Being wise about talent is the key to sustaining growth

As industry growth continues, a premium is being placed on the recruiting and retention of talent, especially since a firm's revenue generation and client service depends upon the skill of its employees.

As industry growth continues, a premium is being placed on the recruiting and retention of talent, especially since a firm's revenue generation and client service depends upon the skill of its employees.

In fact, agency leaders say that talent is perhaps the most critical factor when strategically aligning firms for success.

Most firms are on the lookout for capable pros at nearly every level of experience. That said, one of the many lessons learned in the late '90s - when the industry experienced inflated, Web-fueled growth - was that hiring for the short-term can sometimes have far-reaching, harmful consequences. How well we select and manage our people is tied directly to our agencies' growth and overall health.

Talent Issues and Opportunities

In the Council's 2005 member survey, developing talent ranked second in "top issues facing the PR profession in the next three years," right behind demonstrating the value of PR. For individual firms, "finding and hiring the right people" emerged as the top challenge for 2006, according to the same survey.

Communicating career opportunities helps both employers and employees, but we have a lot to do to both help prospective employees prepare for a PR career and to ensure they maximize their growth potential in a way that benefits client work and agency growth.

To that end, the Council is active in several areas related to talent:

Undergraduate programs. Many agency executives are concerned that there is a disconnect between what is being taught in many undergraduate communications programs and what is being practiced in the business world. As the industry evolves and communications grows in speed and complexity, firms and clients will expect much more from incoming talent. This applies not only to learning new technologies and "new media," but also "old media," while understanding at a much more fundamental level how business works and how PR can truly impact it. Of course, the ability to write cogently and articulate thinking when we present strategy and ideas remains a vital skill. The Council is working closely with the Commission on PR Education to help address these evolving needs.
Additionally, the Council's Agency Management course is being taught at several schools around the US, and is one way to help prepare students for the demands of working at a PR firm.

Diversity. Having a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and talents enriches our strategy and programming, while expanding our talent pool. The Council is currently working on several diversity initiatives with our HR Roundtable. On March 31, we are sponsoring a job fair at Howard University for students from several of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities interested in working at PR firms. We are once again teaming with the Lagrant Foundation to place top candidates in member firms' internship programs.

Non-traditional/experienced hires. Council "quick surveys" over the past two years have indicated that more firms get mid- and senior-level talent from other firms. But given the talent shortage, we must work harder to bring in additional talent from other sources. While agency life is unique and not for everybody, a more concerted effort is needed to attract people currently in other industries to PR. The Council is addressing this topic this year, in the form of research and the creation of tools to recruit and retain non-traditional hires.

Kathy Cripps is the president of the Council of Public Relations Firms.

The Council is dedicated to strengthening the recognition and role of public relations firms in corporate strategy, business performance, and social education, serving as an authoritative source of information and expert comment and helping set standards for the PR industry. For more information about the Council of Public Relations Firms, call 1-877-PRFIRMS or visit our Web site at www. prfirms.org.

This column is contributed and paid for by the Council of PR Firms.

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