Facilitating a successful return to the fold

Holding on to talent is a top concern for agency leaders, who often struggle to fill posts when key employees leave.

Holding on to talent is a top concern for agency leaders, who often struggle to fill posts when key employees leave.

Yet executives disagree about how to respond when former staffers want to return to the firm after they've taken another job.

Houston-based Vollmer PR currently has three boomerang employees. President Carolyn Mayo notes that she approached each ex-staffer to head new accounts that the firm won after they left.

The returning account supervisors had spent time on the client side working in energy, public affairs, and tourism - three capabilities that Vollmer was hoping to build.

"In all these cases, these were known quantities," Mayo says. "It was a pretty seamless transition."

Shana Keith had worked at Porter Novelli since she was an intern, but left in July for a job in the marketing department of a software company.

"I was just curious about what it was like on the outside," she says. "[But] I realized pretty quickly that the corporate environment can be pretty slow. I missed the intensity of client service."

Three months later, she returned to PN to take a position with more responsibility.

Both Keith and another boomerang staffer, Lucia Ferrante, VP and director of finance at Feinstein Kean Healthcare, admit the first day back was a bit awkward.

"It's a difficult thing to... swallow your pride and say, 'I made a mistake,'" says Ferrante, who left to work for a motorcycle dealership in order to have more time with her infant son. She returned to the agency after just two weeks.

But the transition was easier than she expected. Feinstein Kean has about a dozen boomerang employees, including its CEO, Marcia Kean, who gives each returning staffer an Aboriginal boomerang from Australia.

At Eric Mower & Associates, the majority of its senior PR staff is made up of boomerang hires. Returnees become part of the agency's EMAgain club and are celebrated at an annual dinner.

While boomerang hires have always existed, the recent talent crunch has made some agency leaders more receptive to their return. Yet others continue to take a hard line.

Rod Caborn, EVP of PR at Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, notes that more than half of former employees experience "buyer's remorse." Many are lured to work for central Florida's theme parks and hotels, but realize that the positions sound more glamorous than they are.

"We have fielded many remorseful 'would you hire me back?' calls, to which the answer is 'no,' Caborn says, adding that he has not made an exception in 30 years. "The factors that compelled an individual to change jobs will still be there if we permitted them to return," he adds.

Michael Kempner, CEO of MWW Group, notes that it's important to be choosy about who is invited back. "Sometimes people leave for the right reasons," he says. "When they return, they tend to be among the most loyal and energetic. They wouldn't come back if they didn't believe that they made a mistake."

"It's a great motivator for [staff] to see that there are multiple ways on a career path," Mayo says.

Key points:

Boomerang hires are already familiar with the firm's culture

Managers know their strengths and weaknesses; co-workers view them as part of the team

They can bring new skills that they developed outside the agency

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