Understanding your staff is the first step in its retention

Agency leadership has long talked about the need to retain top talent, whether through financial incentives, training programs, or even sabbaticals.

Agency leadership has long talked about the need to retain top talent, whether through financial incentives, training programs, or even sabbaticals. Yet, in the wake of a crippling recession, these principles lost their urgency for some. Notably, the healthcare practices at eight holding company agencies have changed leadership since March 2009.

Even more notable is the timing of these changes. The healthcare industry is facing a slew of communications issues, ranging from healthcare reform to drying pharmaceutical pipelines to an obesity crisis in the US.

Companies are shelling out big bucks for seasoned experts to guide them. After all, this is an industry of consultants, where your firm's talent is its capital. Fail to present top talent, and you'll fail to attract top clients. One executive noted that the agency tells clients that the VPs in the practice have been with the firm, on average, for five years.

Although some job hopping is to be expected, clients always appreciate continuity, working with familiar faces that have a deep understanding of their business and issues. Clients have a greater responsibility to promise ROI to management. The last thing they need to do is brief the new team that just came in.

Firms need to figure out more original ways to retain talent and foster creativity during an economic downturn if budgets don't allow for bonuses, something that this year's PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey explores. Consider your team and anticipate their needs as you would a client or a stakeholder in a campaign. Meet them where they are. Do they want bagel Fridays or just more feedback? Do they want team tweet-ups or time to work on creative projects? More flex time? Find out, and implement it. At the same time, encourage senior staff to actively mentor junior- and middle-level practi-tioners to ensure the firm's future as natural turnover occurs.

The PR industry's mandate is to solve problems and tell stories that can drive change, transform reputation, and impact business. Understanding the people who make up this field should be a priority.

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