Leslie Dach's move to Wal-Mart is certainly a blow to Edelman, but it's just one more example of recognized senior talent being lured away by a new challenge.
Most firms and companies have experienced at least the threat of losing a star or two in this heated hiring environment. If they haven't, there's either something wrong with them or they are incentivizing like crazy.
Some recent shuffles include Ray Kerins, who went to Merck from GCI Group, Tom Reno who left Hill & Knowlton for Text 100, Steve Rubel, who went from CooperKatz to Edelman, Mike Spataro, who recently moved from Weber Shandwick to Visible Technologies, and Leslie Gaines-Ross, who joined WS from Burson-Marsteller. The common denominator of these individuals, Dach and a few others like them, is passion. Expertise is evident, too, certainly. But passion is the standout characteristic.
While it may sound like a fuzzy concept, passion is anything but intangible. Passion is one of the most uncelebrated differentiators in the industry.
There was a time a few years ago when the collective spirit of PR got somewhat hijacked by a preoccupation with the need for "respect." Everyone wants respect, of course, but you don't earn it just by imitating corporate CEOs. The industry's language was burdened by the need to infuse it with gravitas, almost as a punishment for the excesses of the dot-com frenzy.
Is it any surprise that PR now faces a severe shortage of mid-level talent? While senior leadership roiled through this identity crisis, too many junior staffers were left wondering why they should bother staying in an industry that was determined to see itself as misunderstood and underappreciated. Money alone is still not a big incentive to stay in PR. But the reward of being able to apply your passion to solving real business problems makes PR uniquely alluring.
The individuals listed above have all been notable for identifying and pursuing areas of the business that have differentiated their organizations. And not simply because they made good business sense, but because their passion has influenced the way their companies, clients, and leadership think and act.
In most cases, these passionate professionals are not fleeing a bad situation, but rather running toward opportunities to take their new organizations to another level. The challenge for those trying to keep these people is to continually find ways to engage their passion, while directing the innovative spirit toward serving the organization's objectives. This is a difficult proposition, made tougher by the fact that most employees are becoming adept at building their own brands, independent of their employers.
Dach's influence on Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott was noted in a report on his hiring that ran in The New York Times. "Immediately after Mr. Scott delivered a speech about healthcare to the nation's governors this year in Washington, he gave Mr. Dach a bear hug in the corridor of the Marriott Hotel." Business expertise may be the cost of entry for being relevant to the CEO. But passion is truly the language of the world's most powerful leaders.