'PR firms won't retain staff by giving them a day off for their birthday'

PRWeek Asia's first Deep Dive feature, published last week, tackled the troubling issue of staff retention in Asia. Here, leading comms recruiter Emma Dale shares her insights on keeping hold of the brightest and the best.

Staff retention will not be tackled by gimmicks and token gestures, said Emma Dale
Staff retention will not be tackled by gimmicks and token gestures, said Emma Dale

With most agencies reporting 20-30 per cent staff turnover rates (and some in the region rumored last year to be well over 50 per cent) employee retention needs to be more than just an afterthought.

Our Deep Dive feature published last week heard from agency heads across the region about how they are trying to improve the working lives of their teams and encourage greater loyalty.

Broadly speaking, most of the agency bosses we spoke to highlighted their efforts around training, career development and incentives as their key strategies for retaining staff.

But what do employees make of their efforts? One person who is in daily contact with those on the job market merry-go-round is Prospect’s co-founder and Asia MD, Emma Dale.

She said there was no doubt staff retention was a major issue for most PR agencies, adding the problem would not be tackled by gimmicks and token gestures.

"The inability to hire appropriately means that teams are understaffed, overstretched and work long hours," she said, "Firms need to do more than just offer a day off for an employee’s birthday or reward years of service with additional annual leave," she adds.

She agreed that training and development was crucial, but argued it needed to be available to all members of staff, at every level.

"Offering a mentoring scheme and investing in a structured training programme at all levels are proven to boost employee engagement and build loyalty deterring them from moving in-house or to a competitor," she added.

"However, many agencies focus primarily on training mid-senior leadership, when in fact they will be building a stronger and more sustainable team if they also invest in their junior members. "

She also said many companies underestimated the value in developing an employee’s career path, especially with mid-level executives.

Another issue which she believes can help motivate people to stay—and something that wasn’t mentioned by any of the senior execs we spoke to—is building a diverse leadership team.

"A diverse senior leadership team is important not just for the diverse point-of-view but to be an example for every employee that regardless of their sex, nationality or ethnicity that there is a place for them in the business and a career path for them to aspire to," she said.

When it comes to attracting the talent in the first place, here are Dale’s top four tips:

1) Sell your brand

"More often than not, agencies struggle to do their own PR and explain why they are such a good employer. They forget to share how great the working environment is; what career opportunities they offer staff; what great work they do; how they look after their staff."

2) Ensure flexibility

"It is increasingly challenging for agencies and in-house comms teams to attract the best talent—male or female—with inflexible working hours and arrangements. At Prospect, we often observe that agencies lose out to in-house communications teams in a bid to attract talent. While the hours aren’t necessarily better, it seems that in-house teams are given more flexibility to work remotely to achieve that work-life balance."

3) Make interviews a two-way street

"In my experience, employers become too focussed on whether the candidate is a right fit for them and forget to make the company look attractive or impressive to the candidate. Candidates should always receive feedback and it's beneficial for senior staff to attend the first interviews to share their vision."

4) Share knowledge with your recruiter

It’s imperative that a recruiter has regular information about your business and really understands you. While a job description is a standard practice, any additional information such as sharing latest surveys or piece of research will help show that candidate what you do and why you are so good."

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