A strong work environment will help comms teams post-recession

Although always a popular feature, this year's PRWeek Salary Survey will probably be read a bit more closely.

Although always a popular feature, this year's PRWeek Salary Survey will probably be read a bit more closely. As we enter 2009, the survey shows the industry has experienced a number of layoffs, and that median salaries have dropped slightly.

Employees are reacting to this in a number of ways. For example, the survey shows that PR pros are worried about their job security, and they are considering moving to find a new PR job or even dropping out of the industry. Still, those same respondents – an overwhelming 63% – say they would be willing to forgo a raise or even work for less if it meant someone would ensure they could keep their job next year.

Although some PR firms and corporate departments have told PRWeek that they are hiring, many of those are “selective” hires for particular projects, accounts, or an area of growth, like digital. Many more are simply holding steady or possibly trimming staff. There are two issues here: One is for the employee, and how he or she can hang on to the job and excel at it; and the second is how the agency or company can come out of this recession with a happy and productive staff.

Just as many brands are trying to reinvent themselves to appeal to new audiences in this recession, it's good to remember that your personal brand might need tweaking. Leadership will be rewarded by remaining relevant – and visible – to the boss or the industry as a whole. And as Greg Schneiders, founding partner of Prime Group, recently wrote in a PRWeek Op-Ed, “Become an expert.” This, I believe, is really the key to becoming a top-recruited talent. You've got to “own” your beat, as we say in journalism. Know it inside and out, become the go-to source. It's worth remembering in this environment that you should always let your boss know what you've been up to.

Several agency CEOs have said they're using the downturn to hire top talent. At the same time, many are letting go of a mix of employees, including top-level “advisers” that were perhaps a splashy hire during more flush times. One hiring manager told me recently that more and more he's looking to his workhorse VPs and those bringing in new business to propel the firm forward.

But beyond trying to hire that “silver bullet” candidate, agencies and companies should look to foster the right employee environment to come out of the recession better. Do you want your employees to head for the exits as soon as there's an economic turnaround because you failed to offer them incentives during the downturn? Or have employees who felt in the dark or, worse, inconsequential because you failed to communicate the direction of the company? In the Salary Survey, Greenough Communications CEO Phil Greenough said senior executives have taken pay cuts instead of cutting junior-level jobs. That's the type of step that resonates.

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