The PR employee benefits disconnect

Recruitment and retention are top of mind for all PR leaders and PRWeek's recent reports show this is going to be an increasingly brutal battleground for companies looking to maintain a stable and productive workforce.

Attracting and keeping talent was once again the number one priority for PR agencies surveyed in PRWeek’s recent Global Agency Business Report and Salary Survey.

The Agency Business Report showed remarkable consistency across the board in reflecting a 7-8% growth in revenue. And our Salary Survey found that salaries are strong and opportunities abound, with the power shifting from the employer to the workforce.

Employers increasingly have to be creative and flexible in the way they develop compensation packages. This is especially important in an industry comprised approximately 70% of women, who have traditionally had to juggle work and family and make difficult decisions about the role of their career within that dynamic.

But our 2015 Salary Survey still showed a big disconnect between the benefits typically included in salary packages and those elements employees considered a key part of overall compensation.

Only 4% of respondents said child care was included in their benefits package, while 21% considered it essential. Even more striking, 33% could work flex time, while 70% considered it key; 66% received personal days, 82% considered them essential.

The Public Relations Boutiques International (PRBI) organization, one I must admit I wasn’t familiar with, just released a survey of its US members’ benefits. The aim was to demonstrate how much more boutique firms are offering to entice talented individuals versus the more structured large agency world constrained by holding company policies.

The sample is relatively small at just 15 agencies, but it showed 40% of boutiques offer maternity leave in excess of their states’ legal requirements, and 20% have a paternity leave policy. The PRBI’s president Joy Scott says in a release that small agencies often have the flexibility to amend benefit policies and perks to meet individuals’ requirements, rather than having to rely on blanket across-the-board policies.

But large agencies are also trying to be more creative. Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ relatively new president for the Americas Mike Coates came into his new role last year after many years running the WPP firm’s Canadian operation. Employee benefits are typically more generous north of the border, especially when it comes to maternity leave, and Coates quickly introduced a new policy across the company.

Employee turnover is the bane of many a PR agency CEO’s existence, with rates typically in the 20-25% range, which is an enormous number of people when you think about it: One in four or one in five of all your people changing each year.

Coates credits initiatives such as the new maternity leave plan with significantly reducing employee churn rate in the second half of 2014. It suggests better benefits pay dividends down the line that more than pay for themselves in the long term by helping facilitate a stable and contented workforce.

I can see employee benefits becoming a particularly competitive battleground when it comes to choosing your next job, and smart employers will take note of these trends and disconnects if they want to recruit and retain the best people.

The Premium Edition of PRWeek’s 2015 Salary Survey provides extensive additional data about pay and conditions in the PR industry.

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