we're doing great work, so there are going to be changes."

McNally says Dorland keeps a core resource tool for each account, a one-stop information area to help new hires get acquainted with things. It also helps prevent a situation in which one AE becomes overly crucial.

Megan Svensen, EVP of healthcare at Marina Maher Communications (MMC), agrees, noting that firms understand they can be more vulnerable when one team member holds all the knowledge for an account. But Svensen also says that in efforts to promptly put new AEs to work, agencies often overlook the glaringly obvious: getting those new hires accustomed to firm culture and organization.

"We've made an effort to really improve that process when we take on senior-level talent," says Svensen. "We have a really aggressive orientation at MMC, where people get accustomed to our culture here. There wasn't a lot of that going on for a long time because everyone expects senior people to just know their business and get up to speed."

Key points:

The sooner a new hire is involved with real account work and clients, the sooner they'll be up to speed

Relying too much on one individual for an account can leave a firm vulnerable

Just because a new hire is senior doesn't mean they don't need an agency-culture orientation

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