It takes more than money to keep mid-level staff

Hiring and holding on to mid-level PR or public affairs employees can be tough, especially given the fast growth currently experienced by communications and marketing firms in many US markets.

Hiring and holding on to mid-level PR or public affairs employees can be tough, especially given the fast growth currently experienced by communications and marketing firms in many US markets.

The job opportunities that spring up as agencies sign on new clients and seek new staff to handle the extra work have been tempting to practitioners in all phases of their careers. But according to a survey of 82 agencies the Council of PR Firms conducted this past spring, mid-level staffers - those with four to eight years' experience - are the most sought-after employees of all.

What, then, can be done to either bring on board or retain such workers, particularly in super-competitive markets like the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and Washington?

Agency executives say that while money is important, it's not the most important factor in enticing qualified mid-level staff. Ted Birkhahn, MD at New York-based Peppercom, says having the right work culture is even more imperative, given that employees are likely spending more time with one another than with their families during the workweek.

"Like any industry, there [are] good and bad places to work," Birkhahn says. "We try to make sure there's a proper work-life balance, so they work really hard while they're here during the day, but come nights and weekends, they're doing what they should be, which is their personal stuff."

Amy Woodward Parrish, partner and CMO at Atlanta-based Cohn, Overstreet & Parrish, notes that besides money, a way to attract and hold onto to mid-level workers is flexible work hours. This is especially appealing, she says, to those who have young families or want to avoid long commutes.

"As long as you work the billable hours that work for you, I don't care where you work them," Parrish says.

In addition, allowing staff the opportunity to work on a variety of projects also helps retain otherwise restless mid-level employees. A certain amount of mid-career turnover is expected, simply because of the profession's nature, says Parrish. But providing staffers a chance to experience new things and granting them autonomy can help counteract the urge to move.

Still, providing decent salaries doesn't hurt. David Shapiro, a Washington-based MD at Brunswick Group, says his firm's ability to offer profit sharing helps keep staff feeling adequately compensated and motivated to contribute to the agency's overall success.

Watch out, though, he warns, for excessive salary expectations. In the DC market, for example, former Capitol Hill staffers or administration workers looking to move into PR or public affairs sometimes overestimate their value in the private sector. The miscalculation can complicate hiring efforts.

"There is a mindset that the private sector must pay much more, and, therefore, [potential employees] are looking to cash in," Shapiro says, "even though they may not have the experience that sort of guarantees they'll be successful."


Key points:

Hiring staffers with four to eight years' experience is an ongoing dilemma

Mid-level employee retention often depends more on collegial and flexible work environments than salaries

Excessive salary expectations can hinder recruitment efforts, particularly when someone is crossing over from the public sector

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